Eagle Lake & Mt. Tallac – January Snow

Newly fallen snow in Tahoe was all I could think of to celebrate my birthday with. Had a bad bout with the flu, but I had already paid for my fancy hotel room at the Grand Residences Marriott in Heavenly Village, South Lake Tahoe. I was not about to just lie around in front of the fireplace and not go play in the snow. It was snowing all the way over Echo Summit and down to the lake. There was still plenty of daylight left, so I went directly to the Eagle Falls Trailhead near Emerald Bay. About 8 miles north on Highway 89 from the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe, where Highway 50 and 89 meet. Parking is across the road from the Vikingsholm parking lot on Highway 89. If there is not enough space, park at Vikingsholm and walk (run) across the road to the trailhead. Before leaving the parking area, hike below the road on the Vikingsholm side, as the waterfall below the road is worth the effort to get there.

Once at the trailhead, the trail is not as easy to find with the accumulated snow from the past few storms. A little GPS, a little memory, and a little luck I found my way back to the lake. It’s only about one mile each way, about 20 to 30 minutes without snow in spring and summer. (If you wish to camp overnight in the Desolation Wilderness, you need to buy a permit from the Ranger Station in South Lake Tahoe or the Pacific Ranger Station in Pollock Pines on your drive up. You can also get a permit online at Recreation.gov. California Campfire Permits are also needed for camp stoves, and there are no open fires allowed in the Desolation Wilderness.)

Topo Map of Area

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.94707,-120.11198&z=15&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

The snow was getting heavier and the wind picking up right behind it. After leaving the bridge and stones, the trail turned to snow about 6 inches deep. It was now time for the snowshoes. I met several guys coming back out from the lake also in snowshoes. They told me that they were the only ones back there, so I kept that in mind going back to the lake, another half mile in the snow. I do crazy things, but not stupid things…since I was the only one that knew I was back here, I didn’t get overly adventurous and leave the trail.

After dipping my hand in the cold lake and admiring the icicles cascading down from the rocks, it was time to make track back to the car. The snow was coming down a little heavier now; gusts of wind would send it sideways into my face or down the hood of my parka. It was still plenty warm, even working up a sweat trudging through the gathering snowdrifts back to the parking area. One last look and picture of snow falling over Emerald Bay before I go.


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As always, another day, another adventure…

This time I’m off to Mt. Tallac, between Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake, Mt. Tallac is one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tahoe Basin, with a “T” or cross of snow below the peak in the spring and winter months. Rising above the lake at 9,735 feet from near lake level of 6,480’ at the trailhead, Mt. Tallac is about 4.8 miles to the summit. The views are some of the most spectacular in all of Tahoe, as you have unobstructed 360° views of the lake, the Carson Range to the east and Desolation Wilderness and Crystal Range to the west, and the Granite Chief Wilderness to the southwest and northwest. At this time of year, the metal barrier was not open yet for the season, allowing me to drive to the trailhead, about one mile up the paved access road. I parked my car near the roadside of the Mt. Tallac turnoff and Highway 89 and walked the extra distance. I started out wearing my Kahtoola Micro-spikes, as the snow and slush became icy in the shadowy sections of the road. Not long after first light, I was at the trailhead. I filled out my Desolation Wilderness Day Permit (instructions are at the trail sign), attached it to my daypack and was on my way.

It had snowed just yesterday, and the freshly fallen snow on the branches of the pine trees looked like Christmas trees, more than I could count. I was once again in a “Winter Wonderland” in one of my favorite places on earth.

The trail is fairly level for a half mile or so, until you begin to climb to the ridge between Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake. The higher elevation starts to open up views of Fallen Leaf, Lake Tahoe, the Carson Range and Heavenly Valley as you climb along the ridge line. The ridge is quite rocky most of the year and difficult to walk on. This time with snow and snowshoes, it seemed a little easier oddly enough. Once dropping down from the west side of ridge, the trail winds down and behind into a wooded section, deep in powder this trip to Tallac. After about 1½ miles, you arrive at Floating Island Lake, frozen over this time of year.

Looking up directly at Mt. Tallac peering down on you, the southeast chutes are visible for those die-hards that want to avoid the crowded trail in the summer, or ski down the gnarly face in the winter and spring.

About ¾ mile after Floating Island Lake, you emerge from the forested area of the trail at Cathedral Lake. A beautiful yet small lake, nestled in a rocky moraine at the foot of Cathedral Peak – this is a good place for a rest and a bite to eat before tackling the big climb that awaits you to the ridge.

The trail becomes quite rocky and steep much of the way up to Mt. Tallac. There are several switchbacks up the mountain, but it still quite steep and challenging any time of year. It is quite a cardio workout even if you don’t do the entire 3,300 feet of climbing to the summit of Tallac. After many stops to catch my breath, photo ops and just taking in the grandeur of the sights below me, I finally made it to the ridge. The saddle branches off at a trail junction, one direction continuing on to the summit of Mt. Tallac, the other, down the back side of the mountain to Lake Gilmore, deep in the Desolation Wilderness. That trip will have to wait until summer, when the snow and low temperatures melt away with the warm sunshine and more livable conditions.

The usual 6 hour, 4.8 mile hike has taken me that long to get nearly half way in the snow. I will not summit today, as I need to get off the mountain before nightfall. I hadn’t planned on being this slow, and did not bring my Petzl headlamp with me to hike after dark. Now to slog down the switchbacks in snowshoes – I actually think it was easier going up. Snowshoes were not designed to sideways, and it’s a killer on the ankles trying to do that. OK, I’m past Cathedral now, so the real steep past is past. Another hour plus getting out of the shade of the forested section and past Floating Island Lake, and I’ll be on the open ridge above Fallen Leaf Lake and in the sunshine. I came upon a couple with their dog, that must have turned around backtracking to their car. They didn’t have snowshoes and seemed to be moving faster than I was, so I took mine off and tried that for a while. It was all good until the shady areas turned to ice, and I had to put my Micro-spikes back on before I fell on my butt on the icy sections.

Finally back to the car, I have been out nearly 10½ hours today. Quite an adventure. At least nobody needs to come looking for me. Now, back to my fancy hotel for a sauna and jacuzzi bath tub, cozy in front of my own fireplace – a kitchen to make a nice pot of hot peppermint tea… and a giant king-size bed to fall asleep in.

After all…this was my birthday weekend to play in the snow – flu or no flu
I had another fun-filled vacation, in the Tahoe Wilderness.

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See ya on my next adventure, in the Tahoe Wilderness
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Jake’s & Maggie’s Peaks – Snowshoes in April

Fresh powder just fell up in Tahoe and I made a beeline to be one of the first to make some tracks with my snowshoes on some of the north facing peaks on the west shore. Those areas would most likely have the most snow accumulated, not getting much sun light to melt it yet. I decided that I would do two separate outings, Jake’s Peak rising above D.L. Bliss on the west shore on Day 1 and the next day I would do Maggie’s Peaks starting at the Bayview trailhead across from Inspiration Point overlooking Emerald Bay on Day 2.


