Two prior attempts at this segment were unsuccessful . One time due to a snowstorm in May, and another in June due to blisters. Each direction has its share of challenges; Mount Rose to Brockway the initial climb is steep, and there is a good campsite and water for the first night. On my trip through Desolation Wilderness, my trail partner Dioko was using an app by Guthook Hikes, Tahoe Rim Trail Hiker. He swore by it, so I downloaded it for this trip. Turned out to be very useful, as it was TRT specific and solicited user-input for trail updates. Since it uses your cellphone’s GPS capability, the cell signal is not always needed.
Brockway to Mt. Rose, there is little water to be found, especially after Spring in a drought year, so you will have a dry camp the first night if you don’t cache some water at Brockway or Martis. Gray Lake is about equidistant for an overnight, so it’s becomes a toss of the coin really. This trip I chose to park at Mt. Rose Summit parking area and walk over to the Mt. Rose Campground for the night. The walk-in campgrounds for tent campers is at the top of the hill and out to the summit. Nice and removed from the trailer and RV campers. Nice vault toilets and pressure (a lot of pressure) running water at the entrance to the camp area. I took the one all the way in the back for seclusion, though there were only two other campers there. Well manicured area for the tent of coarse sand, nestled between a few trees kept me protected from the harsh winds I would have that night. New bear box, picnic table and fire ring was also there, though I only used the bear box.
I was treated to a beautiful alpenglow sunset over Mt. Rose before turning in for the night. The strong winds of 25-35 knots all night made for little sleep; I imagined myself as Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, ending up in Reno the next morning. I wanted seclusion, I got it, as the campground was deserted by morning. After coffee and a few protein bars, I was off for the trailhead. A nice crisp morning with a late start by most standards, I was hiking by 0830. The trail climbed quickly away from Highway 431, soon bringing me to a view point, overlooking Tahoe Meadows and a glimpse of the lake. The trail soon turned north into a wooded area, following the steep 25° contour of the hillside. I had hiked this route once before in May, but in snowshoes, finding it difficult to find the trail. After a few miles the trees dropped away for me to see Mt. Rose and vast meadow stretching into the Washoe Valley towards Reno.
In a short while I arrived at Galena Falls. Time for a snack and to top off with water from the cold waterfall. (Not the easiest to get to, safely) Soon after breaking out the trail mix and Oreos, I had a hoard of little furry new friends offering to help me eat it. (They especially like the Oreos)
Time to start up the switchbacks up to the next high meadow. After the climb above Galena Falls, the trail was not terribly steep until I crossed an access road for the communications workers for the AT&T relay station on Relay Peak.
(If you follow the road, it would bring you to a gondola that the workers use mostly in the winter time to access the relay station, when the road is not easily navigated.) Many long switchbacks later I arrived at the ridge between Mt. Houghton and Relay Peak.
From there I could see Donner Pass and Lake; nearly 360° views with visibility of 25+ miles. The trail leading from there to Relay Peak was loose crumbling talus, but the folks from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association had done a great job at keeping it well maintained.
At the ridge between the relay station and Relay Peak (10,330’) I came upon a female hiker traveling the opposite direction. We chatted for a bit, but began to notice some rather peculiar things about her. She seemed well schooled and knowledgable, but her mannerisms and rambling “one-sided” conversation struck me as very odd. Most of us hikers/backpackers would have hiking gear, you know, from a sporting goods store like REI, Moosejaw, etc. Well, not this lady. Can’t blame her for wardrobe and gear choices, but wearing railroad engineer’s gloves struck me as unusual. After about ten minutes of disjointed ramblings, I asked her if she had difficulty with high altitudes before. The “deer in the headlights” look told me I should be on my way, and bid her “happy trails”.
The view from the very windy Relay Peak was spectacular. Cotton-ball clouds resembling “The Simpsons” were blowing right over my head. 360° views of Shasta and Lassen to the north, Donner Lake and the Martis Valley to the west and the Crystal Range and Lake Tahoe to the south made the arduous climb to the top all worthwhile.
Time for another snack, photo ops and a brief rest to get my pack off. There trail down now was quite steep – many switchbacks 1,100 feet down the ridge brought me eventually to Rose Knob Peak. From there I could see Ginny Lake, far below to the south.
