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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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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Ellis Peak from Barker Pass

This is my second day of running, hiking, climbing of a two day jaunt up in Lake Tahoe. I came up this time for a variety of reasons, one to see a friend that I hadn’t seen in a year, but she bailed before I got up there. (I was not very happy) This week also started the Alpenglow Mountain Festival, sponsored by Alpenglow Sports of Tahoe City. There were a week’s worth of outdoor activities planned, such as SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding), yoga and trail running. Speaking of trail running, I met up with my friend Robert Rhodes of Bay Trail Runners, who was showing his acclaimed, Trails in Motion Film Festival, the premier trail running and ultra-running film tour at Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema in Tahoe City. I know it was a sell-out crowd…you can look for all of them listed in Bold on Facebook.

This trip is to Ellis Peak, a 8,740 foot peak that is just west of the Homewood Ski Resort. Just 11 miles from the Tahoe City “Y”, we turn right on Barker Pass Road, just at Kaspian Campground, and drive up Blackwood Canyon. There are signs several miles up the road for you to bear left and continue up to Barker Pass. When you come to the second green iron gate, the pavement ends. Find a good spot to park off of the road, as the trailhead is just on the other side of the road. (Note: if you continue down another mile, you will find the Barker Pass PCT/TRT Trailhead parking area, with vault toilets if needed.)

It is approximately a 6 mile out-and-back to Ellis Peak, with approximately 1,700 feet of climbing. If this will be at a hiking pace, give yourself about 4 hours overall. It is quite steep in sections, and with the altitude, expect to take many breaks. Not a problem, as there is so many beautiful things to see in any direction you look. Right now, the first day of summer, the wildflowers painted a brilliant palette of color over the ground and hillsides. This hike can be dog friendly if you bring extra water along for them. It is a dry hike, unless you venture down to Ellis Lake, adding at least another 2  miles to your outing. (I did meet some folks with some dogs, and the older dogs were not very happy…it is a strenuous hike for all, so keep them in mind.)

View GPS Track on Gaia here (If you have Google Earth, you can download the track and flyover on satellite. You may also download a GPX file to use on a GPS receiver)


The hike begins straight up the hill right out of the gate. Several open sections of full sunlight then back into the shade as you switch back up the hill to the first plateau. From there, all of Desolation Wilderness opens up before you to the west and southwest.

To the west, you can easily see the largest lake in the area, Loon Lake, which lies just outside of the Desolation Wilderness boundary. (We will save that track for another day) As I reach the ridgeline, the trail runners from this morning’s Alpineglow Mountain Sports run were coming back down the mountain from Ellis Peak. It was nice to see some trail runners from Germany and Norway enjoying our Lake Tahoe trails and spectacular views.

The trail continues to climb for another half mile or so before reaching the crest and turning down hill once again on the backside of the mountain.

Eventually, the road Intersects with a forest service road and the trail down to Ellis Lake at about 8300 feet, and the 3 mile mark. Now you’re in for a little heart pounding climb up the gravelly hill to the base of Ellis Peak. Now you’re just behind and above the Homewood Ski area. (Note: if you would have turned to the right on the Forest Service Road, it would have brought you down to Lake Louise and the top of the ski lift at Homewood) Rest assured, we’re almost there…just a few hundred more feet and it will all be worth the effort.

 

 

The trail is composed of mostly broken and powdered volcanic rock and ash…not the best traction at times, so take it slow. Finally the peak is in sight. A mound of rocks that looks like a chair, and a breath-taking 360° view of everything! The entire Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond lies before you…and to the southwest, all of Desolation Wilderness, still with snow of some of the northeast facing facets.

 

On my way back down from the peak, I met a young guy with a sweet mountain bike that PUSHED it all the way up the hill so he could ride back down the mountain from Ellis Peak!!! Now that is a die hard!

About a mile or so down the road he came whizzing by with a big smile on his face that he did it…well, a couple more miles but he’ll be there in no time. I also met some people that brought their dogs up with them…out of the 4 dogs, only one looked like he was having fun. It was pretty warm today.

Well, I’m to that valley now between the two mountain tops…rats. This means I have to start climbing again…and after yesterday’s climb to Castle Peak, I’m toast. I can’t wait to get back to the lake and jump in and have a swim.

One last look over the edge of the cliff into Blackwood Canyon, then back to the car soon. Two days of some intense hiking/running/climbing… Now’s time for that swim.

