Middle Mountain P300

Fri, Jun 24, 2022
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Day two of my Tahoe trip was dedicated to visiting Middle Mtn. The name could be short for Middle of Nowhere Mtn, as it's not an easy summit to reach. It's located in the middle of Desolation Wilderness, sandwiched between the higher Crystal Range to the west and the higher summits that form the western edge of the Lake Tahoe Basin to the east. The shortest route is out of Emerald Bay, about 15mi roundtrip with 3,400ft of gain. The thunderstorms that had hung about all the previous day were notably absent today - it would be in the 70s for much of the day, a bit warm for hiking, but manageable. I had camped at the PCT TH at Echo Summit the previous evening, a bit noisy with US50 noise most of the night, but at least no one rousted me to leave. I was up early, starting from the Eagle Falls TH around 6:20a.

Because I'd gotten an early start, I was able to secure a nice parking spot at the TH, shaded by a large pine. There were a handful of other cars when I arrived and a few other parties starting their day. The place would be packed when I returned, with most cars spilling out along SR89. The $5 fee to use the TH and hike on the trail was currently suspended, reason unknown. I think I was supposed to secure a permit for day-use in Desolation Wilderness, but I just ignored that bit of paperwork.

The trail begins with steps and continues gaining elevation in a hurry - no warm-up on this one. Most visitors come to see the Eagle Falls and/or Eagle Lake. The turnoff to the lake comes before the first mile - after that the trail is mostly used by backpackers to reach the Wilderness or dayhikers looking for a more demanding workout. The trail gains 1,800ft in 2.5mi as it climbs out of the Eagle Creek drainage. After that, it follows the divide between Eagle Creek and Cascade Creek before descending to Velma Lakes. There are more than half a dozen trail junctions along the route I followed, all forking off to various corners of the Wilderness. I thought the trail through Velma Lakes would be pleasant enough, buy the only real lake view is looking down on Lower Velma Lake. I never noticed Middle Velma Lake though the trail skirts close by. I found instead a great deal of smaller, swampy lakes and a smattering of swampy meadows. All of this was fertile breeding grounds for the hordes of mosquitoes that plagued me for most of the route. I don't know how the many backpackers I came across managed - only one had a mosquito net and most of them seemed to be wearing shorts. The stretch of trail through Velma Lakes is part of the PCT and TRT, making it very popular. I ran across dozens of parties making their way north or south while I was on this stretch. One has to cross Eagle Creek in this stretch, the only tricky one all day. On my first try, I followed the trail where the line of rocks across the creek were submerged. This got me a pair of wet boots for my trouble. On the way back, I found a better, but not sufficient alternate crossing - but only one wet boot this time.

After the initial climb from the TH, the route becomes easier with smaller ups and downs until the trail goes over a saddle between Middle Mtn and Phipps Peak to the east. Near this saddle, I left the trail for the final 0.8mi of cross-country to the summit. There is much swampiness along the saddle with downed trees and slow-going. This improves when the final climb becomes noticeable. The trees begin to thin and the ground drier. There is some brush along the slopes I followed, but I found easy paths through most of it, finally reaching the class 2 summit by 10a. The views are really quite nice - not extensive due to the higher summits and ridges on either side, but it feels very remote. There are fine views looking north and south along the adjacent Rockbound Valley. I sat at the summit longer than i normally do, mostly to recharge my batteries and steel myself for the return direction. I left a register at the summit before heading down.

My return route retraced the outbound route almost exactly. There were far more folks encountered along the trail in the midday than I had found in the early morning. Few backpackers are early risers, it would seem. I would make it back to the TH by 1:40p, leaving me with more than 6hrs of daylight remaining, but no energy for any bonus peaks. I was limping pretty noticeably when I finished up and would need the rest of the day and the night for it to recover enough to do it again the next day...

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