Meeks Bay to Emerald Bay: 19 Miles of Forgivenes

Photo © iStockphoto

By Robert Frohlich

There are times in every person’s life that demand a modest act of penance – like when you’ve been ill tempered to your sweetie, or been busted pretending to know the difference between trout flies or climbing copperheads. When you’ve behaved badly a good remedy is to hike Meeks Bay to Emerald Bay in a day.
If executed with rigor this 19-mile hike through Desolation Wilderness in summer offers an ennobling out-of-body experience that approximates a sadist session scolding for the true penitent.
Forget camping, backpacks and a scrumptious lunch. If you’re going to take on 19 miles of agony between dawn and dusk its best to feel as light on your feet as you possibly can. Never mind carting along a bunch of water and food. This is Purgatory after all. Instead, bring a water filter, windbreaker, hat and sturdy shoes. A single energy bar is permissible.
Starting early is crucial. Be sure to fill out your wilderness permit available in the self-regulating box next to the map at the Meeks Bay Trailhead.
The hike travels over just about every type of terrain that Desolation offers. The first part of the hike follows Meeks Creek up the Tahoe/Yosemite Trail, through sun-filtered dense forests, four and a half miles to Lake Genevieve. From there a succession of lakes appear: Crag, Hidden, Shadow, and Stoney Ridge. It’s just before Rubicon Lake that the elevation rises dramatically in a sequence of switchbacks.
By Phipps Pass you’ve covered 11 miles. From its 9234-foot elevation, panoramic views of the Velma Lakes Basin and the granite character of Desolation unfold under a sky as wide as the face of time. Once past the steep high alpine pass the trail runs into a part of the Pacific Crest Trail that winds its way to the granite carpet of Middle and Upper Velma Lakes and the Eagle Falls Trail which concludes at Emerald Bay.
Your eager smile and polite greeting may alarm other evening hikers and tourists at the end of the trail who don’t recognize an exile returned. Go home and shower. Phone those you’ve offended and apologize. You have already forgiven yourself.

Robert “Fro” Frohlich is a popular Tahoe journalist and book author.