Lyons Creek Trail – Desolation Wilderness

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Things don’t always go according to plan.  I’m normally pretty good at planning stuff and I have decent luck most of the time, but every once in a while hiking does not go how I expect.

The Plan:  This was the last quota-free weekend of the season in Desolation Wilderness.  From here on out, overnight permits must be secured ahead of time and are subject to whatever is available.  I don’t always plan things very far in advance – this is why I will never have a lake front campsite in Tahoe or any of the prime campsites along the coast.  I simply don’t think to make reservations 6 months to a year out.  Anyway, the lack of quotas was on my mind, so on a whim, I planned a backpacking trip up to Sylvia Lake.  I was also hoping we’d have enough time to hike Pyramid Peak. It’s been on my list.

I checked the Forest Service website a few days beforehand to make sure Wrights Lake Road would be open.  Indeed it was.  I reserved a permit (still required, even with no quota) and we packed up our gear on Friday night. We were good to go!

Directions to Trailhead: Wrights Lake Road splits off (north) from Highway 50, 5 miles past Kyburz. It’s marked with a sign and easy to spot. The Lyons Creek trail is also marked; the trailhead is approximately 4 miles up the road from Hwy 50. There are a number of parking spots, though I’ve heard it can get a little crowded in the summer. An iron ranger and large sign mark the trailhead.

The sign gets taken down in the winter, but the trailhead is still quite obvious.
The sign gets taken down in the winter, but the trailhead is still quite obvious.

The Attempt: We woke up early and hit the road. We made it on to the trail by about 9:00am. It would be 5+ miles to Sylvia Lake. That would leave us plenty of time to set up camp and make an attempt at Pyramid Peak. This could pretty much be done as a day hike – we were just making it easier by giving ourselves two days!

The trail climbs steadily, but never steeply.  As we hiked, we started noticing patches of snow alongside the trail.  Increasingly, our path became wetter and snowier.  Soon we were ducking under or climbing over downed trees.  Apparently, quite a wind storm hit this area sometime in the past few months.  (The nearby Wrights Lake Campground is actually closed for repair this season, due to all the storm damage/ downed trees.)

One of many obstacles.
One of many obstacles.

The larger patches of snow caused us to lose the trail in a few spots.  We knew to follow along the gushing Lyons Creek, so we were always able to find the trail again.

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It was quite a few miles before we entered Desolation Wilderness.  After passing the boundary sign, the scenery opened up quite a bit.  I figured we were *out of the woods,* past the snowy forest and out in the open!  Little did I know…

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Failure: Less than 1 mile before reaching Sylvia Lake, the trail crosses Lyons Creek.  We were suddenly back in  the forest on a northern facing slope.  We were walking through knee deep snow when we reached the gushing stream.  We scouted out several potential places to cross – none looked terribly safe.   The snow looked deeper on the other side.  Perhaps we could have waded across, but my feet were already getting cold inside my boots.  I wasn’t feeling particularly confident.

The stream crossing - it looks more tame than it felt.
The stream crossing – it looks more tame than it felt.

After some debate, we decided to turn around.

Instead of following the trail directly back, we climbed up the ridge to the south.  We were hoping for some epic views and perhaps a nice camp site.  We did find some good vistas, but as the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in, we had trouble picking a campsite.  After a long, relaxing lunch, we decided to hike back out.  We clearly weren’t going to make it to our destination.  Instead, it would be nice to take a hot shower and sleep in a real bed.

Somewhere near our lunch spot.
Somewhere near our lunch spot.
Little cascades from all the snow melt.
Little cascades from all the snow melt.

All in all, we hiked 10 miles to nowhere with all our backpacking gear.  It was beautiful, stressful, relaxing and tiresome all at the same time.  Yes, it was a disappointing outcome, but I take some comfort in knowing that it was good training/conditioning for future trips.  We’ll be back!

ANT ON A LOG! Photographed on our way out.
ANT ON A LOG! Photographed on our way out.

4 thoughts on “Lyons Creek Trail – Desolation Wilderness”

  1. Good story! Take comfort that you’ve experienced more wilderness and adventure than the whole set of local hiking clubs combined! They are limited to being lost on ten minute trails. Backpacking has long been banned, do they hate starry nights and the freedom from civilization with all of the pollution. Used to be that we’d carry skis from far below on the Wrights Lake Road to tour to Lyons Lake, camping overnight about Sylvia. Good times, free of crowds and aggravation, traffic, crime, and the never ending creeps and jerks!

  2. I leave next week from Chicago to head out, we have the permits in hand. Exactly when did you take this trip. It looks like it was Spring, but you post has today’s date. I just want to prepare properly, or no it’s not a good trail right now.

    1. Hi Jen- we were there a month ago on May 17. We’ve had quite a few hot days since then so there will be significantly less snow now. Have a great trip!

      1. Thanks, I realized that I was a month behind, I guess I was having a moment. Thanks for getting back to me we are totally looking forward to this trip!