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Top of the World - Return to Desolation


You’ve been talking about doing something in the outdoors this year.  Because you talked about it last year and, well… it didn’t happen because something else came up, you were ‘too busy/ schedule packed/ kids sports games/ etc…’ Tahoe was mentioned because it’s close and it’s beautiful.  You and your family went camping there when you were a kid, and that memory has stayed with you.  And now that year passed away.  Gulp, gone… forever!  Well, that’s not going to happen again is it?  So this is the year it happens, by George

Running in place on a treadmill does accomplish the goal of staying in shape.  But for what?  It’s kind of like running in place in life, isn’t it?  It’s also like making money.  Sure, you’ve been working your bum off to stay on top of things and maybe you’ve been able to pack a little away in a bank account.  Or not?  Either way, what good is it if you don’t use if for something you need that goes beyond the basics of food & shelter?  You can make more money.  You can never make more Time. 

Sure, I’ve heard some folks say they think camping is a Motel 6.  Looking back on some of the places I’ve stayed while on the road, that may have some truth to it.  But, I’ll wager you anyone would rather be looking at Nature’s handiwork - with a lake or mountain added in - over the side of the next building in a sweltering city!  Now, you can have those stunning views with quite a few properties around Lake Tahoe, and have your pampered creature comforts as well.  We are blessed with some great rentalproperties that present amazing views to take advantage of all around the Tahoe Basin.  If your line of employment has paid you well, that is certainly an option well worth considering.  What good is money if you don’t use it for something that enriches you?  At least once in a while...  I’m not sure who did the study but at the end of it all it was determined: views of beautiful scenery will add years to your Life!  Makes sense but how did they prove it?  Who cares?  Life is short, Darlin’ make the best of it!

I stood in line for a sandwich recently, happily tired from a 3 day backcountry hike, listening to a lady in front of me say ‘Oh, we’re just camping’  I saw their ‘camper’ in the parking lot.  Some think camping is a 50 foot RV with pop-outs and full hook-ups…  Well, I guess that’s a step up from the Motel 6 alright.  You know what you’re getting into from the start.  And, it is one way to get greenhorns out of their comfort zone and off to the great outdoors a bit.  There is a sense of immersion involved - the one that brings all of us back to that connection that binds all of us to Nature. 

Some think camping is little more than a tent, a sleeping bag, a cooler, and some good friends to share the experience.  Using this setup for base camp and day hikes is a perfect way to get your fill of Nature’s glory.  I do it all the time.  Park all of this in front of a nice view and you’re getting darn close to ideal in my book.  To take it a few steps further (from the truck), for my Time (and money), I like heading for the hills for a few nights.  Take me to the back country!

Fortunately, Lake Tahoe is surrounded by plenty of back country options to explore.  It’s bewildering to pick ‘the best’ wilderness location (cue hi-hat crash)...  Desolation Wilderness, with a multitude of lovely lakes (Aloha, Velmas, Eagle, Gilmore Stony Ridge, Cathedral, and many more...) and diverse levels of trails to conquer, satisfies the itch quite nicely.  And it’s rather conveniently located:  you can enter from several access points in Tahoe including, Eagle Falls, Bayview, the mighty Tallac, or a quick jaunt to Echo Lakes where you can also use a water taxi (http://www.echochalet.com/taxi.htm ) for saving a few miles on your soles.  Rule One for any hiking/camping planning is plan to be near water.  Looking out over a span of water with a rising crown of granite peaks surrounding it gives me that, ‘Ahh’ feeling.  You too?  This is good!  Since we’ve had a rather long dry spell, hiking up to spend time in a place that actually has a good amount of water is quite refreshing for body and soul.  The spring-fed lakes up there are still surprisingly sporting healthy water levels.  Thank Gawd!  And Yes, it’s also important to have it for drinking…

Since Desolation is one of the more easily accessed wilderness areas, the amount of visitors who are allowed to stay overnight is limited by the Forest Service.  Permits are a common requirement for all back country access nowadays.  This is a good thing too because you don’t want to go all this way to feel like you never left town, do you?  Because of its popularity, there are modest fees attached to ones for Desolation (currently $10/person – you can afford that can’t you?).  You can get these online now too (http://www.manta.com/c/mtbtp4n/usda-forest-service) so, there’s a big time-saver to get you to the trail head faster.  No excuses anymore!