I arrived at Tahoe city and the weather was perfect. Lows in the 40s highs in the 70s. Crystal clear blue sky… hardly a cloud anywhere. From Tahoe City I drove for about 17 miles south, or a half an hour on a good day, down the West Lake Blvd. to D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. (In case you needed, the TART bus runs down to Bliss also every hour, June to September 1st) The entrance is also several miles north of Emerald Bay. There is a small parking area off of the east side of the road near the entrance to  D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. Well great minds think alike and I wasn’t only one that thought this would be a great idea to go out on the mountain today. About six young “telemarkers” in their 20s climbed up to Jake’s to do some backcountry skiing with the fresh powder. Jake’s is a favorite spot of the locals, kind of like a favorite surfing spot and they get a little territorial as well. Today I only had to contend with the telemark backcountry skiers with climbing skins on their skis. I tried to stay out of the path that they made with their skis, just using their marks as my general direction.

The route starts at at just above lake level, about 6,800 feet, and is nearly straight up the eastern facing slope for about 1.5 to 2 miles up to the main peak which is closer to 9,137 ‘ from my GPS. I doubt if I will get all the way to the top today. The southern route to the ridge is the most popular route to take in the spring time. If it hadn’t recently snowed, the conditions would’ve been typical springtime corn conditions to hike and ski on. This route also gives you an unbelievable view of Emerald Bay from high above. Let’s see how far I get today.

I followed the young skiers’ tracks up through the trees… there wasn’t a defined trail, or if there was it was covered in snow now. My route was straight up the mountain making my own switchbacks along the way when it got too steep and some places. I made sure to look back often and admire the view – that was my primary purpose for being here anyway. Just like my snowshoe trip to Mount Tallac in January for my birthday, everywhere I looked was like a scene from Courier & Ives – snow drifts of fresh powder covering downed trees and boulders, sparkled like glitter in the afternoon sunshine. Behind me, Lake Tahoe lived up to its name as the ”Crown Jewel of the West”…the deep blue water, with snowcapped mountains of the Carson range behind it. With all the smells and colors of the trees, the bright white snow and deep blue sky, it was sensory overload and I was loving every minute of it.

After several hours of climbing, I sat down in the snow to take a little breather – I didn’t even bother taking off my snowshoes. I wasn’t getting anywhere fast today. Soon after returning to my climb, the young telemark skiers zipped on past me, enjoying all that they worked for that morning climbing the mountain. I’m nearly at the top now and gave it another 30 minutes before throwing in the towel and heading back down the mountain. After all, I was the only one up here and no one else knew that. I took my last pictures of the views that I earned on my way up, then made my way back down the trailhead across from D.L. Bliss. I need to go rest up for my next adventure tomorrow, climbing to Maggie Peaks from Bayview Trailhead.

Jake’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.96543,-120.10692&z=15&b=t

Another day, another adventure. I parked at the Bayview Trailhead to begin my ascent to Maggie’s Peaks for the day. Getting there early in the morning, it was half slush and half ice. Today I brought my snowshoes, crampons, and my Kahtoola MICROSpikes. The micro spikes were the best thing to start the hike with while walking from snow to ice on the paved road to the trailhead – kept me from falling on my butt mostly. At the trailhead you need to fill out a Desolation Wilderness Permit even for the day, as it gives the Rangers a “heads-up” if they need to come looking for you if you don’t get back before nightfall.

The climb to the saddle between Maggie’s north and south peak is a series of many switchbacks up the side of the mountain. There is a great vista point along the trail, one of the lake in the background and another 100 feet more opens to a beautiful view overlooking Emerald Bay directly below – far more beautiful than the Inspiration Point view could give you… this view you will have to earn by climbing here.

The trail flattens out a bit, meandering through the trees and manzanita brush, eventual bringing you to Granite Lake, nestled at the foot of Maggie’s South Peak. This is another popular spot for backcountry skiers, the real die-hards…but not today. Today I had it all to myself, with the fresh powder from yesterday waiting for me to put the first footprints in for the day. I got down to Granite Lake that looked frozen over, but it was so calm the powder from the day before was just lying on top like goose down feathers – not a breath of wind to disturb it.

The trail was obscured by the snow, though I had been on it before, it was still difficult to know if you were on the trail or bushwhacking your own. After a while, the slope became too steep to walk up. My MSR Ascent snowshoes have “Televators”, like turning your snowshoes into high heels! You pull a little bar up under your heel, so you walk more upright ascending a slope. Many switchbacks later, I made it to the saddle between the north and south peaks.

There, the panorama of the Desolation Wilderness unfolded before me. I could see Phipps Peak and other minor peaks that were hiding the Velma Lakes  and the rest of Desolation behind it. Below me was Eagle Lake, where I had been in January. (Eagle Lake is a short, very easy hike from a trailhead off of Highway 89 across from Vikingsholm and Emerald Bay) Climbing up on a rock, I just took in the incredible “Winter Wonderland” view that I had from the top. Shame I didn’t bring my tent and sleeping bag, as it would have made an awesome sunrise over the Carson Range the next morning. (Technically, I would need an overnight permit from the Ranger Station – I made a mental note to  make sure I camp here next spring)

Ok, time to go home. My light was beginning to fade and I’m already on the shaded side of the mountain. It was easy to find my away back this time. I was the only tracks around to follow down the hill. One final look at Emerald Bay then on down to my car. Walking with snowshoes does take longer than hiking of course, so figure you’re going to make good about half of you hiking speed at best. Less if the drifts are more than about 6” deep.

Maggie’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.93419,-120.10477&z=14&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

That concludes another great day in Tahoe… After a hot shower and some dinner, I’ll start planning tomorrow’s great adventure.

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See ya on my next adventure…

Flume Trail MTB Ride – May 2014

After playing in the snow at higher altitudes thought I’d come down a bit to around 7,000 feet and ride from Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake and continue down the Flume Trail back to Tunnel Creek Café, at nearly lake level of 6,229 feet. There is a day use parking fee at Spooner Lake, and a self pay kiosk near the entrance for your convenience.

It’s about a 14 mile one way ride starting at about 7,000 feet altitude at Spooner Summit climbing to 8,100 feet in the first 4 miles. The North Canyon Road is a wide Forest Service access road. There are vault toilets located about the midpoint near North Canyon campground and Marlette Lake which also has vault toilets.

The weather was still quite cool, about 55°, but beautiful. I drove myself to the Spooner Lake Campground and would get a ride back from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes. There were still patches of snow on the ground left over from winter and yesterday’s snowfall. I was huffing and puffing on several of the 16% grades, but was able to cool off at the top of Marlette Saddle before my descent down to Marlette Lake. This was all good, as this was the only climbing I had to do for the day after reaching the saddle at the top of my ascent. The rest of the day will be all downhill.

There is a spur trail off of the road that leads to Snow Valley Peak, zigzagging its way, 1.2 miles to the summit. Luckily I’m not doing that today. I had to get off the bike several times descending down to the lake, as there were still deep snow patches that made it difficult to ride the bike through. Once at the lake, I made my way out to Chimney Point to have lunch and enjoy the beautiful panoramic views of Marlette Lake. Chimney Point has its own place in history, as you can read from the signboard posted there.

After lunch, I started on my mile and a half ride around the west side of the lake, connecting to the Flume Trail at the dam. Soon after one rocky switch back, and small wooden bridge over the effluent from the dam, the view opened up to all of Lake Tahoe to the west. I was finally on the Flume Trail itself. Now for the next 4 miles, I will be descending 1500 feet back down to lake level at Tunnel Creek Café.

The views of Lake Tahoe on this ride for the most beautiful you will find anywhere in the basin. Famous for it’s world class reputation, it is definitely the best adult “Disneyland-style” ride you will find. Turn off your Strava app for this ride as you will want to savor every moment and every sight along the way.

