Full disclosure: My first backpacking trip wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be. Yes, the pack are bulky and yes, you do without a few luxuries, but overall, you get to spend a night alone with nature, and that’s pretty, pretty, pretty good.

DESOLATION PINTERESTYou can literally watch the stars come out.

For those not familiar with Desolation Wilderness, it’s 100 square miles of untouched wilderness, full of craggy peaks, alpine lakes, waterfalls, beaches and canyons formed by thousands of years of erosion from snowmelt. It’s a popular backpacking destination, and because permits are required, you won’t be tripping over other tents to set up yours.

Our trip started with some packing difficulties, as I found my bag to be not quite large enough. However, after a bit of creative packing, including stuffing a down jacket into a ziplock bag and (somehow) strapping the sleeping bag to the outside of the bag, despite the absence of straps, we were on our way.

The trail leaves from the Meek’s Bay entrance to Desolation Wilderness. You can find it if you google “Lake Genevieve hike Tahoe.”   The trail to Crag Lake, where we camped, is five miles each way through beautiful terrain, ranging from open fields of solitary trees to tight, shadow-filled trails covered in ferns and ancient logs. At points, you’ll meander past waterfalls and access points to the stream that runs through the valley, as well as large trees like Jeffery Pines, Sugar Pines, and Red Firs.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” – John Muir –

This is an excellent place, a mon avis, for a beginner backpacking trip, as the elevation gain is just 1,200 ft, spread gradually during the five miles. Further, most of the trail is in shadows and runs along the stream, making it cool and pleasant, even on hot summer days.  With full backpacking gear, the hike took us about 2.5 – 3 hours.

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Upon arriving at Crag Lake, we continued to the far end of the path in an attempt to locate our friends and, fortunately, found them due to a well placed note on a well placed stick directing us a bit off the trail.  We walked for a few minutes, scaled a few rocks and, voila; we arrived at the most inviting camp site I’ve ever seen. With various platforms tiered on granite slabs over the lake, the site offers a few locations to pitch a tent with a view of the lake below. After a quick set up of the tent and getting our bags and pads rolled out for the night, we sat down by the water to dip our feet in and let the dogs splash around.

Around 6PM, we boiled a bit of water and made dinner, which, for those of you unfamiliar with backpacking, is just dehydrated meals with water added. Ours, fortunately, wasn’t too bad, and paired well with a little whiskey and powdered gatorade (not mixed together.)

And then the sun went down.

I’d say we spent a good two hours sitting on the rocks, watching the sun go down and the stars come out in near silence, except for the frequent quacking of what appeared to be a very lost duck swimming in circles. Eventually, around 8:45 PM, a small, horizontal sliver of white light appeared on the granite face across from our site, and gradually grew wider and wider as the full moon began to rise behind us. Slowly, the stars became harder to see as lily pads, treetops, and the distant shore of the lake became illuminated by moonlight. We sat there for about two hours, just watching the transition from day to night. My only regret was not pulling out my GoPro for a sweet time-lapse shot of the lake.

the sun sets in desolation


The rest of the night passed fairly uneventfully, with no bears nosing around our tent or unexpected showers. The next morning we woke up, made some coffee, filled up our CamelBaks with (filtered) stream water, and headed back the way we came.

Items used on this trip include:

  • GoPro Session
  • Camelbak Helena
  • Klymit Insulated Static V light sleeping pad
  • Sawyer Mini Water Filter