Being able to pack everything you need into one bag that fits on your back provides a definite sense of autonomy.  You’ve gone through your pile of things twice already and eliminated the ‘what-ifs’ for the extra weight they add.  You’ve talked to your partner and bargained for trade-offs in necessary gear.  You carry the water filtration, I’ll carry the cook kit.  You carry the stove, I’ll carry the fuel.  Who carries what and how much usually doesn’t require a mediator, but it’s good to get things apportioned to ability vs load.  It was an eye-opening milestone the first time you back-packed wasn't it?  You realized you brought either some unnecessary items, or way too much to survive comfortably!  Now you know you don’t need 4 pairs of socks and underwear.  Wash and wear synthetic and/or wool garments rule out here!  You realize you only need a light pair of hiker socks (maybe a liner pair to avoid blisters), and a warm pair of camping ones.  You only need one wicking T-shirt, a sun shirt, and a long sleeve micro fleece.  Since they weigh close to nothing, you bring can 2 pairs of nylon pants (the zip-off shorts double as swim trunks) - in case one gets soaked.  Al;so on the Yes-Bring List: good long undies, a synth/down type jacket and a packable rain shell.  No: yoga mat.  Yes: cut piece of foam for a seat pad.  If you’re freezing, there’s the sleeping bag.  Hiking boots and camp Keens.  And a hat... No, two hats, a beanie and brimmed one.  Oh wait, the tent and bag, and the thermarest (vital to sleep comfort)… just essentials.   And this (head)lamp…  That’s all I need…

I recall a car camping trip onetime with an old friend.  After a rather long and circuitous 4x4 journey into a remote lake location, we both realized we had neither proper food provisions nor even the darn tent!  Wait, I thought you brought the tent…  I thought you grabbed the food cooler…  Both were left (with our brains) in the garage as we hastily packed the truck.  Now 6 hours away, we did have beer though – plenty of that - and we brought fishing rods.  Luckily, we caught some fish for dinner, and some nearby camp neighbors had ‘way too much’ potato salad to share with us.  Still, we slept in the dirt with creatures of the night running around our heads…  Lesson:  Make a list!

After a few hours of trekking up into the hills with a 50lb pack, you feel the need for water in more places than the hydration bottle supplies.  Once camp is set up in the perfect place, that cool mountain lake is beckoning you.  Jumping into a clear mountain lake is just what the Doctor ordered.  You carefully pick your way to a nice deep spot and you hesitate for a moment.  You know that water is cold, but you’ve made up your mind.  Your heart is ready for this, right?  You want it.  You need it, and here you are.  Once you jump, there’s no stopping.  Whoah! You didn’t think it would be this cold, did you?  Soon though, you get used to it.  It feels quite good now and you’re enjoying this exhilaration. You feel the energy of the Earth flowing into you from this serene bath of electrolytes.  You can see the cozy camp you've carefully set up, ready for you relax in and provide you comfort during the chilly evening ahead.  You emerge renewed. Energy restored.  Rejuvenated.  Reborn!  You lie back in the sun to dry off and can’t imagine why you don’t do this all time.  Or at least more often.  Why don’t you do this more often?  The office is a distant blur.  The cross-town-traffic non-existent.  This is more like it, right?

If Time just won’t allow, day hikes are indeed wonderful, granting great exercise and views, as well as allowing for much less gear-toting.  But sometimes I feel like a day hike just isn’t enough, like it’s a Griswold Family Grand Canyon Experience ‘Take the picture and let’s go!’  When you are watching the sun sink into the granite backdrop over your perfect spot, you know you’re getting back to basics that transcend food and shelter.  Nature is all things to us, our origins, our provider, our future.  It is pure and unconditional and prepared to accept you as you are however you approach it.  It’s Love.  How you are prepared to deal with Nature depends on a few simple readily available lessons in outdoor living.  The other lessons you will learn from experience.  You will undoubtedly learn things about yourself anytime you return to the Natural world.  You learn how to improvise and make do with less.  This will help you grow.  Reconnecting with your Natural self will bring out perspectives you probably never considered before.

Being out under the blanket of stars with the sounds of civilization miles away gives you time to think about your place in this world.  You realize how fragile Life is, and also how resilient.  What’s important?  Who’s important?  How do I want to spend my precious Time?  Last year maybe gone forever but you’ve got now.  Every second spent in a place like Tahoe is important and deserves full recognition.  However and wherever you go, take a second to realize how good it is to be in special places, with special people.  If you’re not in a good place now, put the energy into bringing yourself there.  Go there in mind, then in body.  Always in spirit. 


Edward Wade.


P.S. Wait, you brought food didn’t you?