Barker Peak at Sunrise

One of my favorite camping spots along the Tahoe Rim Trail is near Barker Pass. At just over three quarters of a mile from the Barker Pass trailhead, it is ideal for bringing along “more than you really need” in creature comforts from your car. Though I don’t cook much on the trail, having a freshly brewed pot of Peet’s coffee from my cone filter (or French press if I get really decadent) is really a slice of heaven while watching the sun rise over the lake.

The campsite is listed on Guthook’s Hikes, Tahoe Rim Trail Hiker app on Android and iPhone, as well as the app and maps for the PCT. Most thru hikers don’t stop there as they just came from Desolation or the campsite near Bear or Miller Creek, and the day is still young for getting some miles in. Barker Pass is easily found from Highway 89 at Barker Pass Road (also known as Blackwood Canyon), approximately 7.5 miles from the highway. The last mile is unpaved –  it is well maintained and relatively smooth for even passenger cars to navigate. The last 100 feet up to the actual trailhead is a little rougher, with ruts that might be too much for a passenger car. Best to just park on the east side of the road on a diagonal, and hike the remainder of the way. There are vault/pit toilets at the trailhead, but no running water. (Note: about 1/4 mile past the campsite is a small spring that feeds the Middle Fork of Blackwood Creek. At the time of this writing, it was still flowing well enough to fill up water bottles for filtering)

There is a picnic table at the trailhead in case you want to sit down and have a civilized bite before setting out into the wild. This is a gathering point for many PCT thru hikers and section hikers for re-provisioning before jumping back on the trail, northbound for Canada. (It is easier to get a ride to and from Tahoe City here than it would be to hike into town via Ward Canyon)

After playing at Donner Lake and Hurricane Bay, one of my fav beach spots on Tahoe’s west shore, it was time to head up the mountain to Barker Pass. We had already eaten dinner so nothing to cook at the campsite. (trying to keep food to a minimum, as bears have been more aggressive foraging for food with the drought) Our hike took about 45  minutes with plenty of stops for photo ops and taking in the sights. We passed through a large meadow of Mule’s Ear behind Barker Peak before arriving at the crest, where the trail and OHV (off highway vehicle) road meet. Finding my secluded little plot, I cleared off and smoothed a perfect spot for the tent. Though I expected to be up and awake before sunrise, I made sure that the tent opening faced east to watch the sunrise in case we were still in sleeping bags at 0600.

Camp is now set for the night, time to get the bear bag hung with the “goodies” for breakfast out of reach of the Yogi’s. This time I didn’t bring my Bear Vault, as we were only going away for one meal’s worth of food. I used Op sacks, double bagged (overkill) and a modified PCT hang in a tree about 200 feet (count out 75 paces) from camp. If he/she could figure out how to get the food down, God bless you Yogi, you deserve it more than I do. (BTW, it was there the next morning)

At just over 8,000 feet, the wind can howl over the pass sometimes. Though it was windy the night that we stayed, the tent didn’t get much wind at all. I stepped outside for a peek at the stars, but went back in shortly, as it was a little brisk at 1:00 AM. Just before dawn, we awoke and made sure we would be ready to capture the sunrise on film. The wind had stopped, but clouds would obscure a perfect sunrise over the Carson Range and Lake Tahoe this time. While I boiled water for coffee, Sara started snapping pics of the sunrise. Now, each of us with our hot cup of coffee in hand, watched the sunrise over the clouds on the eastern horizon. Truly a great way to start your morning…just you, the birds and some hungry ground squirrels.

Two cups of coffee into us, it was time for a short hike out to the lava knob to the north, and a get a taste of fresh spring water (filtered of course) from one of the springs that feeds the Middle Fork of Blackwood Creek.  The hike out to the knob is fairly easy…nothing technical, following the contour of the mountain to the knob. (You can go out to the end, but the soil becomes somewhat loose underfoot, and take it slow on the sharp lava rocks.) Out on the ridge-line now, we can see where we camped, Barker Peak, Ellis Peak and Lake Tahoe. To the north, we could see Twin Peaks, where we were several weeks before on a 20 mile run on the PCT to the lake.

Time to pack up and head back to the car. On the way back down the hill, we came upon a young bearded guy, through hiking the PCT. We chatted for a little while, and I noticed that he had an accent, so nosey me asked where from…Israel! Well if that wasn’t interesting enough I asked his trail name and he said “Dorothy”…he chose it because he wasn’t in Kansas anymore! Very clever, I thought.