Since my ride was in early spring, the debris loosened by the winter’s storms were still across the trail for me to navigate around. The Forest Service and Flume Trail Bikes has not yet been able to clear the trail that early in the season. It was quite a challenging obstacle course, with boulders the size of Volkswagons and downed trees across the trail, not to mention the snow that was still deep in the shadowy sections. At some point, I needed to lift my bike over the boulder and then shimmy around it, rejoining the trail on the other side. It was a “crawl over or crawl under” training course half of the way back down the mountain. At some point along the trail, the trail fell away, and it got a little dicey to get around. A misplaced step would have me 2000 feet down the mountainside to Highway 28.

The views above Sand Harbor were breathtaking. I took quite a few pictures as it was one of the most beautiful sights around all of Lake Tahoe. The crystal clear blue and emerald waters of Sand Harbor were amazing. I could have hung out there all day just admiring the view that I had all to myself. Don’t miss an opportunity to make this trip the next time you’re in Lake Tahoe. It is an unforgettable ride.

Continuing on down the mountain my only obstacles were the snow and ruts made by winter’s runoff from the mountainside. There are some steep sections with loose decomposing granite, and a couple of hairpin switchbacks. One wooded area of Quaking Aspen is a very pretty sight… you’ll want to make sure you get a few pictures of that. There are many more panoramas of North Lake Tahoe, Agate and Crystal Bay and Stateline Point that you will enjoy continuing your descent back to Tunnel Creek Café.

Just above the café is the old Ponderosa Ranch movie set, from the 1950s and 1960s television show Bonanza. After my long ride today I was hungry for a lot more than I brought with me in my backpack. I think I bought at least two gourmet sandwiches from Patti and the gang at Tunnel Creek Café, one because I was starving and the second one was for dinner and I would be having at Nevada Beach Campground that night.

Since it was still early in the season, Nevada Beach Campground was pretty open, and I got my favorite spot right on the beach. Picked up some firewood along the way, made camp, then went out for a walk on the beach watching the sun set over the western shore. After chowing down my second sandwich, I got my bonfire going and made some hot tea. Hung my wet socks next to the fire pit to dry them out, but ended up melting them a bit in the process. Since it was a full moon that night, a pack of coyotes were were howling their lungs out as I watched the moon rise over Heavenly Peak. I doused my fire before retiring to my tent for the night.

The next day I hopped on my mountain bike and explored some of the great bike trails and walking paths near Stateline, connecting South Lake Tahoe and the casinos. It’s been quite a full and fun action-packed couple of days up in Tahoe. From snowy peaks to mountain lakes on my mountain bike and the beach, I had quite a fun-filled mini-vacation.

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See ya on my next adventure soon…

Mt. Rose to Galena Falls – Snowshoes in May

OK, a new day, a new adventure. Headed back up to Mt. Rose Summit parking area for a day hike to Galena Falls and maybe Relay Peak if I can get that far with the snow. Left my bike with Max at Flume Trail Bikes for babysitting while I went out to play in the snow.

The trailhead at Mt. Rose starts on the south side of the parking area, climbing quickly to open area overlooking Tahoe Meadows. As you climb, you can see the northern part of Lake Tahoe and some of the higher peaks in the basin. The trail soon turns north into a more forested area.

Within the next 1/2 mile, the trail became more obscure with the snow. There are not as many trail markers on this section of the TRT. With the snow covering the trail, you just had to hike in the general direction of where you thought it was. Not always easy with or without the snowshoes. I had them on and off many times in an hour of hiking.

The weather was beautiful, sunny, clear and warm, so I wasn’t about to quit too soon. Finally, I came to the sharp turn in the trail below Tamarak Peak, slowly making my way to Galena Falls. The snow was getting more prevalent the deeper I got into the canyon.

At the base of the falls, I decided that the switchbacks up the side of the mountain to Relay Peak would have been more than I could do in snowshoes today. Since I was going so slow, I would not get back to the car before dusk, and I was already on the shaded side of the mountain.

The return trip back took longer than I wanted – walking on a 20% slope in snowshoes was tiring. The trail was not flat, and snowshoes weren’t designed to walk sideways. Several hours later, I’m back at the car, pretty spent from my workout today. A hot shower would be nice, but that will have to wait for another day. Back in camp, it was time for a campfire, hot tea and bedtime.

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Another day ahead… I need my beauty rest

Tahoe Meadows – MTB Ride in Snow

Shortly after going into semi-retirement, I bought a Santa Cruz Blur mountain bike from a friend. Since I’m an extreme kinda guy, I thought it would be novel to ride the TRT in the snow. Met with a friend from Reno up at Tahoe Meadows, but she didn’t come very prepared for the conditions with tennis shoes and a thin sweater, so she bailed on me early on.

A short ways down from Mount Rose Summit parking area on Highway 431 is the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead parking area. There are vault toilets, but no running water. If you need water, best hike up to the Mt. Rose campground and fill up from the spigots. Not sure if they shut them off during the winter season to prevent the pipes from bursting. If it is flowing, there is a lot of pressure.

From the Tahoe Meadows parking area, you can take the Interpretive Trail, which is about a 1.2 mile loop around the meadows, smooth and wide enough for persons with disabilities to access, much of it on a “boardwalk”, with informative signboards explaining about the area. The TRT trailhead for Tahoe Meadows starts at the southwestern end of the parking lot, following along Highway 431 a short ways before turning south into the meadows. The TRT allows bikes to use the trail on even numbered days of the week, and I arrived on an even numbered day. (Note: not everybody abides by the rules, so keep an eye peeled for those who don’t.) The trail crosses over a wooden bridge where there is a seasonal stream flowing through the meadow. From the bridge, the TRT blue medallions and blue paint spots on the trees guide you to the correct path through the trees, connecting the TRT to the southwest toward Spooner Summit. Today, unfortunately, I will not get that far.

It was cool, but not cold yet at about 48°F, partly cloudy. I checked my weather apps, looked at the radar, and it all looked like a “GO”. I made it about 3 miles before the temperature dropped to 28°F, clouds formed and dumped two feet of snow on me within two hours. Snowflakes as big as silver dollars, falling gently, turning my Spring MTB adventure into a winter wonderland. I was having a blast playing in the snow…I was dressed for it, why not? Only problem is that I wasn’t getting very far, as the snow, mud and pine needles would jam between the tire and the frame and I couldn’t get anywhere. After taking several pictures of the bike stuck in the snow, I guessed it was time to go. Riding was not going to be easy today, so I ended up pushing it most of the way. Back at the car, it took me about 10 minutes to clear the snow off before I could get my bike back on the rack. Too bad I didn’t have anyone to share all this fun with.

Now back at camp for the night in the snow… let’s see if I stay warm enough. I brought enough gear for an entire scout troop, so I should. The snow was still like Christmas tree flocking, light and fluffy on the ground, so I could still use my tent stakes. Just used a couple of bunches of pine needles as a whisk broom and tada!…clean spot. Used two ground cloths since I had them; one MSR Hubba footprint + my 7’x8’ Tyvek tarp for my front porch to keep things clean. Clean tent=happy tent.