 

Thanks for coming along…until next time…

See you soon, somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Shirley Lake Trail to High Camp, Squaw Valley

For one of the best day hikes near Lake Tahoe, take a road trip to Squaw Valley, CA, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Very popular, so expect crowds during peak spring and summer months. It seems that all of the hotels send their guests here, so plan to leave before noon to avoid the bulk of the groups, kids and dogs.

When to go:

This is a great late Spring to late Fall trip, as there are many areas of snow on north and north-east facets into early June.

How to get there:

  • Take I-80 to Highway 89/Truckee Exit 185 and turn south toward Lake Tahoe.
  • Drive south for 8 miles, turn right on Squaw Valley Rd.
  • Follow the road until you arrive at The Village at Squaw Valley , 1750 Village East Rd. on your left
  • (An excellent place to stay BTW, and a good place to buy food for your hike).
  • Trams rides are free from High Camp back to the village (nice!)

Check with squawalpine.com or dial 1-800-403-0206 to confirm Tram schedule

Distance to Squaw Valley from:

  • Reno                 43 miles
  • San Francisco  196 miles
  • Sacramento       96 miles

From the parking lot at The Village, walk to Squaw Peak Rd. (if you see the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn, you’re in the right place)

Follow the road looking straight up at the mountain with Tram tower above you for about 0.5 miles until the apex of the cul-de-sac. There you will see the sign for the Shirley Lake Trailhead.

What to bring:

  • Good hiking shoes or trail running shoes (regular tennis shoes not recommended)
  • Trekking poles (highly recommended)
  • Small backpack with hydration or several bottles of water
  • Snacks or lunch (REMEMBER TO PACK OUT ALL YOUR TRASH)
  • Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
  • Light jacket and packable rain jacket (weather conditions change very quickly in the mountains)
  • Camera
  • Optional: Water purification system like Sawyer or MSR so you can filter that ice cold, refreshing mountain stream water right into your bottle and “taste” the entire experience of your hike.

What to expect:

  • This is a MODERATE hike – Give yourself 3-4 hours overall if you plan to take many pictures and breaks
  • The trail starts off fairly flat, but transitions quickly from a lush green forest to steep granite slabs – when you arrive at High Camp, you will have climbed over 2,000 feet in elevation.
  • Remember you are at altitude – you are starting at 6,200 feet above sea level, climbing to 8,200 feet in under 4 miles
  • Conditions change quickly in the mountains – let someone know when you are leaving and when you expect to be back
  • Many wonderful views, photo ops, wildflowers (Mule’s Ear, Corn Lily, Squaw Carpet, Mesquite) and critters.

Click on this link for a GPS track of my trip:  Shirley Lake Trail and High Camp, Squaw Valley

Let’s hit the trail…

From the trailhead, the trail is marked with blue spray painted lines and marks on rocks and sign posts to indicate your path. The path follows Squaw Creek, as it climbs quickly into Shirley Canyon, displaying many waterfalls and cataracts along your path. The creek will be on your right side ascending most of your trip.

In early Spring, California Snow Flowers pop up under pine needles in shaded areas along the trail. Rich loam of decomposing trees resemble a park-like setting. Soon the path finds the water, at it’s a real treat when the water is flowing. Dogs make a mad dash to be the first ones in the water, only to come find me soon after to rub on.

I usually hike alone, but this time I made an exception. My friend Sara really needed to get out of town and unwind – and I needed get back into my element. Though this hike is not the wilderness, it’s still Tahoe, and my home. I shared my trekking poles with her, and we would soon find out how handy they were going to be today. That extra “umph” to get you over that boulder was a “God’s Send”. It is really fun to bring someone that is not used to seeing this much nature and wonder all in one hike. It was truly a treat for both of us. Sara is a professional photographer and I could always use a few pointers from a pro.

Now for the first of many waterfalls along our hike today…

Soon, our  trail ascends the canyon…over tree roots and boulders…then the boulders became slabs of granite. The repayment for our hard work were the views…just awe inspiring.

After several boulders, we were climbing away from the water now. Just boulder after boulder…some rocks wet from run-off, so taking it slow and easy. We’re making it…the views just get better. The air a little cooler and wetter now, as the mist turns to a light drizzle. Now the rocks have become an enormous slab of granite that must be overcome…

Finally having having conquered the granite slab, brings a moment of pause to survey what we just conquered and the beauty of the Olympic Valley below us.

We find snow and runoff on the trail…that is, when we can find the trail. Now and then the snow hides the blue markers, and the gentle rain has now made the rocks wet…making it harder to see the paint.

