Since I am a solo hiker, I have to plan more efficiently how I begin and end my segments. From the Tahoe Rim Trail’s website, I located a shuttle service, WannaRideTahoe in Myers, to pick me up at my final destination of Big Meadows and shuttle me to Kingsbury South trailhead at the end of Tramway Drive. Lake Tahoe has three seasons it seems: winter, summer, and road construction. There is always something going on somewhere around Lake Tahoe to delay you wherever you want to be or need to be. Though cell phone service is spotty near Big Meadows, I did receive a call from Kat telling me that she would be delayed in picking me up but was still on the way. After a relatively long and convoluted drive taking all the shortcuts, I finally arrived at Kingsbury South at the end of Tramway Drive, to start my next adventure. While making sure that everything was ready to go and my GPS’s were locked and loaded, I met another person that was also getting ready for her big adventure.
Candice Burt from Bellingham, Washington was the brainchild behind a enormous undertaking in Ultra-running, The Tahoe 200. A trail race around Lake Tahoe with a 100 hour time limit – grueling to say the least. The sleek, and beautiful young woman that runs 100 miles as we would walk to the store. Brimming with confidence and self-reliance – She could kick the butt of any pro athlete alive – not to mention any fashion model. We took a few selfies with each other, then we were both on our separate pilgrimages, promising to meet up again soon.
It was a pretty warm day I recall at least at the start at Tramway. I realized why they called it Tramway as there was a “Disneyland” type tram ride for all the rich folks to get to the chairlifts from their nearby condominiums.
A life I’ll never know…That being said, onward, I have work to do.
The trail was a gradual climb following the contour of the eastern side of Heavenly Ski Resort. Occasionally at a clearing in the trail, I would be treated to wonderful views of the Carson Valley below. Vast expanses of ranch and farmland reminiscent of Gold Rush days, made you feel as though you had been transported to a different era.
Soon I would be passing under the chairlifts of several of the ski runs, that I didn’t know went that far on the eastern side of the mountain. Being a back country guy, I don’t usually spend much money on pricey lift tickets. You wanna ski down the mountain?…hike up it! I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a very fast hiker. I take a lot of breaks, I take a lot of pictures, chat with everyone that I meet, take deep breaths and especially I take in the moment.
Nearly four hours later, I’m only at Monument Pass. Not a milestone, but downhill for at least a little while.
Looking towards the south, thunderstorms were on the horizon. Something I expected, but not looking forward to. I don’t mind getting wet mind you – I don’t like the thought of being struck by lightening.
It’s nearly 1800 now and I’m just arriving at Star Lake. The northwestern slope of the mountain on the other side of the lake turns golden in color with the sun getting ready to set. The lake is like glass, though it was completely abuzz in swarms of mosquitoes at evening time. I found a clearing next to some small trees to block the wind for the evening and settled in for the night. After an austere dinner and my usual peppermint tea, I took a walk around the area of my campsite.
I found some rather discouraging evidence of primitive camp fires people had started at the lake. I am constantly dumbfounded by the stupidity or arrogance of people that build a campfire without contemplating the dire consequences it has on the entire Lake Tahoe region –
It is a tinderbox at the moment. I am quite content with my little MSR PocketRocket camp stove to heat water for coffee and tea, saving the romance of a campfire for a safe place and warm company. First light came before 0600 the next day. The winds had calmed and the air was fresh and crisp to enjoy my morning coffee before packing up. Cold Creek was only about one mile away, but since I had an abundant source of water at the lake, I stocked up before heading out.
The trail climbed steeply up the mountainside until arriving at a clearing beneath the base of Freel Peak and Job’s Sister. It resembled a movie set somewhat, with well placed trees and open coarse sandy ground. Nearing Cold Creek, was a great campsite – open and flat, exposed though, with soft coarse sand perfect for a good night’s sleep. Cold Creek was flowing very well, but I had enough water.I stopped briefly to listen to the flowing stream and take in the moment.
It was nice looking back on where I had come from. After a little snack and rest for my feet, I couldn’t help gazing up at Freel Peak, the tallest peak in the entire Tahoe Basin. A little sign close by read “Freel Peak 1 Mile”. Hmmm… One mile, that’s not so bad, and it’s still early yet…When am I going to do it the next time?… When I’m 70 ???
The climb started off steep…and got steeper as I slogged up the hill. I came to a safe place to leave my pack, knowing that it would be much easier to summit without the pack. A couple that had been camping at Star Lake also, caught up to me on the climb up to Freel Peak.
As it turned out they were the carrot that I needed to get me to the summit.
Huffing and puffing in some spots, and scrambling on all fours in others I finally made the summit of Freel Peak, 10,881 feet. What an incredible 360° view.
All of Tahoe, the Carson Valley, Hope Valley, the Crystal Range…it seemed endless.
After a couple of photo ops and selfies, we sat down for a snack. There, as other places on the trail, were cute, chubby and furry little rodents to help me gnosh my trail mix and Oreos.
