Sat, Aug 27, 1994
Driving up US50 on Friday night, we stopped outside some town in the foothills where the ranger station was located. We planned to sleep at the ranger station so that we'd be first in line in the morning to get the required permits for Saturday morning. It was a dumb idea as it turned out. There were cars coming and going for much of the night, a large truck came to empty the dumpsters, and we seemed to get little sleep. And by the time we woke up in the morning there were already a handful of people waiting in line ahead of us. We got the permits when the office opened at 8a, and drove up to Echo Summit.
Parking in the large lot at the east end of Echo Lake, we were soon on our way, hiking some six miles into Lake Aloha. The trail starts off fairly level as it follows some distance above Echo Lake, following the contours on the northeast side. At the far northwest end the trail climbs in earnest, some 800ft in less than two miles. We saw no one on the trail the whole way to Lake Aloha. It was past noon when we arrived, but too early in my mind to call it quits for the day. We found a suitable campsite not far from the lake where Mike decided to relax and spend the afternoon. Eric and I set out with a few supplies to scale Jacks Peak a few miles off.
We followed the PCT to the north end of the lake, then downhill a short way towards Heather Lake. We then struck off cross-country up the steep ravine carved on Jacks' southeast face by a stream that feeds into Heather Lake. This turned out to be a good choice of routes. Though the face is fairly steep (almost 2,000ft in less than a mile), the stream was lined with soft alpine vegetation that provided good footing on what would otherwise be a pile of talus. Like all the other major peaks in Desolation Wilderness (Pyramid, Price, Dicks, Tallac), Jacks rises to just under 10,000ft and provides grand views in all directions. Looking down below at Lake Aloha, we could see that the water level was quite low and presented a far different lake than appeared on our map. Most of the dozens of islands shown on the map were connected by bridges and many hundreds of other islands appeared. The lake looked more like a collection of smaller pools connected together than a large lake with many islands. What we didn't know at the time was that the lake is not natural, but has a spillway constructed and maintained by PG&E. In late summer they draw the lake level down to its present condition, probably to continue power generation somewhere downstream.
After signing the summit register, we headed down the Southwest Slopes over many hundreds of feet of talus towards Mosquito Pass. The going was much easier than we expected, and I was looking for something a little more adventurous. So before we reached the pass we headed left for a more direct route to the trail below, but over steeper terrain. We found some fun granite ledges and chutes to play in on our way down. Shortly before reaching the lake we picked up the trail and had a leisurely walk back to camp, well before daylight had given out. While we saw no other backpackers or hikers the whole day, we did get a visit from a ranger. After friendly greetings and some small talk, he asked to see our permit (the real reason for the visit of course) which we were happy to do. Later we made dinner and had a roaring fire - there was an abundance of fallen wood about the lowered lake shore that we couldn't have burned in a month if we'd tried.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Jacks Peak
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