Used both sleeping pads, a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite (which by itself is like sleeping on a piece of cardboard from behind Safeway), plus my other Therm-a-Rest Trail Light self inflating pad. Both together did the trick, as it got down to 23°F that night. My REI +15° mummy bag has lost its loft over the years and I really need a new one. My old wool US Navy blanket I got off a ship I was on years ago was just the finishing touch I needed for keeping me toasty through the night.

Morning came soon enough, made an instant cup of coffee then headed over to the Fire Sign Café in Sunnyside on the West Shore for a big breakfast to start the day.


On my way over to Incline to do the Flume Trail from Tunnel Creek Café…

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See you tomorrow on my next post

Echo Lakes to Barker Pass TRT

Segment total : 32.7 miles
Minimum elevation: 6,914′
Maximum elevation: 9,381′
Total elevation gained: 6,158’
Moving Time: 12:35
Total Time: 36:57
Minimum Temp: 38°F
Maximum Temp: 94.4°F

 Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha

Starting this segment was another confusing one where I had to call on my resources from WannaRideTahoe to shuttle me from my end point at Barker Pass Road and Highway 89, to my starting point at Echo Lake Chalet. It was a long way to go for Kat and her shuttle to come halfway up the west side of the lake to pick me up. She had several parties down in Meyers to pick up and needed to be back by a certain time, so coupled with road construction we were really pushing the envelope on meeting her schedule. Finally arriving at Echo Lake Chalet off of Highway 50, Kat need to get back on the road quickly so no time for idle chitchat this time.

This time of the year there a lot of youth camps going on at the lake and the Chalet. Lots of young teenagers going to and from some activity or another. The Echo Chalet is a General Store, a deli, a Post Office and mail-drop for many PCT through hikers. The Chalet caters to long-range backpackers coming and going, plugging in their cell phones outside in one electrical outlet (everybody seems to take turns sharing) and accommodates  various requests from all thru hikers. I went into the Chalet’s General Store to see if there was any last-minute things I couldn’t live without for the next 30+ miles. Came back outside and took off my backpack, and sat down on a large log surrounding what looked like a picnic area.

There were about five other backpackers there, mostly PCT’ers picking up their reprovisioning boxes they had sent themselves weeks ago. I noticed one man had a bear vault larger than mine and thought to myself I couldn’t imagine caring one any bigger or more uncomfortable than the one I had, weighing in at 2 1/2 pounds. As it turned out, that man and I would meet once again up the trail and become hiking buddies for the next 30 miles.

Well it was now or never. I needed to get this show on the road. So I headed out on the walkway going over the dam from lower Echo Lake to find the trailhead. After several miscues mixed with a few dumb questions, I finally found the correct direction and was off. The trail started out as a fairly wide road bed, well graded and even.

Beautiful views of lower Echo Lake and surrounding hills and large billowy clouds was a nice visual start to my next adventure. The next half mile to three quarters of a mile was quite a difficult walk. A path of large broken sharp rocks made it very difficult walking surface this section of today’s hike. The rocks were not well packed, but loose, making my ankles work a little harder than I had wanted and making me wary that I was going to turn an ankle any moment.

Soon I passed that difficult section of the trail and once again was on a well packed dirt surface. By this time I had passed upper Echo Lake and Lake of the Woods. I passed one young brother and sister couple from Louisiana that were hiking back out of Lake Aloha on a day hike. We chatted for a moment, they were very pleasant and we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.

By the time I arrived at Lake Aloha, the clouds were continuing to gather in the afternoon and the wind was building. Several other campers had arrived before me and had already staked out their claims on some prime camp spots.

I found a good spot, nestled between a cluster of five trees that would block the wind for my little tent for the night. It was a good thing I hunkered down between the trees, as the wind and threatening thunderstorms were howling all night. I probably slept about an hour or two that night.

When morning came, I emerged from my little green and red tent to find a beautiful, cloudless dawn illuminating the eastern slopes of the Crystal Range that bordered Lake Aloha to the west.

What a sight to wake up to. It seemed as though I was the only creature stirring that early in the morning. I went back to my camp quickly made one of my gourmet Starbucks Via coffee and headed out to the lake to enjoy my view and my morning brew.

The geology of Lake Aloha area was quite fascinating, with polished granite seemingly stacked vertically if you look straight down on it from above. It was as though the glacier that formed it had scraped it with fingernails, forming many long thin lakes to make up the entire 2 miles long body of Lake Aloha.

After breakfast while doing my dishes, the man about my age that I had met at the Echo Chalet who’s bear vault was bigger than mine, was walking near the lake. He was gazing over the lake and the Crystal Range in the distance, admiring its beauty and taking some photos. I said hello and introduced myself as “Tahoe Marmot” and he introduced himself as “Dioko”. He had spent the night a mile or two back at Tamarack Lake, which we found out later from several Rangers that that was a no-no, they don’t like people camping at that lake. After brief greetings and salutations, we realized we were on the same route and thought it might be a good idea to have some company along the way. The wind was still brisk in the early morning hours about 0800, but it was so difficult leave Lake Aloha behind.

The water where the colors of emerald and turquoise, sapphire blue… something that resembled the water of the submarine ride at Disneyland. Turning back to the trail, and looking up to the northeast on our right, we come to Cracked Crag. A decomposing monolith, a heap of rubble of large jagged boulders making up the southwest face. Cracked Crag is home to many marmots (my relatives of course) that make their home there, avoiding predators by hiding in the rubble. We did see one sunning himself in the warm morning sunshine as we hiked to the next trail junction at the north end of Lake Aloha.

Lake Aloha to Gilmore Lake

From there the trail turned east, passing a small waterfall next to the trail, cascading into a small, unnamed lake. Within a half-mile we were upon Heather Lake, another beautiful mountain lake with several islands scattered within it. Probably would’ve been a nice place for a swim however the shoreline seem to be mostly broken talus making it difficult to walk on. We met several other hikers coming and going, all the while the conversation seemed to be about the wind last night, how beautiful the day was today, and our next water source. The trail continued to be the sharp broken talus for another half-mile or so over a ridge until we reached Suzie Lake where we stopped for lunch.

After lunch we began our 500 foot climb to our next destination for the night, Gilmore Lake. Before Gilmore, we arrived at a trail junction, to the northwest the TRT and PCT would continue on up to Dick’s Pass and to the right would take us to Gilmore Lake.

Arriving at Gilmore Lake we took our packs off to scout out our campsite for the night. While Dioko was out scouting, it gave me a chance to do some exploring myself.
At the southeastern section of the lake, was a small man-made stone dam, constructed in the 1950’s to control and maintain the water at Gilmore Lake for later use downstream.  On the other side of the dam, was the trailhead connecting to Mount Tallac, at 9,735 feet, one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tahoe basin. (Mount Tallac rises above Gilmore Lake to the northeast) Dioko returned shortly, having found a prime campsite for us for the night. There was another family of six enjoying the area with the kids swimming in the lake, but it was a little too brisk for Dioko and I so we continued on to make camp.

This would be the first night at camp together, giving us an opportunity to tell each other about ourselves. Dioko was a very interesting man, tall with long grey beard, befitting of a long distance backpacker. A far more experienced backpacker than myself, having designed and made his own backpack and hammock in lieu of a tent to sleep in. He also fashioned his own extra battery packs for charging his cell phone and camera. Though it took him 15 years to complete, he finished the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, 2,160 miles. Quite an impressive accomplishment for a man approaching 69 years old. We greeted several other groups of backpackers arriving late for the night at Gilmore Lake before turning in early ourselves. We had a long day ahead of us, climbing to Dick’s Pass at 9,400 feet.

