A Sea Monster in Eagle Lake

Look mommy a sea monster! This is how the hike ended but let me share with you how it began…

Today I went on a simple hike to Eagle Lake which is just above Emerald Bay. I arrived at the trail-head parking lot at 0830 and took the last parking spot available. After getting my day use permit and paying my $5.00 parking fee, I set out on my trek. For the benefit of the reader, I am 50 years old, overweight and out of shape. I wanted to see how navigable this trail was for a variety of hikers.

The trail to Eagle Lake from the parking lot is well maintained, well-marked and consists largely of granite stairs/steps.

Granite stairs
Granite stairs

Upper Eagle Falls come quickly into view and a bridge crosses the falls providing views up and down a gorge. The walk was very pleasant and provided breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay. I saw several pregnant women, scores of children and the elderly all navigating the trail without issue.

Upper Cascade Falls with bridge to Eagle Lake trail.
Upper Eagle Falls with bridge to Eagle Lake trail.

One hour later, after numerous stops for pictures and sightseeing, I arrived at Eagle Lake. What a beautiful place! The craggy granite bowl and peaks that frame the lake were extraordinary. The lake is relatively small and I could see the whole circumference. This is where the simple hike began to go south.

Eagle Lake
Eagle Lake

I was standing at the headwaters of the creek that left Eagle Lake and fed Eagle Falls. I hatched the idea that it would be a great idea to go see the creek coming from Velma Lake that filled Eagle Lake. After all, I could both hear and see the spot where that creek entered Eagle Lake. If I was standing at 6:00, the other creek was about 11:00. It looked like a nice stroll around the lake with the navigation of a small field of boulders on the opposite side but hey, no big deal, they didn’t look that big from where I was standing! I would go find a nice spot in the shade, listen to the brook, smoke my pipe and watch the fish jump. I briefly noted that the only people visible were all enjoying the bottom of the lake around the 6:00 position with no one visible anywhere else. Undeterred by such trivial observations, I set out in a counter clockwise direction.

Visitors frolic in Eagle Lake
Visitors frolic in Eagle Lake

The day was very warm and I had neglected to wear bug spray because it was morning and I didn’t think the mosquitoes would be out yet. They weren’t – but the flies were, and in abundance. I’m not sure if the sight of an old fat guy flailing wildly at the air while climbing through the bushes was alarming or entertaining. I discovered by the time I reached the 2:00 position that nature never intended for people to traverse the perimeter of the lake. Those of you to follow would be better served by enjoying the accessible part of the lake and then going back the way you came.

Strongly resisting the alarm bells of reason that were sounding in my brain and instead of going back to a place where I could enjoy the lake, I suppressed good sense and forged ahead. I could almost hear my wife telling me that this was not a good idea but she had elected to not accompany me on this hike – I’m not sure why. Her parting words as I left the house had something to do with “old and foolish” but I’m sure she was just kidding; she’s likes to tease me like that. She tried in earnest to send me with a chaperone but I insisted “I’ve got this!”

Gateway to Desolation Wilderness
Gateway to Desolation Wilderness

By the time I bushwhacked my way through nearly impenetrable foliage, I arrived and the field of small boulders which actually ranged in size from as big as my truck to as big as my house. Determined to win I forged ahead. Remember that this was a very warm day. A field of granite in the direct sun was not unlike crawling across the surface of the sun. As I dragged myself up and over rough granite trying not to plummet to the bottom, my legs became cut up and bruised. I now alternated between hanging on for dear life and hopping around on the blistering hot rocks like a spastic monkey. Add in the flailing at the flies and I must have been quite the spectacle for the rational folks.

At one point I stopped to put my heart back in my chest and enjoy a bout with heat stroke. As I clung to the side of a rock by my teeth and fingernails, a passerby happened upon me. He was hanging by a rope with a harness and a bandolier of caribeaners around his chest. He yelled down to his belay person, some very unkind things about my mental capacity and decision making, which I will not repeat here. He obviously has no taste for adventure.

Finally clearing the field of boulders, I bushwhacked through another impenetrable thicket of thorns, weeds, and sticks, much taller than I was, to reach the creek. Upon arriving at the creek, the brush was so dense that the water could only be glimpsed underneath the thick canopy of brush. I began looking for a way across it because thus far, except for the bleeding, I was still dry. As luck would have it, there was no way across. I fought my way to the mouth of the creek where it enters Eagle Lake and determined that the only way across was to wade across the mouth of the creek where it was shallow. Makes total sense, after all, I could see the sand mere inches below the water! I stepped out and down in the same instant. Sinking up to my knees in silt, the struggle to free myself propelled me forward. Finally able to free my legs from the silt and mud, I found myself in the middle of the creek in water up to my chest. At this point I realized three things: it was a very good thing that my briar pipe full of Captain Black Dark and my beef jerky were in the top pocket of my day pack near my shoulders. It was not a very good thing that my $800 Samsung smart phone was in the cargo pocket of my shorts two feet below the water, and third, the water really felt very nice and was an excellent complement to heat stroke!

Of course there was no way out on the opposite bank so I tripped and fell and waded along the shore until I could pull myself out onto a blistering hot granite boulder. At this point a large, unidentifiable creature covered in mud and sticks pulling itself out of the lake onto a rock may have startled more than a few. (My apologies to the tourism folks). I laid on the rock catching my breath until my clothes and I started to smolder from the heat. I was at the 10:00 position on the lake. I did get to briefly enjoy an Eagle soaring overhead but when the fish started to both laugh and curse at me, I knew it was time to go.

View of Emerald Bay from Eagle falls trail
View of Emerald Bay from Eagle falls trail

Finally making it back to the trail, I took a last look at Eagle Lake and headed back down the hill. The look of fear and concern on the faces of the tourists coming toward the lake was a bit much I think. Some averted their eyes, shielded their children or asked if I needed an ambulance. Geez, you would think they had never seen a red faced wheezing, bleeding, fat man covered in mud and sticks squishing down the trail leaving behind a trail of water before!

I made it back to the parking lot at 1117 hours. When I got home, my wife took one look at me and muttered some things very similar to the guy on the rope about my mental capacity but I can’t really repeat that here. She is such a kidder!

I highly recommend hiking to Eagle Lake, drinking in the majesty, splashing in the water and then going back out the way you came.

I am putting together another hike soon so if you need a tour guide, just drop me a note! Happy trails!

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5 thoughts on “A Sea Monster in Eagle Lake”

  1. Eagle Lake sounds like such a breathtaking place – it is a great shame that I don’t live anywhere near it so probably won’t be able to enjoy it myself.
    I live hiking, but there aren’t so many great trails near me (as a Brit, there is only so much land to cover before you have to cross borders into other countries).
    Thanks for the fantastic read,
    Isobel

  2. My dad likes to hike and he is considered fast in his age. He always asks me to go with him but for me, hiking is a bit too boring as the only thing I can see is trees. However, if Eagle lake is anywhere near my place, I will for sure hike every once a week. The view is just too breathtaking, unfortunately, no place like this in my country.

    I know it is a silly question, but would you mind to share with me that which country is eagle lake in?

  3. Great site! I currently reside in the northeast however, I was born and raised in Northern California. Lake Tahoe has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I spent many days and nights there growing up as a kid and into my adulthood. Your site has ample amount of information for anyone looking to spend a vacation there. Viewing your site brings back great memories for me. Thank you!

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