Susie Lake: 8 miles of bliss in Desolation Wilderness
I went for my first hike of the season — without skis — earlier this month.
My friend has raved about the Glen Alpine trail, the different trail options and the amazing views of the Desolation Wilderness, so we went for it.
I moved to South Shore late last summer and was more worried about getting organized to ski than I was to hike. My only real hiking adventure last year in the basin was to venture up Mount Tallac, which was awesome, and pretty grueling.
We wound our way on the single-lane road around Fallen Leaf Lake and parked at the trailhead. It was around 9:30 a.m. (late!) when we started and didn’t have a concrete plan.
My friend has used the dog-friendly, year-round trail often and suggested we head toward Susie Lake and Gilmore Lake and then decide where to go, depending on the snow line.
The hike to each lake is about 4 miles and gains nearly 2,000 feet of elevation. It’s rated as moderate. Early on, the trail passes through the Glen Alpine Springs historical site where there are informational boards posted that tell about the location’s history.
We passed a ton of people in the first couple of miles on the trail, much to my delight. When I hike, I’m so competitive that I time myself. I have this thing about being passed. I call it being killed. I prefer to do the killing.
After about 90 minutes zig-zagging up switchbacks, looking at spring waterfalls and avoiding snowy patches and heavy snowmelt runoff, we reached a fork in the trail: right to Gilmore Lake or left to Susie Lake.
The choice rolled around in my head. My sister’s name is Suzy but my girlfriend is crazy about the Gilmore Girls, a (corny, mostly feel-good) TV comedy-drama.
Since I’m more of a fan of my sister than the show, my friend and I veered left.
And that’s about the time the snow started to cause problems in finding, and staying, on the trail.
With water gushing down the mountainsides, it created several water crossings, one of which was bridged by a fairly thick, 25-foot section of a downed tree.
We hopped on, balanced ourselves and tip-toed across. The crossing was easier going there than the way back with the tree at about a 25- to 30-degree incline. On the way back, I nearly crawled on my stomach to avoid falling in the ice water.
About an hour after the log crossing, and multiple patches of snow, we reached our destination. If we walked any further and gained any more elevation, we’d have needed snowshoes. There is still a good amount of snow above 8,500 feet.
But my friend was right; the views of the surrounding peaks were stunning.
I can see a backpacking trip in the near future. I traversed about halfway around the lake and spied my campsite. Looking at the regulations for the area, an overnight permit is mandatory. There are no campfires allowed. Tents must be 100 feet from the water’s edge and dog waste must be buried at least the same distance away.
We took in the views for about 20 minutes. I ate lunch, guzzled several ounces of water from my hydration pack and took a ton of photos, none of which turned out great because the skies were dark and a thunderstorm was imminent (the last 30 minutes on the way out we were hiking in the rain).
But as I ate my tuna sandwich and stared out over the frozen, icy lake, surrounded by snow-covered peaks, I was left with one prominent thought — I wish I brought my skis.