More of a green pond by this time of year and too far off the trail as a water source. Turning right at the trail junction at Rose Knob Peak (9,740′) and Gray Lake, I headed down to the lake for my camp for the night. A short 0.9 mile hike down behind the peak brought me to another trail junction – to the right was the stream flowing into Gray Lake – to the left, the north side of the lake with several campsites are. Fairly level and rock-free spots for about 10-12 small tents.
The stream was running strong, with stones and wooden footpaths for crossing the stream or continuing to the northeast trail around the lake. After filling up on cold, clear water, I headed for the north end of the lake to make camp for the night. At the time, I was the only one there, so I had pick of the litter. I found a site with a nice long fallen tree as my settee and picnic table. By mid-August now, the mosquitos didn’t seem to be much of a problem at Gray Lake. Nice not to wear my head net for bugs, as I forget I have it on and try to drink soup or coffee, thus spilling it down the front of me. (happy nobody is around to see my faux pas) A short time later, another solo hiker, Melissa (?) came into camp. She was doing a thru hike on the TRT before heading off to school. We made friends, had dinner and chatted for a while before adjourning to our separate tents for the night. We were both packed up and on the trail by 0730 the next day, each of us going in opposite directions. It took about one hour for me to reach the ridge and rejoin the TRT going west towards Brockway. The winds were building and a cold stiff breeze had me stop and put on more clothing. The “Buff” scarf/headgear that I bought at my fav store in Truckee (Mountain Sports & Ace Hardware), turned out to be a great buy. Kept my neck, ears and head warm along with my wool tuque.
The trail was quite open now to the south with no trees for shade or blocking the wind, with spectacular views from Incline to South Shore. The trail from Rose Knob Peak to Mt. Baldy was now a sea of drying Mule’s Ear, rustling in the wind. It has the faint smell of a cigar, at least to my nose. Picked up my pace a bit as the trail was nice and buttery and I needed some trees to block the wind and sun that was buffeting my tired old face. I didn’t need any more wrinkles on my turkey neck either.
From Mt. Baldy to Martis Peak it was uneventful. There were several times however, that I felt as though I was being watched – the same feeling that I had while in a thunderstorm over Armstrong Pass to Big Meadow – like the hair standing up on the back of your neck, knowing that you were not alone in the wilderness. I had evidence of mountain lion scat before, but not on this segment so far…may have been a bad thing…maybe he hadn’t eaten yet. In that case I’ll pick up the pace a little more. I passed a young guy, trail running. I was relieved now that the cat had choices…new young meat, or old and tough. Below Martis Peak the trail crossed Forest Service access roads several times. I welcomed returning to the trail, as the road was marred with ruts and more rocks to avoid. I met several other day hikers on their way to Martis from Brockway Summit. One local couple was riding their mountain bikes to Martis Peak from Brockway – didn’t sound like much fun to me, and I love to bike – just not endlessly up hill. By now I had passed East Martis Peak, nearing the Vista Point 1+ miles from Brockway Summit. This is where I cached some water for myself for the dry section from Watson Lake to Gray lake several months before. Not only was I close to finishing this segment – but my last segment, concluding my Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge for the summer.
I reached Brockway Summit that afternoon, finding my way down to the road to start my real challenge – getting a ride back to my car at Mt. Rose Summit, some 20+ miles away by car. Soon after reaching the road I befriended some hikers asking for directions for their next day’s hike. Of course I helped, which got me a lift down the road to Kings Beach. From there I walked about 1/2 mile to the bus stop that took me within 100 yards of the roundabout at Highway 431. (got a senior discount for the bus ride too!) It was hot, I was pretty damned weary already from hiking since 0730 that morning. Now I had to thumb a ride back up the mountain 8 miles to my car. Hitchiking – I am not good at it – I didn’t even hitchhike in High School when I looked good. Now at 62, dirty, I haven’t shaved or used deodorant in days…and I’m expecting someone to stop and pick me up – Guess not. Figuring 2 mph and 8 miles to go, I hoped to be back to the car before dark. I walked at least 2 miles up the hill before setting on the guardrail for a rest. Moments later, my angel arrived. A young man on his way home back to Reno had passed me, turned around and came back to help. He said he thought I looked like a needed a break…I did. I offered to pay him but he said it wasn’t necessary, he was going that way anyway. He was hurrying home to take his daughter out for ice cream. I handed him $20 for ice cream and his unselfish deed that saved my poor dogs from a certain fate. Good deeds and unselfish people need to be recognized – and rewarded before they get to heaven.