Gilmore Lake to Phipps Creek

We had a good night’s sleep after the wind died down. Our next day began at first light with 40° temps, and after a modest breakfast and coffee for myself and sharing one with Dioko, we were off about 0730 for Dick’s Pass and our next destination for the night, Phipps Creek. There were many minor trails sprouting off from Gilmore, so we didn’t need to backtrack all the way back to the main trail to intercept the PCT to Dicks Pass. The 1,000 foot climb to Dick’s Pass was a somewhat gentle grade to the pass, with unsurpassed views of our route through Desolation so far.

We could see back to Aloha, Heather, Suzie Lakes, as well as Half Moon and Alta Morris Lakes lying below us at the base of Dick’s Peak. Pyramid Peak and the entire Crystal Range seemed close enough to touch, the day was so clear and the colors were so intense, we stopped for a bit to just take it all in. We passed several mountain springs, trickling down the hillside. Though we didn’t need any water, it was tempting to get a drink from a fresh cold mountain spring. Onward. We saw several marmots and birds along the trail to the pass. One male Western Tanager, a bright yellow bird that I have only seen a few times before. Once again we spoke with a young couple that we had previously met near Heather Lake. They had dropped their new camera their first day out, really bad news amidst all this beauty. Dioko and I exchanged our email addresses with them so we could share the photos that we were taking along the way.

At Dick’s Pass we could now see on both sides of the Desolation Wilderness. We had incredible views with visibility at least 50 miles in all directions. Our cell phones had a good signal so we took a moment to check in with friends and family, and for Dioko to update his trail journal for the last two days.

It was time to begin our descent down to Dick’s Lake, a 1,000 foot descent zigzagging along the mountain to the lake. We came upon another trail junction to Azure Lake and Maggie’s Peaks, and to the left to Dicks Lake. At that point we were greeted by three backcountry forest rangers, a man and two hearty young ladies with full packs complete with shovels, maintaining the trails in the DW. After a brief chat, checking our permits, and thanking them for their hard work we were off to Dick’s Lake for lunch and a needed break.

The lake was a beautiful sight, with unobstructed views of the pass that we just came over. Other than some campers at the southeastern end of the lake, we had the lake to ourselves. Time to move on, as we had many miles to go to Phipps Creek, our next campsite for the night.

Fontanillis Lake was another jewel in the wilderness. An elongated lake, we walked closely along the eastern shoreline at the water’s edge. At the northernmost tip of the lake was a natural dam with the water cascading over the rocks turning to a stream that continued down to Upper Velma Lake.

From atop some of the rocks we climbed on, we could see the other two Velma’s and Lake Tahoe through the pass between Maggie’s Peaks and Jake’s Peak. We had taken many breaks, and Dioko was eager to keep moving. The trail was not quite as obvious as one would hope, but Dioko’s good scouting skills found the trail on the other side of the creek, so we pressed on. We came upon four young women that seemed to be out on a day hike, a little unprepared to have hiked so far into the wilderness. They only had about 2 bottles of water between them, so we offered some of ours. They said they were drinking from the lakes and creeks and were ok, so we wished them luck and kept on our plan.

Originally we were to stay at Middle Velma, that had good water and campsites. It would have meant for a very long next day, so we pressed on to Phipps Creek for the night.

Arriving at Phipps, the creek was barely flowing. Several pools of water were accessible about 20 to 30 feet downstream. We decided to make camp for the night about 100 feet from the creek, at a nice clearing in the trees. Dioko quickly found several trees perfect for his hammock setup, and I went to work clearing a smooth open spot for my tent. He took pictures of me being so “anal” about smoothing out my tent bed with a large tree branch I found (Happy to have provided some amusement) The bugs, flies and mosquitoes lived up to their reputation of “mosquito death” of Phipps Creek.

I had just added a mosquito head net to my hiking repertoire, and put it to the test.

It worked great, and I was quite pleased with myself for actually buying something that made my day more enjoyable. The only thing with it, was my feeble brain not remembering that I was wearing it before I took a drink of soup or tea. After a couple of spills without Dioko looking I got the hang of it. One odd thing of note, is that we found an old steel skillet while returning from hiding our bear vaults. Looked as though someone had been living here years ago, living off of what we didn’t know. Several PCT thru hikers came through camp later that afternoon, but didn’t even notice us as they were zoned out from their iPods and moving at a pretty good clip. We each took turns going down to the creek to gather water to filter. Dioko used a Steri-Pen, which worked for him, but my opinion was that it was like some Ross Perot Voodoo wand that required more batteries and technology in the wilderness, and was not something that I could rely upon to be foolproof. I have an MSR Micro-filter, but traded it in on most of my long trips for a Sawyer Mini and collapsible liter bags. The Sawyer filter was an offshoot from the healthcare industry and renal dialysis, something that was very familiar to me. It only weighed 2 ounces plus the bags, and comes with a syringe to back flush the filter when it becomes clogged. After fighting swarms of mosquitos for 20 minutes I finally had all the water I needed and filtered for the next day’s trip.

Phipps Creek to Bear Creek

We both had a good sleep, not much wind throughout the night. The only thing I recall in the darkness of the moonless night were airliners flying overhead with their strobes illuminating the dark forest night. It was about 40°F in the morning and the bugs were too cold to get out of bed yet. Had a quick breakfast, shared another cup of Starbucks with Dioko and were on the trail by 0745. Dioko did not bring a camp stove on this trip or any means of heating food. I don’t always have to have a hot meal each day, but I do enjoy my hot coffee in the morning and hot peppermint tea at night. After breaking camp in the morning, we happened upon another nice campsite about 1 mile past our campsite. Nice and level off to the right, enough room for maybe two small tents.

The day was pretty sedate, not as many “wow factor” views compared to the last few days. We had several 400 foot climbs that day, the remainder of it trending downhill until we exited from the Desolation Wilderness. After about 6 miles we made our way to Richardson Lake for lunch at about 1045. The lake is outside of the DW and is accessible by 4×4’s and ATV’s. There weren’t any there at the moment. Continuing on at about 1145, we came across many downed trees across the trail. I made note of their location to report it to the TRT folks so they could clear them when they had the time. The temps got up to about 75°F, but felt hotter without the aid of trees to shade our path.

The Garmin GPS and my trail map showed Miller Creek about 2 miles from Barker Pass. Dioko had Guthook’s Tahoe Rim Trail Hiker App on his Android which showed reliable water at Bear Creek, about 1.5 miles short of the pass. Mine did not indicate the Bear Creek water source. It turned out that both sources were there and were flowing well at that time of year. The TRT Hiker App indicated a good campsite about 50 meters beyond the creek, and indeed it was.

A nice clearing for both of us. After making camp, we both went down to the creek to top off with water and do a little emergency laundry, as we were both getting a little rank at this point in the trip. After chores were done it was time for a little relaxation time for both of us. I decorating my tent with a mantlepiece of a moss-covered branch above my doorway, to give it a more lived in look. One disconcerting sight at our campsite was that of a fire ring that someone had made. The remnants of the charcoal bits of wood in the ring gave no indication that someone had tried to douse the fire after using it. They just allowed it to burn itself out. I am continually astounded by the stupidity of people entering a fragile wilderness area that has been dry as a bone for months. Dioko and I dispersed the fire ring before we left the area the next day, and reported the ring to the USFS when we got back to civilization.

