I tentatively looked up at the cloudy sky through the windshield as we wound our way up Highway 50. How are we supposed to hike in by moonlight if the moon is masked by clouds? I planned this trip because I wanted a new adventure and it seemed I wasn’t going to be disappointed…
Destination: Lake Aloha
Mileage: 15-ish round trip
Trailhead: Echo Lakes off Hwy 50
Elevation: 7,500 up to 8,116 feet
By the time Route and I pulled into the trailhead parking lot there was only remnant light left in the sky. I shoved the last of my dinner in my face and presented an ice chest full of beer to Basil and Soils-4. Basil and I reminisced about the last time we were at Echo Lake while on the Tahoe Rim Trail and took the water taxi after enjoying two beers each, which I unintentionally recreated by bringing the Summerfest. However, the water taxi was closed for the night so we stuck to one each, then shouldered our packs and hiked down to Echo Lakes.
The 2.5 miles along Echo Lakes went smoothly; miraculously the clouds cleared a path for the moon so we basked in light so bright that we had shadows.
Once we started weaving in and out of trees a couple of us put on our headlamps with red lights as to not ruin our night vision. We passed a couple of tents on the side of the trail with headlamps poking out as they tried to figure out who was wondering around in the woods so late. And that’s it. That’s all the people we saw – two tents with headlamps. Easily one of the busiest trails in a heavily used wilderness and we had it to ourselves. This was the moment I realized I need to do more things by full moon light.
Then came the snow. Hiking by moonlight on a well designated trail is one thing, but route finding on snow with trees and clouds blotting out the light was a different story. At first it was just patches that we charged over no problem. Then we found ourselves surrounded by snow on a trail we weren’t sure was the trail. Headlamps came on and we spread out looking for signs of travel. Eventually we found what could be the trail, scouted out a few snowless and somewhat-level tent spots, and then found a trail marker just down the hill. By that point it was already midnight so we decided to call it a night.
After breaking camp in the morning we reached Lake Margery, which had an ice shelf still! The trail climbed away from the lake with a hypothermic runout should one slip. We all agreed we were glad we didn’t do this stretch in the dark.
After a bit more route finding we made our way to Lake Aloha. Most of the southeastern tent sites were already taken, snow-covered, or marshy from snowmelt. We continued on and explored the shelves above Lake Aloha farther along the trail. Perseverance paid off with a site big enough for two tents, a snowmelt stream to filter water, and a granite slab with a fantastic view.
With camp set up and hours left of daylight, we looked at the map to see what we could explore and set our sites on Cracked Crag.
The hike up was a lot of scree fields, but the view only got better the higher we went. Route, Aspen, and I scrambled ahead and quickly waved encouragement to Basil and Soils-4 when we discovered where Cracked Crag got its name.
The window to the other side had a great view, but we wanted more! The three of us scrambled southeast just below the ridge and discovered a rock cairn marking the true peak. The view toward Tahoe was fantastic with lakes speckling the landscape and Fallen Leaf Lake below Mount Tallac. However, due to the wind, we didn’t soak in the view for long.
Once back at camp it was time for layers and wine. This time we went to bed with the remnant light, but at some point I got up to go find a bush. The view outside the tent was amazing. Lake Aloha and the bordering snow-covered peaks bathed in moonlight was breath taking, and I didn’t even have my glasses on. If you find yourself at Lake Aloha with a full moon, be sure you’re hydrated so you can wake up in the middle of the night to that view.
On Sunday, we loaded up our packs and said aloha to Lake Aloha. The hike out was literally night and day, but also figuratively. Backpackers flooded the trail and day-hikers galore as we made our way through the trail traffic back to the marina. However, even though we were retracing our steps the scenery was all new! This is how you make an out-and-back into a loop!
During the easy stretch along Echo Lakes we were dreaming of sandals and beers waiting for us at the trailhead. I was a little disappointed that the store at the marina didn’t have Summerfest again, but Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale sufficed quite nicely.
Now to find more full moon adventures…