We pass people along the way and they pass us…at this point we’re all oblivious to the time it has taken to get up here. We finally arrive at Shirley Lake.

The north and west sides of Shirley Lake are the only friendly sides, as the rest of the area is rather marsh-like and soggy. There is a trail and an unpaved road on the other side of the lake near the Shirley Lake Express chairlift. In summer it is easily visible, but not today. Today, all north and northeast facets are covered in snow, and the rain is beginning to turn to hail the size of BB’s…not pleasant, but then again, not as wet as rain. At about 4 pm, a group of young people have gathered with us at Shirley Lake, inspired by the view that they have earned. Inspired as we all are, we realize we have one hour and one mile to climb the snow and rock covered slope to reach the Tram in time before the last download of the day at 5 pm. The trail is nowhere to be found – it’s covered in snow and mud. Sara and I find some solace in watching the young one’s bushwhack the route…then we see if it worked or not…and go accordingly.

I didn’t think that we would need spikes, crampons or snowshoes on this trip… and Sara, an Alabama Girl, didn’t grow up with the benefit of knowing how to deal with snow and mountains. Each of us made use of one trekking pole to help anchor each step. I gave Sara a crash course in self-arresting technique in case she lost her footing, as it was a long wet slide back to the bottom of the hill. She was a trooper, and followed my steps that I carved in the snow. Finally a break in the snow, and she was off like a cannon-shot. The summit was in sight, we’re soaking wet and it’s 4:40 pm, no time to waste. Close to the summit was broken talus, a shale-like rock that is like trying to climb over dominos.

Finally in the safety and warmth of the Tram building, complete with infra-red heater and other fellow “drowned rats”, we are joyful in our conquest of time – we made it before the last Tram! It was a personal victory for Sara as well – an accomplishment to be proud of for certain.

One more adventure is in store for the day…the Tram ride back down the mountain with spectacular views from above.

Well that’s it for this trip – Hope you enjoyed the hike and will make it yourself sometime soon !


Tomorrow is another trail run and Annual picnic for my Donner Party Mountain Runners…and I’ll give you a little preview of the day… Yes….more hail, but bigger. We all had a great run for the adults and two races for the kids…who were completely undeterred by the weather.

See you on my next Adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness

Tahoe Marmot

 

 

Castle Peak 100 k Briefing with Donner Party Mountain Runners

This trip took me into Verdi, Nevada to stay with friends and then back to Truckee to meet with Lesley and Helen of the Donner Party Mountain Runners, my trail running club. Since I am not able to run 65 miles in one day at my present level of fitness, I wanted to volunteer my help and support for my fellow running club friends. Our event, the Castle Peak 100k, will be held on Saturday, August 29th. (You can find out all the particulars of the event, including route map, length, elevation gain and location of aid stations on the Castle Peak 100k website.)

The finish line for the race ends at Donner Memorial State Park, near Donner Lake. A memorial at the east end of the park is dedicated to the Donner Party that lost many lives, snowbound in Donner/Truckee from November 1846 to February 1847. Hence, the origin of the motto of the Donner Party Mountain Runners – “…FACING THE BRUNT OF FATE; INDOMITABLE, — UNAFRAID.”

No trip to Truckee would be complete without stopping off at my favorite candy store, Mountain Hardware and Sports, the Ace Hardware store on Donner Pass Rd. If I had the money, I’m sure I would not leave there every day of the week without spending at least $300. It has everything you need, and everything you don’t need, but it all looks so good you just got to have it. When I ever get around to decorating my new place up in Truckee someday, this is where I’m going to buy all the things to furnish my house. My dream is to make it look like a trapper’s cabin, but upscale.

Ok, let’s get outside and get some air. I grabbed some fruit and yogurt at Safeway and headed down to Truckee Regional Park to lay out on the grass under the sun and enjoy the beautiful day. The park is just south of downtown Truckee on Brockway Road. There are tennis courts, a baseball diamond, BBQ’s and public bathrooms all at the park. A walk along the access road toward the Truckee River brought me to the Truckee Legacy Trail… a 2.6 mile paved pathway along river for biking, jogging or running your dog, and splashing in the river. A small foot bridge, the East River Bridge connects a parking area at the end of East River St. and the Legacy Trail.

Okay, enough fun on the paved trail, not good for my swollen knee… off to meet up with Lesley at Wild Cherries Coffee House in Truckee for a coffee and talk about the race. At this point it looks like I’ll be helping out with parking at Donner Memorial State Park and helping runners get on shuttle buses to the starting line at Stampede Reservoir. I’ll try to help out wherever I can…should be a great weekend, staying at the campground and talking trail stuff with fellow dirt baggers in the club. Any day spent in the mountains is like heaven to me, so I will truly be a “Happy Camper”.

