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Desolation Wilderness Loop

Day 4 of 5

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Sunday, August 21st
Lake Schmidell to Clyde Lake
6.6 miles
1440 vertical feet (ascent)
1260 vertical feet (descent)

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GPX File

We woke up around 8:30am, and it was already hot. The mosquitoes were thankfully not as much of a problem now, although a few zipped around us. After packing up, we got underway just after 11:10am.

Morning reflections in Lake Schmidell

Lake Schmidell

The water was so still and clear, I was afraid I'd walk right into the lake

Our first decision was where to rejoin the main trail. I knew that we could backtrack on the trail we had taken in, then turn right to rejoin the main trail. However, it looked like we might be able to save a little mileage by cutting across directly to the main trail from our campsite. I eventually decided that sticking to what we knew was probably better, despite the extra 0.3 miles.

So we went back along the trail we'd taken yesterday, back past the pond next to Lake Schmidell. We slightly overshot our target, as we completely missed the trail sign we'd seen yesterday. It's not one of the standard trail signposts in the area, but rather a horizontal wooden sign sitting behind a small cairn (behind coming from our direction, at least). We soon noticed our mistake as the trail started to leave the pond, however. We backtracked and took the left fork to stay on the main trail, instead of the right fork back toward Lake Schmidell.

Lake Schmidell outlet stream

Trail sign we missed on the way out (coming from behind)

We followed the main trail, but soon lost it. The trail winds through grasses and was not easy to follow. At one point we stopped, looking around for the trail. Thankfully, at that point, some backpackers came by in the opposite direction and pointed us to the trail. They'd been camped at Lake Schmidell last night, as well. In fact we'd seen them very briefly yesterday as they passed us at Middle Velma Lake - a couple and their dog. They said they suspected an avalanche had come down the slopes at some point, obliterating much of the trail we'd struggled with yesterday. Based on the one picture I have of that area (I wasn't in the mood to take many pictures, considering the situation and all the mosquitoes), I'm inclined to agree. It shows a snow field and trees bent in unexpected ways.

In any case, we continued on the main trail, then turned left at the intersection, toward Lake Lois. From here, the trail starts to climb steeply, up rocky switchbacks. It's about a 500 foot climb to the top. As we climbed, we obtained some views of Lake Schmidell from above, although we could never see the entire lake because of the tall trees near the edge of the lake. The trail was mostly easy to follow, and as we neared the top, we obtained views of the mountains to the northeast.

View from the trail

Looking out across the Rockbound Valley

At the top the trail levels off. We rested at a snow patch before continuing on. Shortly, we came to the next trail intersection. The Red Peak Stock Trail heads to the right; we stayed straight on the trail toward Lake Lois. After a brief flat section, the trail descends down to Lake Lois, a very pretty lake a bit smaller than Lake Schmidell.

Lake Lois

Looking out at Lake Lois

A closer look at Lake Lois

We decided to take a break at the lake and enjoy the view. On the far side of the lake we could see a waterfall tumbling down the mountain, which was half covered in snow. As far as I could tell, we were the only ones at the lake. It looks like a prettier place to camp than Schmidell, although I am not sure of the presence of good campsites. We weren't camping here, however, so after our break we returned to the trail, which follows the northeastern shore of the lake.

Lake Lois outlet stream

We crossed the lake's outlet stream, crossed a snow patch on the other side, then started a very pretty section of trail. Three ponds in the area provided great reflective surfaces for the mountains behind. The trail here was a bit muddy in places, but it was manageable. We encountered two groups of day hikers here. Well, they looked like day hikers, although maybe they had camped at Lake Doris (nar Rockbound Pass) and were doing a day hike from their base camp. The only other thing I can think of is that they came from the Wrights Lake campground. That's a bit of a hike, though -- about 6.5 miles from Wrights Lake one way to Lake Lois. I probably should have asked them where they'd started.