Bear Creek to Barker Pass

We began our day on the trail early, on the trail by about 0715. we were eager to get things moving, as this was my last day on the trail of this section. Dioko would continue on around to Kingsbury, where he started the TRT. This was his hump day, marking the halfway point around the lake.

At the pass, we took each other’s pictures and

congratulated each other on our combined achievement.

Dioko had been a great hiking partner for the trip, enjoying the same pace and similar temperament. We wished each other the best and vowed to keep in touch. A lady from the TRT Association was there interviewing hikers about their experiences on the trail. We were only too happy to chime in. Dioko needed to press on, as he had many miles to go before bedding down for the night in Ward Canyon… and  I needed to find a ride back down the mountain to my car parked at Kaspian Campground and Highway 89. An older lady had just dropped off her husband and granddaughter for a day hike to Alpine Meadows where they lived. She was kind enough to take me back down the hill, thus concluding my 33 mile segment of the TRT through the Desolation Wilderness.

GPS Data

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/551247514


Dioko completed his TRT Challenge on August 2 and was soon back home in North Carolina to rejuvenate from his 172 mile accomplishment. We have remained in touch, and hope to hike together in the future.

I will return in two weeks to continue another segment of the TRT, Mount Rose to Brockway Summit.

I will report it here when complete.

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Until then… see ya on my next adventure in the Tahoe wilderness

The Road Goes Ever On

Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are my feet,
Still round the corner I may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but I alone.

The Hobbit ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Ward Creek to Twin Peaks TRT

GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/515891395

There is parking for 6 to 8 cars on the south side of the road next to the Ward Canyon Trailhead. The trail drops down slightly and metal barrier crosses the service road that appears to be rarely used. The road turns to trail shortly, wandering through pine and fir trees with split log fences bordering the trail. There is not much shade, so don’t forget to use plenty of sunscreen.

After several miles you arrive at the Tahoe Rim Trail’s Ward Creek Bridge, a very stout bridge built in 2007 with a grant from the Tahoe Conservancy. It is  a good water source in spring and until midsummer, however it is a lot of work to get to. One would have to climb down underneath the bridge to get the water. It is otherwise a dry section of the TRT. The trail eventually becomes a single track going through meadows of corn lily and budding mule’s ear. You will see short fir and small pine trees standing like Christmas trees, scattered about the meadow as well. Shortly after mile three Ward Creek Trail you arrive at McCloud Falls, cascading into a heavily wooded canyon and stream bed, mostly inaccessible, unless you’re out of water and have little choice.

The trail becomes very steep at this point climbing up over rock ledges and switchbacking up the steep incline towards the ridge. All the while climbing the hill looking back over your right shoulder to see Ward Peak peering down on you, a lava promontory visible for most of your trip.

After approximately one more mile you arrive at a large open meadow with Twin Peaks in full view. As I was there in early June, there was still abundant patches of snow on northeast facing slopes, that rarely get enough sunshine to melt at the higher altitudes. In this section of Ward Creek Trail, one begins to realize how much work the TRT Association Volunteers puts into these trails. Stones and boulders weighing several hundred pounds look as though they were precisely laid out for your staircase to the top of the ridge. Please take an opportunity to thank the TRT Volunteers for all that they do keep these trails maintained for us to enjoy.

Now turning west toward the ridge line and Twin Peaks the trail follows the steep contour of the hillside cutting through groves of twisted trees trying to grow toward the sunlight. It’s easier to see in the picture what I’m trying to say.

I have been meaning to ask a ranger why these trees grew this way; did the earth shift and they had to grow differently? A question I hope have answered someday.

Finally arriving at the ridge line, proximally 8,400 feet, you arrive at the trail junction of the Stanford Rock Trail. A large flat area with low-growing Manzanita and sparsely scattered rocks decorate your path toward the TRT and PCT Trail Junction at Twin Peaks.

At this time in early June, there was still a great deal of snow to navigate through and around. With the lack of coarse markings, such as TRT Trail Medallions and blue spray paint on trees, the way to the trail was quite ambiguous. I bushwhacked my way off of the trail as I could not find it, and my Garmin 800 cycling computer that I had converted to a hiking computer, was too difficult to read for these old eyes.

I came upon the crumbling stone and rock edifice of Twin Peaks and large piles of rocks… as though a dump truck had dumped a load of rocks and boulders in my way. Eventually through dumb luck and perseverance I found my way to the top.

Limitless panoramas were there for the taking with views of Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Granite Chief Wilderness to the west and Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl to the north.

It had taken me nearly 4 1/2 hours to get this far and I had already had my usual late start. It was time to get off the mountain and get back to my campsite before sundown. Of course the trip down was far easier than the trip up, with one admonition. Please make note that this is a very popular mountain bike trail. Diehard mountain bikers will join the Stanford Rock Trail from Ward Creek and come back down Ward Canyon behind you. With many 20% plus downgrades they may be coming at a pretty good clip. Most of them are pretty good about warning you are ahead of time, but just keep this in mind.

One more thing to make note of is your bug repellent and mosquito nets. From spring until fall the mosquitoes and flies own the Ward Creek Canyon. Just be forewarned. Unless you don’t mind donating several pints of your blood to the local mosquito population I suggest that you put on plenty of deet or whatever bug repellent of choice you have and/or mosquito head nets. There are several guidebooks that indicate you can camp in several areas of the Ward Canyon, all which may be true. Just bear in mind the bugs… Just may not be a pleasant night’s stay.

Once back at the trailhead it was time to head back to the lake, take a dip and give back the trail dust I borrowed for the day and relax.

TahoeMarmot2 copy-resized copyI’ll be back in camp soon to plan tomorrow’s next adventure.

Tahoe City to Brockway Summit West

This trip I tried something different – to hike with some “thirty-somethings”…you know, try to be sociable or the like. I think I just chose the wrong demographics. More on that later.

I knew the route, as I had done sections of it by myself before, but my Garmin 800 cycling computer didn’t record it correctly. Since the drought was a big factor, caching water was a good idea along the dry sections. From Tahoe City to Brockway, there are only two water sources, one would be “iffy” around Martis Peak.

I drove up a day early and cached 6 liters of water for our group at the Vista Point about 1.5 miles from the Brockway East Trailhead. I saved it to my GPS and headed back down the hill, making camp at my usual Kaspian Campground south of Sunnyside. A simple bike-in/hike-in camp without trailers and RV’s.

This trip started by joining a “Meetup” group in the San Francisco Bay area. Seemed like a good idea at the time, meet some people with similar interests, have some company along the way. The logistics were always difficult for me, hiking alone, as I never was sure how I was getting back to my car, or getting to the starting point, one or the other. With a group, we would drop off one car big enough to fit everyone at our end-point, then drive back to point “A”.

Worked in theory… more on that later…

Three of us met in the morning for breakfast at my fav west shore café, The Fire Sign Café in Sunnyside. From there we carpooled to the Mount Rose Summit parking area to drop off one car, then double-back to meet up with the others at the Tahoe City Trailhead, behind the Community Center. Ample parking, but no facilities to start your day. Be sure you take care of things before you get there. Several members of the group were already over two hours late in arriving. (Former military training: early = on time, on time = you’re late, late = you’re dead) I don’t like to wait for anyone.