My trip would not have been complete had I not hiked on a trail and rolled around in some dirt, mud and snow before I came home. A short drive south on Interstate 80 to the Donner Summit Rest Area, I began the trail on the east side of the rest stop. This was the Summit Lake Trail that would intersect with the PCT within ½ mile or so. There was some snow along the trail, much of it melting onto the center of the trail, so I had to bushwhack a little bit to avoid getting too muddy. At the trail junction the PCT northbound to the left, Section L, still had some snow patches that I didn’t care to hike over without spikes on my shoes. I already had a bum knee, I did didn’t need to make it any worse. I took these few pictures and decided to call it a day and get back down off the mountain. I’ll be back in a few weeks anyway, hopefully with my knee better off and less snow to negotiate on the trails.

Thanks for following… until then, I’ll see you next time,

Somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Brockway Summit East Trailhead to Vista Point

Well this one was truly the Mother of all “out and backs”, as I got on the road at 6:30 am and drove to Donner Summit, and didn’t get home until 11:30 pm. This time I decided to take a road less traveled and got off the freeway in Cisco Grove. I haven’t been in Cisco Grove in a little over a year, previously cycling with my fellow Grizzly Peak Cycling club member Brenda. We biked a loop from downtown Truckee to Cisco Grove and back with several side excursions. This time on Donner Pass Road, I followed along the Yuba River along Highway 80, taking my time, unfettered by speeding traffic on the highway. I passed Soda Springs Ski Resort on Donner Pass Road, all but closed up for the season for the lack of snow. This was the gateway to my usual hang-out at Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Resort. I am certain that it was closed for the season as well. To the south, I passed the Lake Van Norden, A popular kite skiing area when there is snow. A short ways down the road I came to Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, still in operation, but at the time of this writing on March 19, Sugar Bowl has ultimately thrown in the towel for the season as well. Donner Ski Ranch had closed until next season also. It has been a dismal two years for the ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe/Donner and Truckee area, more so for the resorts in the north.

The views were still spectacular as I drove over Donner Pass Summit, overlooking Donner Lake. A virtually cloudless sky and calm winds added to the gorgeous views of Donner Lake. Walking out on one of the public fishing piers, the lack of water in the lake became increasingly obvious. Pier pilings that should have been underwater were high and dry. Luckily, the clarity of the water was unaffected.

It was close enough to lunch time for me so it was time to head to downtown Truckee, for a bite and some good coffee at the CoffeeBar Truckee. This is one of our favorite hangouts for my trail running club, the Donner Party Mountain Runners. It was a beautiful day and I found a perfect spot on one of the outside tables to enjoy my coffee and gluten-free sandwich. Good stuff.

If you’re coming from out of the area and are not familiar with parking in downtown Old Truckee, a word to the wise. Donner Pass Road, the main drag in town is very crowded and finding a parking spot is next to impossible on weekends. Some of the side streets like Jibboom where the CoffeeBar is located has additional parking, but be sure to purchase parking at one of the Parking Kiosks in town (usually at the street corner) and place the receipt on your dashboard. The open parking spaces are not free. Don’t forget to find the Kiosk and pay for your parking before returning to you car hours later to a parking ticket. OK, nuff said.

Okay now it was time for some trail time. Turning right on Bridge Street from Donner Pass Road will bring you to Highway 267. Turn right at the light and continue south on Highway 267 driving past the Truckee Airport and the Martis Valley on your left and Northstar Ski Resort on your right. Several miles past the Northstar begin the climb up to Brockway Summit, elevation 7,179’. Within the next mile on your right, you will come to a parking area for the Tahoe Rim Trail Brockway Trailhead East and West. Parking is only allowed on the right side of Highway 267 as you’re driving toward Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe. The East trailhead for the Brockway Tahoe Rim Trail is on the other side of the highway. Get there safely as you can.

Once on the forest service access road on the other side of the green barrier, walk to the top of the hill to see the TRT Brockway Trailhead Sign. In the summer season, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association places segment maps at the trailhead that you are welcome to take. (Please try to remember to slip one or two dollars into the donation pipe near the trailhead. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association operates purely on donations from people like you and I)

The trail now is fairly well marked, with very few switchbacks to contend with. At 1.25 miles from the beginning of the trailhead, the spur trail makes a sharp left, doubling back on itself, to the Vista Point. Be on the lookout for this sharp turn, as sometimes the trail post is missing. (This time it is not missing due to vandalism, but from the deer that rub themselves against the post and “crib”, or chew on the Tahoe Rim Trail signs themselves, thus knocking them over). This time, on March 8, there were still patches of snow and mud on the trail in the shaded areas. In one quarter-mile you will arrive at the summit of the Vista Point.