They must have lived on this alone, as we were well above tree-line for fresh pine cones, their normal diet. My trip down was not without drama, as I took a wrong turn, following someone’s bushwhack and had to backtrack up the hill a short ways. Finally making it back to the Pass, it was time to make tracks as my little side trip cost me 3 hours of time. Switchbacking down the mountainside, I came across 3 water sources flowing well.
I topped off to 4 litres as the remainder of my segment was dry to Big Meadow. Now, those storm clouds I saw yesterday were building and headed my way.
Now I needed to beat feet back to Big Meadow and the car fast if I was to outrun the storm. I met up with my young couple at Armstrong Pass once again, but after their short rest, they left me in the dust once again. Shortly after reaching a ridge, the storm hit.
I put my pack cover on and cheap pancho without skipping a beat. The horizontal rain was quite familiar to me for having been at sea for nearly 22 years. Besides, this didn’t taste salty, so I thought it was all good. After so many hours and days on a trail, one begins to hear things, make up things that aren’t there. I wasn’t to the point of hallucinating, but I did feel that my mind was wandering a bit more than usual. I came across rock formations that looked like animals.
I named one “Elephant Toes and Puffer Fish” as you can see in the photo. Fortunately, it still looked that way to me after regaining my senses the next day. Another feeling that I got has happened before on other segments on the trail – the feeling as though you were being watched or stalked. This was particularly evident with “Cat Scat” on the trail. Bears I felt I could deal with, but mountain lions? Mountain lions would scare the “scat” out of me! I remember how much it hurt for my cat to scratch or bite me, let alone a 200 pound cat. I tried making a lot of noise, so as not to sneak up on any unsuspecting forest critters.
Now it was time for the thunder and lightening to start..oh for joy! BZZZT, BOOM ! I was already half deaf, now the other half is gone. Overhead in the treetops, thunder, lightening… like I needed something else to worry about…all the while, carrying around two aluminum lightening rods in my hands. What next? Picking up my pace on my decent to Big Meadow, hopping down boulder after boulder, was having a detrimental affect on my knees. I needed my trekking poles for support – but I also remember how bad I looked with an afro that I had back in the 70’s, when I looked like the dad on the Brady Bunch. I stopped and got out my parachord to trail my poles behind me. If lightening wanted to hit something, I’m not going to be holding on to them like an idiot. Likewise, I’m not going to leave my $160 Leki trekking poles behind if it didn’t. It worked like a charm until it would snag on something. Well, fortunately the storm waned, and I could once again use my poles. The rain had turned to a heavy mist around Freel Meadows and knocked down the trail dust.
(A little rain is a good thing) Crossing my final creek, the rain was not enough to deter the mosquitos from being a nuisance. I crossed the creek at a full gallup and held my breath as I went through the clouds of mosquitos.
My dogs were killing me. I’m not far from Big Meadows and my car. I had almost covered 16 miles in 12 hours of hiking. Mind you, my own fault for the 3 hours side trip to Freel Peak, but I was done – toast as it were. The final few miles seemed the longest.
When will it end???
Help me Mister Wizard!
Finally at 2020 hours, I reached my car. I was so tired I forgot how to open it up. Must have taken me another 45 minutes getting my pack off, changing shoes and stinky shirt before I was ready to head out. But where was I going? Hell, I don’t even know. It’s late, camp at Big Meadow? A hotel? Since that decision seemed too difficult, I hit the easy button. Feeling like a zombie, I drove home, 200 miles, 4 hours back to the bay area. I don’t know how I made it – I had driven it so many times this year, the car knew the way to go. Finally, just after midnight I made it through the door and into bed – and putting to bed one more chapter in my Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge.
Great photos from Freel Peak! Looks beautiful. That one is on my list of hikes to do next month (weather permitting).
Hi Christa, thanks for reading. Freel was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. As of yesterday, Freel and Job’s Sister, etc. are still covered in snow. May be more than hiking spikes could help with. Weather has been flawless though, albeit cold at night and mornings, 25° to 29°F. Love to hear about your trip after.
Although it’s been many years, I hiked from Brautovich Park north to Spooner Summit, but never considered going south. I guess I’ll have to try it sometime – obviously, the photography opportunities are huge! Thanks for sharing!!
Hi – what a great account of your trek. Thanks for posting. Do you have an opinion on whether a tent is necessary on this route in mid-July or early August? I have a good down sleeping bag and other good quality layered clothing. I know rain is always possibility, but from a temp perspective do you think it’s necessary?
Marc, thank you for taking a look at my hiking blog. The short answer for your question would be no. If you are looking for ultralight, probably a tarp and a guyline would keep rain and dew off of you. That time of year especially around Star Lake the mosquitoes are in full bloom. One saving grace that I found was a $12 mosquito head net that would definitely make your life more enjoyable since you won’t have the protection of a tent. If I can help any further, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can email me directly at Tahoemarmot@gmail.com Have a wonderful trip, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of your pictures as well.
~ Lorenzo, Tahoe Marmot