Time now for a heartier breakfast than a Clif bar in camp, so we got into the long line for breakfast at one of my favorite eateries, the Firesign Café on Westshore Blvd. At the time of writing, there is a new and improved market and deli across the street from the Firesign…perfect for grabbing a bite before heading out to the William Kent Beach.

After brekkie, we did take a stroll to the beach across the street and went for a quick dip in the lake. Not too cold this time, and laying in the sun felt pretty good after the cold water plunge. Good for a couple of hours of free relaxation before heading back down the mountain to UN-civilization.

That’s all to report for this trip…Thanks for coming along.

Until next time, I’ll see you somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Sierra Crest 30k Preview and Race – Donner Ridge to Donner Summit

This time I’m on my way to Tahoe-Donner to preview a trail race I entered for August 8. I volunteered to preview a portion of the course at the request of Race Director Megan and “AB” from Tahoe Mountain Sports in Truckee. “AB” fitted me with a GoPro camera on my chest to record some “action videos” and pics of the trail, to promote the inaugural event. I asked my friend Sara to help me with the trip, as the run I was doing was a “point-to-point” run, and I needed her to pick me up at the end. Sara is also a professional photographer, and contributed many pics to this post.

Sierra Crest 30k Preview Run

AB gave me a crash course in operating the GoPro, but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped…or I didn’t remember what he told me as well as I had hoped (I’m sure you can gather which one went wrong). Problem was, I was wearing too many bloody things on my chest already to add one more… luckily I had my own camera and iPhone for back-up, and Sara took some pics with her camera, so we still got some good shots in the end.

The first part of the course started at the Tahoe-Donner Equestrian Center and encompasses the vast Tahoe-Donner trail system, in summer months, mostly horse traffic. We opted to bypass this section in favor of a quicker, shorter, more picturesque section, that of Glacier Way to the Donner Lake Interchange (west-bound offramp for Donner Lake from Interstate 80). This is where Aid Station #2 will be. Trailhead #24 at Glacier Way on Donner Ridge was a beautiful, regional park location for the Aid Station #1 for the run. The pretty park-like sitting is probably used only by locals as there are no toilets or trash receptacles that we could see.

At the trailhead, there was a trail map of the entire system, but more than we cared to digest in the amount of time we had to get it done, and get the camera back to AB before the store closes. I did have  my GPS’s on my iPhone and my new Garmin Epix watch to guide me.

After making it to the ridge and I-80 overlook, there were few choices of trails, so little chance of getting lost. Sara and I ran for about one mile together until we reached the Negro Canyon Overlook Trail sign. From there, she doubled back to the car while I continued on down the hill. On her way back she snapped a picture of a buck grazing, seemingly unfettered by her presence.

At the Negro Canyon sign, I was conflicted as the sign said that the trail ends. I watched a single mountain biker pass me, and I waited for him to turn around or continue on, to see what to do. As he pedaled into the distance, I followed assuming this must be the way.

Finally the trail matched up with my GPS’s, and I was on my way down the trail.

Donner Ridge Preview from Tahoe Marmot on Vimeo.

Switchbacks down face of Donner Ridge from Tahoe Marmot on Vimeo.

I did come to a trail marker for the Donner Lake Rim Trail that was laying on the ground, not instilling a lot of confidence in me. There was a bushwhacked trail next to it, so it was a little confusing which way to go. After a little scouting, I found the correct trail and continued on. This brought me to a 4-way junction, but this time the markers were in their proper place. I followed the trail over the face of Donner Ridge and along the switchbacks, taking in the incredible views and panoramas with both cameras.

I made my way down the mountain in good order. The trail was in great shape but I still took my time getting down, taking in the beautiful day, and the sights and smells of the trail. Sara was picking me up at the Donner Lake Interchange off of Interstate 80, where the Aid Station #2 would be. This part of the course is a perfect 2-4 hour run or hike, with great views and no technical climbing. You would have to plan ahead and have someone pick you up at the Billie Mack Rd. parking area, or leave a car at both ends of the trail.