So now it’s 1100, two hours plus late for getting started on the trail, it was already hot. We had 13 miles to go to get to camp at Watson Lake, our only water source on that stretch. An older dad hiking with his daughter were good company while we were close to each other. The others seemed to be in a foot race and fairly unsociable for a “social” Meetup group. (Run along children)

Day One GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/532033636

This trip I tried out a new pack that really wasn’t the correct size for me – sometimes a good deal is not necessarily a good idea. Combined with shopping and packing when I was hungry (also not a good idea), I had too much on my back. Not even going to mention the weight of my bloody Bear Vault.

Also, I’m like a raccoon…I drink a lot of water. And at nearly 2 pounds per liter, I tanked up with 4+ liters for my first 13 miles to Watson Lake. Should be enough, right? Hot, slogging up the hill from TC, the one that never seems to end, I was running low already. To add to the discomfort, I was still in my winter mode with my comfy Keen boots I wear when snowshoeing. With the heat, and trying to keep up with the kids, I turned my feet into Dim Sum – yep, steamed ‘em soft as oatmeal. Now I have heat (I hate heat), heavy pack, low water, both feet in a solid blister. Lord take me now!

The trail from Tahoe City is a climb packed with many false summits. You get to the top of one to realize there is another even higher behind it. And the trail has a very frustrating northern direction at the beginning, giving you the feeling that you will soon be back in Truckee if the trail doesn’t turn east soon. The trail was not all frustration, as the constant climbing brought you to incredible views of the lake and the Truckee River below.

We could see people rafting down the river, what seemed like a half mile below us. Looking southwest from a lava rock promontory, I saw Twin Peaks, where I had been just the week before. That weekend, the views were endless, as often is the case in Lake Tahoe.

On this segment of the TRT, much of the soils are volcanic rocks, cinder cones and lava flows. Very rugged red lava rock contrasts with broken talus beneath your feet, sometimes catching a toe or two on the irregular trail.

Onward.

“…And miles to go before I sleep”.

I fell behind the group in short order – just as well. I decided to bivouac overlooking Tahoe City for the night. I had just 1/4 cup of water to get me through the night and several miles in the morning to Watson Lake. No dinner, no breakfast, just enough water to take my morning meds. Broke camp at 0630 and, after a never-ending climb up and around Watson Peak, arriving at the lake at 0830.

At least it was still in the cool of the morning. Broke out my MSR water filter, made one big bottle of cold mountain lake water and chugged it in a New York minute. Saved !

Water never tasted so good. I continued tanking up the rest of my bottles and Camelback bladder, and I was back on the trail, ahead of the others who were still in camp. I knew that in my “damaged” condition, they would soon catch up with me.

This is when I confirmed that I was a solo hiker – do not fix what isn’t broken

Day Two GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/532033638

Not far after leaving the lake, I did come across Watson Creek, though not running strong was a drinkable water source. You could tell where the water source was as the vegetation was more abundant as it trickled down the hillside in the meadow.

After the creek, the trail opened up to a large meadow, covered in Mule’s Ear and Corn Lilies (poisonous, don’t eat). The Mules Ear reminded me of a faint smell of cigar, or perhaps it was just my nose.

The bright yellow flower of the Mule’s Ear and purple mountain Lupine, looked like a scene from “The Sound of Music”, painting the slopes above Tahoe City with the colors of summer. I met many day-hikers going in the opposite direction – many locals with their dogs out for a hike in the beautiful Tahoe sunshine. Someday, I will be living there full time (or buried there, whichever comes first).

Several hours later the group caught up with me and passed me. The dad and daughter team did slow down for me, as dad was also a little weary from his young daughter’s brisk pace.

She was very sweet and didn’t seem to mind slowing down for us old guys.

Just before arriving at the Fiberboard Freeway (one of the first logging roads between Highway 89 in Tahoe City and Highway 267 at Brockway Summit) we met another young lady on her way down to Watson Lake on a day hike. A school teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, out west to satisfy her hunger for adventure on her summer break. She had more gadgets on her than I had – looked like REI made out well with her before she left Missouri. Solar charger on her backpack, big enough to power the International Space Station…and the biggest can of Bear Spray that money could buy. We chatted a bit, and told her of my plans to bail out from the group at Brockway. She was so genuinely sweet to offer me a ride back to my car if I waited for her to return from Watson Lake. At my slow pace by now, I wouldn’t have to wait long.

After a long while, we arrived at the Brockway Summit West Trailhead. Our logistics now had changed. My feet were toast, and I was not too proud to throw in the towel this time. It this point, I realized why they were slowing down for me. They wanted my water cache less than 2 miles up the trail, and it might be a good idea to have on the next 10 mile dry section. They also did not do their homework and get their own Campfire Permit, which was needed for camp stoves in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

(With the drought, campfires were still forbidden) I gave them the coordinates for the water, and the permit (in my name, non-transferable so they’re SOL anyways if the ranger checks).

The young lady in the group was sweet enough to scout out the location of the Missouri license plate of the car that was taking me back to Tahoe City. Now if I just get my pack off, put my feet up for a bit and wait until my other “Trail Angel” comes back from her hike to drive me back, I’ll feel better in no time.

Not more than an hour went by before my girl emerged from the forest, as fresh looking as she went in. Loaded up her mini SUV, and off we went to Tahoe City. I noticed that her fuel gauge was at 1/4 tank or less, and happily gave her $20 for bailing me out. Being such a highly overpaid teacher (sic), she was thankful to have her favor returned. We wished each other the best of luck in our future endeavors and parted company in Tahoe City.

On the way back to my usual marmot hangout at Kaspian Campgrounds,

I stopped by my fav spot on the lake to soak my poor tired dogs. Pure heaven now; off the trail, feet in the lake, sitting back in my lawn chair. Soon I was back in camp, set up my hammock, popped open one of my non-alcoholic beers I had been saving in the cooler for such an occasion and was in marmot heaven for the next hour.

Don’t remember even making dinner that night. I started my campfire and made a cup of peppermint tea to chase down a handful of ibuprofen needed to feel normal again. As the flames of my fire grew dim, so had I. It was time to put myself and the past two days on the TRT to bed. I never cease to learn something each time I set out on the trail…

And hiking alone is not such a bad thing after all.

GPS Track (Partial)

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/532033638


The Road Goes Ever On

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.

~The Hobbitt, J.R.R. Tolkein

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See ya on my next adventure…

Spooner Summit – Marlette Peak & Marlette Lake – Flume Trail

Total distance 19.7 miles

Minimum altitude 6,306 feet
Maximum altitude 8,538 feet

 

I arrived in Lake Tahoe on the last day of September planning to get an early jump on the trail starting at Spooner Summit the next morning. That morning I started my day at Tunnel Creek Café for great cup of coffee and to bum a ride with the bike shuttle driver from the Flume Trail Bikes up to Spooner Summit. I had to wait a little while so they could gather enough mountain bike riders to make the trip worthwhile – then we were off for the summit. I had to hike a quarter-mile back down the road to get to the Spooner picnic area to start my hike. It was a beautiful fall day that inspired several others to get out on the trail and enjoy the weather. I briefly stopped and chatted with everybody who would talk to me, but kept on moving.