Reflections in pond near Lake Lois

Trail next to the pond

Looking back along the trail

After passing through the muddy meadows, we reached our next intersection (at 2.3 miles). Lake Doris was just to our right, out of sight. Well, the lake was out of sight uphill, but we could see a tent up there, so we knew where the lake should be. We considered climbing up to the lake and taking a rest break there. Eventually, though, we decided we didn't want to spend the extra time and energy. Instead, we turned left and headed downhill toward the Rubicon River.

Trail headed up toward intersection near Lake Doris

We soon entered the forest again, and the mosquitoes returned to us, as well. About halfway down, we stopped briefly for a snack break, then continued back on the trail. Before we knew it, we were at the next trail intersection, about 3.8 miles from Lake Schmidell. To the right was China Flat and our eventual destination for the day, Clyde Lake. Well, that was our original destination. I did bring up the idea of going all the way to Lake Aloha today. This would add a couple miles to our hike today, but take a couple off from our last day. We decided we'd make a decision later in the day.

The trail now is relatively flat, mostly following the Rubicon River. Soon we had our first of three river crossings today. We put on our sandals and crossed the river easily (the water was less than a foot high), then stayed and played in the river for a while. I marveled at the fact that we had the place to ourselves -- in fact, we'd only see one other hiker the rest of the day. So we saw perhaps a dozen people on this day -- a couple at Lake Schmidell, about 9 or 10 near Lake Lois, and one near the Rubicon River later. This was a stark contrast to our first day to Lake Aloha.

First river crossing of the day

We left on our sandals because I knew the next river crossing would come up soon. About 10 minutes later we crossed China Flat, a large meadow, then reached the next river crossing. Once again we took a long break here, enjoying the river. This time, we put our boots on afterwards, as we'd have to hike for more than a mile before the next crossing.

Second river crossing of the day

The trail stayed flat as we hiked through the forest. About a mile later we reached our final river crossing of the trip. This one was a bit deeper than the others, so Jean had to carry Jared across. She also accidentally let go of a trekking pole and I had to retrieve it from the water, stuck upside down in a pool about 50 feet away. Once we got to the other side of the river, the mosquitoes were in full force, making it hard to put our boots back on.

Final river crossing of the day

Thankfully, once we did get back on the trail again, it climbed out of the forest and left most of the mosquitoes behind. Instead we encountered some dense brush and wildflowers while climbing steadily uphill. As we climbed, we obtained some views of the surrounding mountains, but the late afternoon sun dulled most views to the west. After climbing about 500 feet, we reached the next trail intersection. The trail continues straight toward Mosquito Pass (and Lake Aloha), but it was already past 6pm by this point and we decided we would just turn right and head down to Clyde Lake.

On the trail toward the Clyde Lake intersection

Unfortunately my GPS ran out of batteries at this point, so the GPS route you see from the main trail to Clyde Lake is manually traced. In any case, it only took us about 14 minutes to get down to the lake from here. The trail was steep and rocky, and blocked by downed trees in one place, but it's easy enough to follow. We passed a small pond on our right just before the lake, then reached the lake itself. Not seeing many camping options to the left, we crossed the rocky dam to our right and discovered a large open area with obvious campsites overlooking the lake.

Late afternoon sun clinging to slopes above Clyde Lake

Clyde Lake sits at the bottom of a half bowl, with the steep slopes of Mount Price rising from its southern shores, water tumbling down in a sliver of a waterfall past patches of snow and talus as the bottom. Since there were high mountain walls to the west, the entire lake was in shadow even though the sun was still shining on the mountains to the east and behind us to the north. It also appeared that we had the entire lake to ourself. Considering we didn't see anyone at the lake that night or the next day, I think it's a safe bet to say that was the case.

Mt. Price above Clyde Lake

While there are several camping spots here, most of them are mostly exposed, small, and slightly slanted. We chose the only one that appeared to fit our tent, even though it was a bit slanted and provided minimal wind protection behind a large rock. We had great views of most of the lake and the mountains behind it. We set up, had dinner, and then settled in to try to sleep.

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