Sierra Crest 30k and 50k Trail Race Aug. 8, 2015

Now for the day of reckoning, the race itself. Over 70 entrants will be racing two slightly different courses, mostly over common terrain. We will all finish at the Auburn Ski Club’s Lodge at Boreal Ridge near Donner Summit. Race Director Megan Seifert and Glenn Jobe from the Auburn Ski Club put on a well organized, well marked and staffed event for their first attempt. I met several new friends prior to the start, all accomplished trail runners eager to get on the trail as much as I was. Pre-race briefing was on Friday at Tahoe Mountain Sports to get last minute instructions for tomorrow’s start and to pick up my race bib number. On race day morning at 0630 many of us met to take the shuttle bus to the starting line, as this was a point-to-point race, leaving our cars at the finish. We all gathered at the starting line at Tahoe-Donner Cross Country Ski Resort (15275 Alder Creek Rd, Truckee, CA 96161) The 50k runners were off one hour before us in the 30k. Their course took them through the Euer Valley, beautiful, mostly level terrain, making them run an additional 20 km, about 13 miles.

Now it’s time for my group, and we’re off…well they are off like a shot. I’m going to be be gasping for a while, trying to get my heart and lungs accustomed to less oxygen for the next seven to eight hours. I didn’t seem to mind some of the younger folks passing me early on, but when one spry older 74 year old lady left me in the dust, I was a little crest fallen. This first section of the course was previewed by fellow Donner Party Mountain Runner, Jon Murchison, forewarning of the 2,000 feet of climbing in the initial seven miles. The climbing never seemed to end in some spots, but the higher I got, the views steadily became more picturesque as the morning progressed. I was far above the fog that enshrouded Donner Lake and parts of Truckee. The rains from yesterday’s thunderstorms knocked down much of the trail dust, making for ideal trail conditions.

Finally at Aid Station #1 at Glacier Way, where Sara and I scouted out the race two weeks prior. Grabbed some fresh water and electrolyte drink, a few munchies, and off on the section of the trail that we previewed. At least this section, I knew what to expect. Tried to keep up with some of the people I met at the Aid Station, but they were mostly locals and had the altitude jump on me.

I made it to the second aid station at about 12 something, long before the cut-off time…but my most difficult hill was just coming up after that. A gnarly 4×4 road, with ruts as deep as canyons, loose sandy steep footing, and in full sunshine took it’s toll on me. After more climbing back up to the next ridge, another runner in the 50k came from behind and was becoming as weary as I was. It was a relief to have some company on this arduous part of the trail and co-miserate a little. Chris and I became running partners, encouraging each other to finish what we had started. Neither of us had any intention of throwing in the towel, and we had each other’s back on that.

We did take the time for a few selfies at Summit Lake, and enjoyed the view for a few brief moments before getting back into jogging mode. By this time my left knee felt like I had an ice pick jabbing me with every step I took. My running form was now something akin to Festus on Gunsmoke, hobbling down the trail, trying to keep up with Chris and not hold him back any more than necessary.

Not far from Summit Lake, one of the Medic’s on a mountain bike came by, sweeping the course for those of us near the end. I assured him that I was ok and fully intended to finish the race under my own power. After a few more of his check-in’s with me, I thanked him for his concern but that I was becoming increasingly annoyed by his hovering…so carry on, go grab a beer at the end and I’ll be along “whenever” dude! Just before the last aid station, two other runners in the 50k we catching up with us…they were at the back of the pack also, giving it their best and enjoying every minute of it as Chris and I were. One of the guys was wearing a running kilt (a first for me), and the only two other people using trekking poles. We’re finally crossing under Highway 80 now, getting big cheers for the last volunteers on the course (probably they’re just happy that the last guys are finally past and they can go get a beer now and go home). The course for me would have ended at the Auburn Ski Club, but I had given Chris my word that we had come this far together, we were going to cross the finish line together as well. Another 1.5 miles to go, so that Chris could complete his full 50k, tacked on another one and one-half miles for me that felt like five miles. After the last few humps in the road the finish line was in sight, with cones, flags, and ribbons still left up until we crossed. Chris and I had a few pictures of us together along with his 12 year old son…we hope to get copies of the momentous occasion soon from the race people. No one waiting for me at the end…just have to be happy with the fact that I survived and completed what I promised myself I would do, pain or not, I finished the 30k and then some.


R&R after Trail Preview at Donner Lake with Sara

After my run, we headed down to Donner Lake for some lunch and a dip in the cold water. Sara went in, I was too chicken with the icy water…should have in hind-sight. It was still such a beautiful day, and we had a little time to get the camera back to AB at Tahoe Mountain Sports. Found a nice parking spot in the shade and a short hike later to one of the public piers at Donner Lake and we were happy as clams. A few other ladies were the only other ones on the pier and they didn’t mind sharing some of the dock space with us. Sara was brave enough to get into the chilly water, but also seemed happy to get out and sit in the sun after. Never want to leave whenever I am anywhere in Tahoe area. Must say, I am becoming quite found of the Donner Lake and Truckee area as a place to live rather than the hustle and bustle of Lake Tahoe. Still have so many favorite spots around Tahoe though…just adding to my ever-growing long list of favorites.