The conclusion of my challenge was bittersweet – I never really wanted it to end. The preparation, the learning more and more with each trip, meeting other people on the same pilgrimage as I was – became an addiction – the euphoria that you get when you went one-on-one with nature – you were self-reliant – and you made it, in the Tahoe Wilderness.
I am writing up a study of yellow-bellied marmots in Nevada, in which I visited sites previously surveyed by the late E. R. Hall during the 1930s and searched for marmots (2013-2015). My objective was to confirm modern day presence or absence of the species. However, I am missing a few sites, one of which is the Mt. Rose area. In his entry for on August 5, 1936, Hall noted that he collected a marmot 3 miles south of Mt. Rose. I have never been to the Mt. Rose area, but from looking at the photos (including your shots) the habitat looks good for marmots. I was wondering if you could tell me whether you have ever seen marmots in the Mt Rose area. Any information on this would be greatly appreciated.
Chris H. Floyd, PhD
Department of Biology, P354
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
105 Garfield Ave
Eau Claire, WI 54701
715-836-4163 (office phone/voice mail)
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Dr. Floyd, thank you for your question and visiting my site. I have seen yellow-bellied marmots around the Tahoe Basin, and some near Mt. Rose. Mt. Rose itself does not provide much safety from predators, it’s above tree-line, fairly barren and no water source. Close by near Gallena Falls, water is sufficient for them and protection in the rocky areas below the falls are common places for them in the early morning and evening before sunset. Around Mt. Houghton and Relay Peak especially, there are good habitats for them, but no water until you reach Gray Creek feeding Gray Lake. That is directly to the north of Rose Knob Peak, just west of and lower than Relay Peak (10,330′). To the north of Rose Knob, is a perfect habitat for them, as the broken talus of rock, enough water and food are abundant. The north and north east facing facets do carry a lot of snow into early summer at those elevations, and bobcat and mountain lions have probably taken to lower elevations then. The picture of the marmot on my site was taken at Freel Peak, 10,881′, where he was “bumming” my trail mix and Oreos. That is it for most of the Nevada side of the Rim Trail WRT marmots. I have seen many in Desolation Wilderness at Cracked Crags and Lake Aloha and Heather Lake. Twin Peaks and Ward Peak on the Cal. side. Most of the Tahoe Basin, I have rarely seen marmots at elevations under 8,500′. Several months ago, many nursing females were spotted in the Truckee area around Hwy 89 crossing the road, so much that they put up Marmot Crossing signs. The mild winter and little food have driven the females into populated areas. Usually I only see the males out foraging in the early morning and evening hours. I would be happy to talk to you more at your convenience. I will send you mail at the one provided and include my phone number. I hope this has been of some help. Best Regards, Lorenzo Wimmer, Tahoe Marmot
Thanks. Great photos and blog. I’m thinking of doing this trail soon, but West to East. I’ll be solo hiking and I don’t expect many other hikers up there right now (October, 2015) – and I know the first part will be dry till I get to Gray Lake. So, I’m hoping this trail is blazed well — and, just easy to follow. I recently did some hiking in Desolation Wilderness and had trouble following some of those trails, as they tended to give out into large areas of granite boulders, where it was very easy to get off trail.
Jeff, thanks so much for the kind words. Most of your route will be well marked with few ambiguities. About 3.2 miles from your starting point Brockway East Trailhead, there will be a trail junction, SW of Martis Peak…bear to the right, as the other leads to Martis Peak. From there on, bear to the right when you have a choice, just don’t go down the slope towards the lake. Your next junction will be before Rose Knob Peak, bear left to take you to Gray Lake…should be exactly 10 miles from your starting point. South part of the lake has the spring flowing into the lake, north part is better for camping. It’s a loop, so you can continue out the other side back up to the TRT on the east side of Rose Knob Peak. From Relay Peak, bear to the left when you get close to the AT&T towers…(the road will get you back to Hwy 431, but it’s not the TRT) On the ridge between Mt. Houghton and Relay Peak, bear right. (A side trip to Mt. Houghton would be nice, not as far out of the way as Mt. Rose is) Now the trail only crosses an access road at 90°, TRT resumes on the other side. After Galena Creek Falls, TRT is fairly obvious until you round below Tamarack Peak…not many TRT badges on trees or blue paint to guide you. This is probably the least marked section of your route. Just keep heading S and SE and you will make it back to Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead. Have a great hike…love to see some pics and hear all about it when you return. Lorenzo ~ TahoeMarmot