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Meeks Bay to Eagle Falls

Desolation Wilderness

August 20th - August 23rd, 2010

18.5 miles
3780 vertical feet
19 hours, 25 minutes
Rating: 9/10

Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 89 north to the Eagle Falls parking lot, which will be on the left near the west end of Emerald Bay. Overnight parking requires a fee (included in the backpacking permit you'll need to camp overnight in the Desolation Wilderness). After parking, walk up Highway 89 to Emerald Bay State Park and take the trolley (stop is just above the park) to Meeks Bay. From the Meeks Bay campground, it's a short walk across and up the road to the Meeks Bay trailhead.   View Driving Map



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When you're backpacking with kids, options are somewhat limited. In our case, I knew our kids could reasonably hike up to about 6 miles a day. Since we did a 3-day trip last year, I wanted to stretch that out to a 4-day trip this year. With those parameters in mind, I searched all my sources and discovered what seemed like the perfect trip - an 18 mile trip from Meeks Bay to Eagle Falls in which no day would be more than 5.5 miles.

With the trip route in hand, I waited. I knew that permits for Desolation Wilderness were not available until the third Thursday in April. When that day arrived and I finally called, they said I'd have to wait another week - they'd changed it to the fourth Thursday in April. So, I called the next week and grabbed my spot. There's a minimal fee for the permit. There is a quota system in place, and half the quota can be reserved while half is left available for first-come, first-served visitors. When you make your reservation, you only need to tell them where you'll enter and exit, and where you plan to camp the first night. The other nights you are free to go anywhere in the wilderness.

A couple weeks before the trip, I started to re-evaluate our equipment. I knew that with an extra day we'd have to carry more food and fuel, and the extra weight would be tough to handle. Also, the bear canisters we had were too small to carry all the food we needed in one canister. Rather than carry two, we decided to finally bite the bullet and buy the larger Bearikade, which despite being larger was actually lighter than one of the older canisters we had.

We also decided to purchase two new sleeping bags which were over a pound lighter than our older bags. I spent a lot of time looking into new sleeping pads. I was worried because I remembered not being all that comfortable on our last trip, and I was considering getting a larger, 25-inch wide pad. Unfortunately, I only found two such pads and I found reasons not to get either. First, there was the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core wide long, but that came in at a whopping 2 pounds 4 ounces. Second, there was the Therm-a-rest NeoAir large, a tidy 19 ounces (lighter than the one I had). After trying it out in the store and reading reviews, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It just felt too flimsy and some reviewers reported problems with it deflating during the night. Plus, some people said it sounded like a bag of potato chips, and I didn't want to keep my 3 tent-mates up. In the end, I decided to just stick with the ProLite 4 that I had.

The other big task was figuring out what food to bring and how many calories. We had taken a little over 12,000 calories on the 3-day trip, and I estimated about 21,000 calories would be good for our 4-day trip. However, when I added everything up it came to about 27,000 calories. I wasn't sure what to cut, and I was concerned that our kids would have bigger appetites than last year, so I just pretty much left it at that, possibly carrying a little extra food.

Planning our food before the trip

Thursday rolled around and we left the Bay Area a little after 1pm, encountering almost no traffic. We arrived in South Lake Tahoe around 5pm and checked into our bed and breakfast. After dinner with a friend, we went back to the bed and breakfast and finalized our packs and did the final weigh-in. I was a bit concerned when my pack weighed in at 61.5 pounds, the most I've ever carried and 3 pounds heavier than even my Rae Lakes pack. But with two small kids we couldn't really distribute the weight more evenly, so I just figured I'd be strong enough to handle it. You can see a list of everything in our packs.

DayDescriptionMilesAscentDescent
1Meeks Bay to Crag Lake 5.0121050
2Crag Lake to Rubicon Lake 3.21160390
3Rubicon Lake to Middle Velma Lake 5.48001210
4Middle Velma Lake to Eagle Falls 4.96101840


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