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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Tahoe City to Ward Creek, Tahoe Rim Trail Run

Gorgeous weather was in store for Lake Tahoe this week and I was lucky to tag along with my friend JoAnne to Tahoe City. While she was attending a seminar for the Ross Valley Fire Department, it would give me enough time for a leisurely run/hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail to Ward Creek and back. Before starting my trek, we ventured behind the Tahoe Dam and Gatekeeper’s Quarters, where there should be water…but not this year. This year the area behind the dam is bone dry – the lake behind the Gatekeeper’s Residence has been replaced by a field of Crest Lupin, beautiful purple flowers that grow out to the water’s edge, some 100 meters away.

The TRT Trailhead starts on the west side of the bike/foot bridge that goes over the Truckee River. Depressing to see what little water is flowing for businesses like river rafting and restaurants along the Truckee. I only hope they can survive the season.

Just over the bridge is a nice picnic area with tables in the shade of large pine trees. Parking is abundant for beginning your TRT section or biking along the Tahoe Bike Path. Outhouses are nearby for any last minute needs.

This section is just under 6 miles with about 976 feet of elevation gain. It is kid and dog friendly on a leash (leash for kids optional). The trail follows the Truckee River northward for a short time before ducking into the forest of pines and cedar. (Click here for a satellite view of the section route)

From there, the trail switchbacks up the side of the canyon, following the contour as you climb away from the Truckee River. Flowers are in abundance along this section of the TRT. The bright “Daisy-like” flower of Mule Ears and the lavender blue of Stickseed flowers lined my path.

As the trail turns to the south, the first of several meadows come into view.

Not easily accessible, it’s best to wait for Page Meadows. Finally, after the last grove of trees disappears, the scene opens to the sprawling panorama of Page Meadows, perfectly showcasing the volcanic monoliths of Twin Peaks and Ward Peak in the distance.

The concrete “Boardwalk” placed there by the volunteers from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, help keep the trail open during soggy months, insuring that the trail will still be there the following season. Once on the other side of the meadows, the trail once again finds it’s way back into the forest.

Meandering in and out of direct sun, the shady sections are welcome in the noonday sun. Several steep sections arrive just before the end of the trail segment. Forest Service Road 15N60 is a wide and a fairly steep climb or “glissade” over dirt and gravel, depending on which way you are going. There are several last distant views of Ward Canyon and mountains behind. The service road continues straight, to intersect with Ward Creek Road further east. The TRT trail, branches off to the right, towards Ward Creek Road, then crosses it to join the TRT Ward Creek to Barker Pass Segment. There is ample parking along the road on Ward Creek Road near the trailhead for either section of the TRT you wish to do.

 

A couple of bonus pictures on my way back to Tahoe City… The “New” William Kent beach area that has been under construction for more than one year is now open…with flush toilets and picnic tables in the shade and a very nice, but small, beach to bask in the sun. Parking is limited, so be patient or prepared to walk a few blocks. If you’re hungry, one of my favorite eateries in Lake Tahoe is just across the highway, the Firesign Café.

Thanks for riding along with me…until then…

See you on my next adventure, in the Tahoe wilderness

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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…

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