Ralston Peak – Skiing Desolation Wilderness Area – by boat! – June 2016

“Shells sink, dreams float. Life’s good on our boat.”

-Jimmy Buffet

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Leaving Echo Lakes Chalet en route to Ralston Peak!

Skiing in June! They say 2015-2016 was merely an average Tahoe ski season, but after the last few years, it was pretty amazing to get turns around Lake Tahoe from November straight through to June!

Certainly a novelty ski; we were informed that one could catch a taxi through Lower Echo Lake, through a small channel, and on to the far end of Upper Echo Lake. We used this to bypass about 3 miles of approach hiking each way, making Desolation Wilderness Area way more accessible than in the winter. …and who doesn’t love the idea of skiing by boat?!

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Taking Hwy 50 to Echo Summit, turn onto Johnson Pass Road. Stay left and the road will lead you to a small resort and a parking area near Lower Echo Lake. Here you find the Echo Lakes Chalet and the boat taxi attendant in a small stand beside the dock. For a nominal fee they brought our group up to the far end of Upper Echo Lake. We drew some funny glances from the summer tourists as we loaded packs, boots and skis into the boat and pushed off from the dock.

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Loaded up and ready for a boat ride.

The narrow channel between Lower and Upper Echo Lakes is very tight and shallow. Clearly our boat captain was familiar with the waterway as he expertly twisted the steering left and then right, just missing the rocks and tight banks of the waterway. He told a story of how his family had a cabin on this lake and there they had an old picture of his grandmother waterskiing right through the middle of the tight channel. Crazy to imagine going that fast through there!

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Approaching the tight channel between Lower and Upper Echo Lakes.

The Echo Lakes area has been long inhabited by people having been frequented by Native Americans, particularly the Washoe Indians, who hunted and fished here since around the end of the last Ice Age, and up until the 1920’s. A trade route was established through the adjacent Johnson Pass which kept the area bustling for more than a century. In the late 1800’s a gravel mining company raised the lake level which flooded a small stream between the two lakes making for the navigable channel present connecting the lakes today. The shores of the Echo Lakes are lined with off-the-grid rustic cabins, only accessible by hiking trail or boat. Each of the homes looked like magical places to disappear for a week and read a few books.

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“I’m on a boat!”
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Skis and boots on backs, and we’re off!

We headed up towards Ralston Peak and hoping to find some good snow for June turns. We got a little lost initially finding the trail but ultimately ended up bushwhacking directly towards the snow line anyways.

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Ryan leading on some summer hiking.

Our primary timing concern was making back to that dock in time to catch the taxi ride to the vehicles at 4pm. We knew with the June conditions that any snow skied would be considered a victory; so we weren’t racing for perfect corn, just making our way up towards the peak and enjoying the day.

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Side-hilling on snow in running shoes!
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Zack perfecting his springtime base grind.

Ultimately things got a little steeper and we boot packed straight up to the ridge line. The snow stayed relatively cold and I was excited that we might actually get some good corn turns.

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Sarah climbing with Tamarack Lake and Desolation Wilderness Area stretching out behind her.
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Smaller steps for smaller people following me, I’m told.
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Successful ascent and group shot!
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Fighter jet fly-by on the ridge.
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Sarah BC cleaning up after me and looking stylish.
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Just another day for themoutainwife; laying down a power turn while wearing a skirt.
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Nice soft corn conditions.
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Before long we were back on dirt with skis on our backs.

After some more bushwhacking and the inevitable few wet creek crossings we were back on the trail towards the dock.

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We had a great time on our brief day trip up to Ralston via Echo Lakes and would love to further explore the area similarly. Next time we will post up for 2-3 days of camping beside Lake Aloha and make more ski descents. Over a few days one could hit Dick’s Peak, Jack’s Peak then Mt Price and Pyramid Peak making a base camp in the frozen Lake Aloha area. Who’s in for 2016-2017?

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Map of Lake Aloha, and the surrounding peaks, in Desolation Wilderness Area.

When you do return to the dock you contact the Chalet via phone. There is a phone at the dock but the shuttle captains are clear that they’re not coming back out after 4pm, so keep in mind that additional 3 mile hike along the lakes if your group is running late. The Chalet and the shuttle service are only open in summers and have recently closed for the season on September 8th, 2016 for the upcoming fall.

Helpful Links:

USDA Forest Service Desolation Wilderness Echo Lakes Trailhead Page

Echo Lake Chalet – Boat Taxi- Contact: (530) 659-7207

Echo Lakes History – Echo Lakes Association

Hillmap – my favorite map service online

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