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
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.
“…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
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)
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