TMS Ambassador Mike Tebbutt is an avid adventure runner, skier and member of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. Follow Mike on Instagram at @irontebby. Mike has scaled many peaks and is currently pursuing the FKT for an unsupported trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail!
I prefer to be heading out for at least multiple nights whenever I manage to get out backpacking, but when all you have is two days and one night, no place packs a punch quite like Desolation Wilderness. Desolation has so many good overnight backpacking options with several options from each trailhead and even multiple trailhead options for the same camping destination.
While my wife Liz, our dog Loosey and good friend Karyn had the privilege of spending 5 relaxing nights out in Desolation, my brother Joel, his girlfriend Nicole, their dog Gus and I only had the time to share their last nights camp and last day of hiking with them. Liz, Karyn and Loosey began their trek and left their vehicle at the Meeks Bay trailhead, travelling south with a planned exit point at the Mt Tallac trailhead, so we decided the best place to meet would be Half Moon Lake.
This gorgeous alpine lake sits at about 8100’ at the base of the Southeast side of Dicks Peak. Flat and sandy campsites are a little scarce up in this rocky terrain, but there are several established sites and despite arriving a little late in the day, we managed to find a good spot that accommodated 3 tents within close proximity to each other. Our home for the night was just what we were looking for, with spectacular views of lake and the steep slopes and summit of Dicks Peak.
As with almost all of the zones in Desolation Wilderness, there is more than one trailhead to choose from as your entry/exit point, as was the case for us. The two most logical starting points for an overnighter were the Glen Alpine Trail at Lily Lake and the Mt Tallac trailhead. The Glen Alpine trail is the shorter, 5.5 miles, and considerably easier way to get back to Half Moon Lake. However, this would have required a little longer drive for us on the very busy in the summer one lane road around Fallen Leaf Lake, plus Liz, Karyn and Loosey wanted to summit Mt. Tallac on the way out, so we opted for the longer “up and over” Tallac route to go meet the girls. With the Tallac summit thrown in, this approach to Half Moon Lake is 10 miles, with about 3700’ of elevation gain and 2000’ of descent, as opposed to the gently 1700’ of ascending via the Glen Alpine Trail. I always prefer loop or point to point routes as opposed to the out and back that we did on this trip, but summiting Mt Tallac twice in two days was a cool reward.
My pack of 3+1 dog arrived to Half Moon Lake first and spent about a half hour looking for a good camp on the south side of the lake. I then went back to the trail to wait for Liz, Karyn and Loosey to arrive, since it would be very difficult for them to find us in our non-obvious camp among the undulating rocky landscape. We set up camp and went for a swim right before losing the sun behind the towering Dicks Peak to our West and preparing are much deserved dinner. It never ceases to amaze me how good dehydrated meals taste after a hard day of backpacking, especially when you are able to enjoy it with the beer and wine you hauled over Mt. Tallac since this is just an overnighter and you can afford the extra weight. After dinner, we enjoyed the beautiful sunset over Dicks before settling into our tents for the night.
There is nothing quite as satisfying to me as waking up to the cool morning air of the backcountry. My brother and I had consider a quick early morning off trail ascent of Dicks, however, we opted for the leisurely drinking of coffee and dining lakeside, followed with another swim in the surprisingly warm lake. I do recommend a summit of Dicks Peak and even it close by neighbor, Jacks Peak, if time and motivation allows. You can take a much more direct off trail route from half Moon Lake or cruise up the trail towards Gilmore Lake and Dicks Pass and then the peak. Then there is a faint user path heading due South towards Jacks. The ascent to Jacks looks difficult and ominous in the distance, however it is fairly easy and only about a mile away.
The hike out was great with our pack of 5 humans and 2 dogs. We took our time and hung up on the summit of Tallac for a bit, soaking in the amazing views of Lake Tahoe. Good times!
While we did not test drive any new backpacking gear from Tahoe Mountain Sports for this trip, we did take out some of our favorite tried and trued gear, including the my Dueter ACT Lite 65+10, my new favorite shoe Altra Lone Peak 3.0, our Snow Peak LiteMax Stove and Cook n’ Save Titanium Cookpot, my Black Diamond Revolt Headlamp and of course, our Luci Lux Inflatable LED Solar Lantern.