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Hiking Desolation Wilderness, Jordan Summers, Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Rim Trail, Lake Aloha

Published on November 27th, 2015 | by jordansummers

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The Value of a Good Guidebook

Last month I took a spectacular but arduous hike past seven lakes – spending the night above one and enjoying a view-filled morning of hiking out. The weather was perfect at 65 right after noon but just above freezing by 0300. The moon was full, the lake’s water was crystal clear and cold. There was so much on this trip to remember but it got even better after it was over.

A mapping project took me on a familiar path from the western shore of Lake Tahoe up Meeks Creek along the historic Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. Lake Genevieve pops into view in less than 5 miles followed quickly by scenic, reflective Crag Lake. Easy hiking and a scenic showcase continue over the next miles. Passing first, Shadow Lake – its life as a lake diminishing and then aptly named Hidden Lake.

A bit of a winding climb took me to the last of this string of glacial tarns – tiny, rocky Rubicon Lake. It was still warm enough for a quick dip before another climb over Phipps Pass along the five or so miles to my destination at Middle Velma Lake.

Ever-fading daylight and decreasing temperatures were my only companions on the trail past Rubicon. A couple of days past full, the moon wouldn’t be around to help me if I didn’t move out promptly and I didn’t want to throw down my sleeping bag in the dark. Growing tired, I was anxious to get in it.

Luckily, the downhill part of my fun day set me down on the western shore of Middle Velma Lake with enough daylight to find a nice, soft, flat spot of granite to bivy upon. The wind funneled down from the west pretty briskly and so I set up my 16-ounce pyramid shelter (from Mountain Laurel Designs), sparked up the stove, fixed cocoa and got toasty fast.

A great night’s rest ended and the day begun with clear, sun-filled skies – and gruel of some sort for breakfast. Oh, yes. Joy. Some instant coffee. Hmm.

My original plan was to retrace my steps and, somewhat logically I thought, return to my car. Ah, but what fun is that? I could – and did – take the Pacific Crest Trail cum Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, a bit further south until it joined the trail heading past Eagle Lake to Emerald Bay. Briefly, it was all nice, mostly downhill, and very viewful but no pretense of solitude.

But, like Arlo Guthrie said in Alice’s Restaurant Massacre, I didn’t come here to tell you about that. I came here to tell you about spreading the word—about the outdoors.

So, I wound up a few hours later in the Eagle Falls picnic area and Eagle Lake Trailhead parking lot – just across the road from Vikingsholm and downhill from Inspiration Point – in the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe. My car was 10 miles north. No worries. I would just jump on the TART bus and I’d be there in no time.

“When does the TART bus come by?” I asked the ranger.

“Not until late December,” came the good-natured reply. His weak smile followed.

Okay. I’ve been through this drill plenty of times before. Change to a clean(er) shirt; take off my head wrapper; brush hair back; no sunglasses; stow pointy hiking sticks; smile.

“Excuse me. Are you heading north toward Tahoe City? Can I get a ride with you back to my car in Meeks Bay? “

After a short while a family of three agrees and we’re off. We’re all asking a lot of where from and other intro questions. Mom, dad, son – all from San Francisco and recently bought a home near Tahoe City. Super! What a great place to be. Right next to the Desolation Wilderness!

I noticed their daypacks. “Do you like to hike a lot?”

“Well, not really and I don’t know about it after today’s hike.”

I inquired and the dad explained: According to him, the information he had really didn’t describe this trail properly at all. It was free, he told me, and he just picked it up off the Internet. He said the information about the hike was wrong and so they hadn’t prepared for a trail like this and didn’t enjoy it very much. Well, he admitted, they could have had more fun on another trail more suited to their abilities.

Now, if I’d had a guitar handy, I’d have struck a few chords from Arlo’s classic as prelude to what I had to say. (This is, of course, impossible because I have no idea how to play guitar, but it makes me feel good to pretend.)

And so, I told him about me. About how I came to write guide books. About the massive reward I get in listening to the readers’ stories of my guidebook’s impact on them. About them having a new world opened, a new trail discovered, or a new interest revealed.

So there I was, almost going commercial, but sincerely encouraging him to get a good guidebook of the area. (Mine would do, I suggested.) It would prepare them with accurate information on where to go, how to get there, what to expect, what to take, and how to be safe while going. And a guidebook (like 60 Hikes within 60 Miles – San Francisco) for hikes closer to the Bay Area would introduce them to hiking in less demanding ways and they could perhaps increase their enjoyment and tackle the harder hikes when they are more confident of their abilities.

Did it stick? Will they hike more? Even buy a guidebook? Sometimes you just get a feeling from the handshake shared at the back of the SUV. Something that says it made a difference.

I have been fortunate to have readers who have shared compelling stories of the impact that my simple guidebooks had on their life. These stories encourage, if not compel, me to try to help people of all abilities to get out there, to have fun there, and to return safely from there wanting to go back there.

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About the Author

Jordan has had more fun sleeping on rock, snow, and dirt than any one person should be allowed. From guiding expeditions in Sequoia- Kings Canyon NP with llamas to thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, adventure has never seemed to wane for Summers in the Sierra. From 2007 until 2009, Jordan hiked approximately 1,300 miles to research and write Five Star Trails around Lake Tahoe, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles – Sacramento, and Easy Hikes Close to Home – Sacramento (Menasha Ridge Press). Jordan retraced each of the 60 Hikes for it’s 2nd edition in 2011 and he’s currently hiking all of the Five Star Trails around Lake Tahoe for its 2nd edition as well. Jordan is a graduate of the NOLS Wilderness Outdoor Educator program, a Leave No Trace Trainer, and a NOLS-WMI certified Wilderness First Responder. Jordan’s aim is to help wilderness enthusiasts to get out there, to have a great time there, to leave no trace there, and to come home safely from there.



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