At the trail junction to Marlette Lake Trail  I came upon a spring that was still flowing under the road even this late in the season. The trail and road rises quickly moving away from Spooner Summit and lake. Two hike-in cabins are available for rent from Spoonersummit.com. Several spur trails branch off of the main trail – they are flagged for cross-country skiing that connects with the Marlette Lake Trail. You pass the first of three approved campgrounds in the Nevada State Parks system for that area. North Canyon Campground is the first providing vault toilets and picnic tables for about six campers. It is also an opportunity to rejoin the Tahoe a Rim Trail, 1.2 miles to the ridge.

One can see the trail zig-zagging its way across the face of Snow Valley Peak up to the ridge line. The other two campgrounds are Marlette Peak and Hobart Reservoir. I will be staying at Marlette Peak Campground tonight. Recently I noticed mile markers placed there by a joint effort between the Boy Scouts of America and the US Forest Service. Very helpful if something goes wrong and you need to tell somebody where you are. After an arduous climb of 16% or more out of the valley you arrive at the pass dropping down to Marlette Lake. With a valid Nevada fishing license, fishing is allowed Marlette Lake from July 15 through September 30, using barbless hooks and no bait – catch and release only. Unfortunately there is no camping allowed in the Marlette Lake Basin – understandable but unfortunate, as it would’ve made a beautiful sunrise camping out at the lake. So I pressed onward, to the Marlette Peak Campground, 4 miles ahead.

From the lake the road meandered northward in and out of Aspen Groves bringing me to another very steep section. It was going to be pretty slow going for a while. Finally arriving at the crest there were signboards and benches placed there by the Nevada state parks department. One sign explaining how Marlette Lake came into being and one of the rules and regulations for the area. No time for that now, I needed to make camp and I still had a couple of miles to go. I soon descended along the access road and puddles of water from recent rains. It was good to see that the parched forest got a little sip of water from this long drought.

After a while the trail opened up into a sandy clearing connecting the trail junction to the Tahoe Rim Trail. This was all pretty familiar to me now, just backtracking along the route my hiking friends, Tamara, Chris, and Chuck and I were on earlier in September.

After one more climb switchbacking up to the ridge I came upon another trail junction – one leads to the Marlette Peak North West Tahoe Rim Trail (A side trip taking you around the west side of Marlette peak displaying great views of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe) Another spur trail called the Sunflower Trail leading to Hobart Reservoir, and the trail I was taking, the north east route to Marlette Peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail leading to Tahoe Meadows, 13 miles to the north.

As the trail meandered through a small grove of fir trees, reminiscent of the sights and smells of a Christmas tree lot – telling  me that fall and winter were upon us.

Finally I arrived at the familiar sight the Marlette Peak Campground where Tamara, Chris and Chuck and I camped out for the night in early September.    Not a soul was there, just the vault toilets and me.  I got my pack off, and made the trip down to the well to get some water. I spoke about this well before… looks like a throwback to the old west, where you had to pump the water 10 or 12 times to get that cold, pure spring water. Soon I’ll have some water boiling for a Cup-a-soup and tea before bedding down for the night.

I was freezing my buns off so I couldn’t wait to get into my new Marmot Helium sleeping bag that I just got off of eBay. Finally I was the winning bid on something! I stashed everything in the bear boxes that they had provided in the campground and got into my cozy new sleeping bag and MSR Hubba one-man tent. I thought somewhere between the soup, the tea, and the new sleeping bag I would be warm and toasty in no time – but no. You know when you get a bone chill and you just can’t seem to warm up no matter what you do? That’s where I was, shivering myself to sleep by about midnight.

Guess I wore myself out shivering so much.

Dawn came too early, getting me out of the rack by 0630. I checked my Garmin GPS had a temperature sensor on it and it had recorded 25°F as the lowest temperature throughout the night and a balmy 29°F at breakfast. After guzzling down 2 cups of my Starbucks Via instant coffee that somehow still tasted like my Cup-o-Soup from the night before, I was packed and ready to hit the trail. I would have to eat my Cliff Bar on the road.

The rain puddles that I had passed the day before had turned to ice skating rinks as I passed them today. It was quite brisk, but I was fairly comfortable except for my fingers that I wasn’t able to feel just yet. The steep section that took forever to get up yesterday went quite quickly this morning. That was the good thing – then that uncomfortable feeling I have had before – that feeling as though you were being watched. I scanned 360° around me, on my way back down to the lake which couldn’t come soon enough.

I made my way out to Chimney Point, a finger that juts out into the lake with an old stone chimney on it. If a cat wanted me bad enough he would have to jump in the lake and come get me. And I know that kitty cats do not like water, so that was my plan for now.

The walk on the road was beautiful in the early morning light. The sun rising over the ridge made all of the fall colors come alive. I arrived at the fir tree that blocked my path last May on my mountain bike – it must have been 6 to 8 feet in diameter. The Forest Service had removed it from the road and it was clear sailing this time. Once arriving at the dam, I took one look back at the mountain and the trail that I had climbed over last month bidding farewell until next season.

Now I was once again on familiar ground, the Flume Trail. Marlette Lake water system and flume was originally created to provide water for the silver mining boom, headquartered in Virginia City, Nevada.

The mines required vast amounts of water to operate and Virginia City needed lumber for housing in the new boomtown. Now a single-track mountain bike and hiking trail connecting Marlette Lake and Tunnel Creek Road near Incline Village, the Flume Trail offers unparalleled vistas of Lake Tahoe to the west and south for most of the hike. (As I have mentioned before, Flume Trail Bikes will rent you a bike and shuttle you to Spooner Summit, and then you can ride back down the mountain to the Tunnel Creek Café, return your bike and have lunch and a beer.)

My trip this time back down the mountain took a little longer, as I didn’t have a bicycle to make the trip go faster. The trail is about 2 feet wide for most of the way, hugging the cliff closely with rock ledges and overhangs making it difficult for passing bikes along the way. The trail can be dicey at times, as the crumbling granite can make for a loose footing. You will meet mountain bikes going both ways, so make sure you make a little noise approaching blind corners.

The mountain bikers are usually expecting other bikes, and I find they get a little spooked when they come across a backpacker. Try not to take your half of the trail out of the middle.

After several miles, the trail joins another trail junction – to the right will take you up to the ridge where the Tahoe Rim Trail connects Tahoe Meadows to the Spooner Summit segment of the TRT. Continuing on straight ahead, the trail becomes a service road for the remainder of the journey back to Tunnel Creek Café. The trail is mostly shaded for another mile and one half, opening up to the afternoon sun the remainder of your hike.

Several hundred feet from the Tunnel Creek Café is a chain-link fenced property, home to the old Ponderosa Ranch of the 1950’s and 60’s TV show, “Bonanza“. The property has since been closed to the public since 2004.

Well I am finally back at my car and the café, tired and hungry. JP set me up with a great turkey and pesto sandwich washed down with a cold Gatorade. What a treat to have a hot homemade sandwich instead of trail food! I don’t think I moved an inch since I sat down an hour ago. Time to head over to the west side of the lake at Kaspian campgrounds and put my senior discount card to work one more time. Just the thought of having a legal campfire tonight was warming me up already. As if we never get enough, I read myself to sleep reading “The Cactus Eaters”, a saga about a young couple’s adventures along the PCT. The next morning I broke camp at 0730 and made a mad dash to my other favorite café, the Firesign Café for a hot breakfast and endless hot coffee.

A great ending to another great trip at Lake Tahoe.

GPS tracks below:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/605202517

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/605202521

TahoeMarmot2 copy-resized copy

See ya on my next adventure…