Friday, June 3, 2016

Echo Lake(s): one lake or two lakes?

Lower Echo Lake (Memorial Day weekend, 2016)

Eastbound hikers above Upper Echo Lake
Echo Lake is a glacial lake located in the Sierra Nevada south of Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County, California. Sometimes you'll come across its plural form as on the trail information site “Echo Lakes To Barker Pass” of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association [1]. Why is that? My hiking map also features two lakes: Lower Echo Lake and Upper Echo Lake. “Both lakes”are at the same elevation (7,414 feet). They are shown to be connected by a narrow channel, such that one plus one makes one. However, if the water level gets too low, the connection physically shrinks or disappears and Echo Lake becomes Echo Lakes. Try to find the narrow channel in the picture below!

Upper Echo Lake with granite islands which are topped with windblown conifers (Lower Echo Lake at the upper left)
A rocky peninsula south of Echo Peak (elevation 8,895 feet) divides Echo Lake into two sections. When the water level is high enough, the channel is passable by boat. Then, the Echo Chalet's water taxi [2] provides its service: shuttling hikers out-and-back between the Lower Lake's east-tip harbor and the water taxi pier on the north shore of the Upper Lake.

Whenever you are eager to speed up your trip into the granite wilderness—the Desolation Wilderness, the water taxi comes in handy. Otherwise, hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), which here coincidences with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), is a memorable experience with scenic views. The 3.2-mile-long trail section between Lower Echo Lake's dam and the Desolation Wilderness boundary stretches along the north shores of the lakes. There are only minor ups and downs. To your right (while heading west) are various granite cliffs, from which water is dripping down during the snowmelt season. To your left is the narrow, deep blue lake with strikingly well-maintained rustic cabins on the granite shore.

The trail above the Lower Lake traverses crack-marked granite slopes of open forest of junipers and Jeffrey pines. The forest and the trailside rock formations become denser while you are crossing the peninsula shoulder and are approaching the junction with the short descend to the Upper Lake's taxi pier. Farther rambling westbound and steadily climbing the rocky terrain, you'll soon arrive at a junction with a trail ascending toward a small lake called Triangle Lake. Remember that to continue on and into the wilderness you need a Desolation Wilderness Permit [3].      
Desolation Wilderness post

Getting to the Echo Chalet and the Echo Lakes Trailhead
From the junction of Johnson Pass Road with Highway 50 south of Meyers, 1.25 miles west of Echo Summit, go east on Johnson Pass Road for about half a mile. Turn northwest on Echo Lake Road. This road leads all the way down to the Chalet, Marina and Lower Echo Lake's dam. Unless you arrive very early, the chance to find parking there is small. It is recommended to park in the upper trailhead parking lot and then walk down. The map kiosk in front of the dam has a small box with permit forms applying to those travelers who plan to enter the Desolation Wilderness.

References and further information
[1] Tahoe Rim Trail: Echo Lakes To Barker Pass [].
[2] Echo Lake Chalet's taxi service:
[3] Desolation Wilderness Permit, CA:

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