See you again soon, on my next adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Castle Peak

On the first day of summer, we’re off to Castle Peak, just north of Donner Summit off of Interstate 80 to the north. You can see it towering above the highway as you approach Donner Summit from the west. There are many ways to get there from I-80. I took this route today as I was eastbound to Tahoe City eventually. Take the turnoff for Boreal Ski Resort and turn back under the highway driving north. You will see cars parked along the road, but do notice the no parking signs for part of the road. The paved section ends in several hundred feet, then becomes a dirt access road for four wheeled vehicles.

This about 4+ hours, 7 to 8 miles for an Out-and-Back, or loop, depending on your choice of routes. Once at Castle Peak, you can either double-back on your tracks or continue on to Warren Lake Trail to Summit Lake Trail, returning to the Rest Stop on the north side of Interstate 80.

Castle Peak Summit: 9,103 feet

Distance: 7 to 8 miles

Time needed: 4+ hours (Less if you’re not chatty like me)

Elevation gain to the summit: 1,890 feet

(Note: An alternate route would be from I-80 westbound, starting from the Rest Stop area. Join the PCT behind the restrooms and West Lakes, hiking in the northwesterly direction until you arrive at Castle Pass)

(Click here to view GPS Track and download GPX or KML track in Google Earth)

Click here for Topographic map of area

This route is a mecca for mountain bikers, four-wheelers and hikers alike. It is also a popular snow-mobile road in the winter time. The road is wide enough for everybody to enjoy it at the same time. The road starts off with a gradual climb to a fork in the road. There on your right, you can see Castle Peak above you, our goal for the day. If you continued on the road to the left, it would also take you to Castle Pass, where the  trail meets with the PCT. Branching off of the access road to the left is “Hole in the Ground” trail, routing you beneath Andesite Peak, eventually meeting at Castle Pass as well.

We will cross Upper Castle Creek several times on this route. Only a little runoff at this time in our drought year. It is flowing well enough as a water source for drinking after treating or filtering. After another quarter of a mile, the road intersects with the PCT or continues straight on the Donner Lake Rim Trail. Mountain bikes usually continue on to the Rim Trail, but we will be turning left to join the PCT to Castle Pass.

Castle Pass is great place to meet other people out on a day hike or thru hikers on the PCT, on their way north. Today I met up with a fellow seasoned hiker and Grass Valley local, “Mountain Goat”. She had been camping at Paradise Lake, on the other side of Castle Peak.

After a brief chat, it was time to get the show on the road. The terrain changes quickly here, from an earthen soil on the PCT to crushed and powdered volcanic ash. It can be a scramble up the hill with rocks and volcanic ash, not a great footing. I met several solo hikers and small groups coming back down the mountain for the saddle below Castle Peak. It is a good place to stop and rest and enjoy the view or continue on to the summit.

Once at the saddle below the peak, you can take in the panoramic views.


Take time to look around you and enjoy the moment… you see some flowers that aren’t everywhere in the Tahoe Basin. Some of these flowers grow in areas with volcanic soil, like here, Ellis Peak or Barker Peak. The brilliant deep purple Showy or Sierra Penstamen is everywhere here. Wolley Mule Ears, with it’s yellow daisey-like flower, the white, three petalled, and low-growing Smokey Mariposa or Mariposa Lily by another name… Firecracker flower (a type of phlox or gilia), and yellow Marumleaf Buckwheat.

I got a late start today driving up from the bay, so I only have time to climb a little more. The trail becomes steeper and more loose in traction. My Altra Olympus trail running shoes are really not the best choice today. A shoe with a Vibram sole might be better in this section. As I climb higher, Round Valley below me is lush and green. The PCT follows the meadow on the western edge. The Peter Grubb Hut, owned by the Sierra Club is there for PCTers for shelter on their way north. Our Donner Party Mountain Runners have used it in the winter time as a ski-in or snowshoe-in for overnight outings. Reservations are needed. 

Can’t peak out today, time to head back down the mountain and drive to Tahoe City for the night. This was a great way to spend the first day of summer, out in my element…the Tahoe forest.

Hope you enjoyed the trip today. Whichever route you take, you will really enjoy the scenery…it’s some the best views in the Truckee-Donner area.

Until next time…

See you on my next adventure…

Somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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