The rock formations resemble something from the Flintstones cartoons from years ago. There are some breathtaking views of the southeast, south and southwest. Spend some time to take it all in…afterall, you just climbed about 800 feet to enjoy the view.

After 30 minutes of photo opportunities and drinking it all in, the spectacular views and mountain fresh air, I decided to go take a look at the lake near Kings Beach.

Once on the beach, the evidence of the drought on Lake Tahoe was more evident. Standing at the waters edge, I looked back on the pier facing, that should have been in about five feet deep of water, was now some 30 or 40 yards from the lake. The outlook is pretty dismal for our water in California for the next year without snow or rain to return the lake to its natural level.

Well, once again, it’s time to hit the road, Jack. Time to get back home as nightfall is drawing near. Some 3½ to 4 hours later, I arrived back home at 2330 or 11:30 PM. That was a long day. Rest assured, I will be sleeping in tomorrow.

Thanks for following along.

See you again on my next Adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness

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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

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.

Kingsbury North to Spooner Lake TRT

Once again being a solo hiker, the logistic’s of doing some segments aren’t always easy. The Kingsbury to Spooner Summit segment, I broke up onto two, one day segments so that I could drive myself to each trailhead, then drive away at the end of the day. Sounds, crazy, I know, but it worked this time. In the cooler month of May, when snow was still on the ground, I made the Spooner South to Genoa Peak in one day. I started early in the morning as there is not much shade along the way, especial for an out-and-back. This is also a dry section of the TRT. Keep that in mind whatever you decide, as there are no water sources from Spooner to Kingsbury North Trailhead at Benjamin Drive, or the entire trail to Kingsbury Grade. It is about 17.5 miles from the Benjamin Drive Trailhead to Spooner and a little more than 20 miles from Kingsbury Grade.

I combined this trip with other adventures that week while in Tahoe, such as doing the Flume Trail on my mountain bike (I’ll post in another section), and climbing to Relay Peak in snowshoes on one occasion and my mountain bike on another. I parked at the Spooner Lake recreation area has it had bathrooms and running water to start my trip. Since it was only a day’s hike I didn’t need to bring more than a day pack. No matter what, I always carry about 4 L of water for entire day, just in case. My camel pack has a 3 L bladder plus another two half liter bottles of water with electrolytes was all I needed to get me out and back. The sun was up early and so was I, hitting the trail just before 0700. The day started out at about 40° as the sun was beginning to rise over the Carson Range on the east side of Lake Tahoe. Again there is not a lot of shade in this section, so I made sure that I used plenty of sunscreen and a hat and dressed in layers. I think only on one of my trips that I ever planned my food correctly. I always take too much. At least this wasn’t an overnight and I didn’t need my bear vault. A couple of hours later I arrived at the bench at South Camp Peak. A handmade bench with the million-dollar view to the west. There, I ate lunch, enjoyed the view and the cool breeze, now about 60°F by 1130. I ventured a little further on the trail down to Genoa Peak Trail Junction and decided to call that my halfway point for the day. I made pretty good time getting back to the car that day, just in time to drive down the hill to the Tunnel Creek Café near Incline Village on Highway 28, and get a sandwich before they closed up in the afternoon. Nice ending to a successful out-and-back for half of that segment.

Several weeks later I drove back up to Lake Tahoe to finish the other half of my segment. This time from Kingsbury North on Benjamin Drive to Genoa Peak, my last halfway point. I didn’t get as early as start as I had hoped to. I had stayed in a campground that I should not have chosen. It was an “Urban Campground”; where urban campers, in trailers and motorhomes and tents the size of circus tents stay to be “as one” with the outdoors. Three feet from your nearest neighbor that brought everything with them to make them feel at home in the outdoors…dogs, kids, motorcycles, boom-boxes and vacuum cleaners. Yes, vacuum cleaners. The morning I packed up, a lady was outside of her trailer at 0730, vacuuming her “Astroturf” carpet – I almost lost it – Time to go pound dirt.

Finding trails on a map was easier than finding the trailhead using rural streets. After a very convoluted, GPS assisted drive to the trailhead, I was finally on my way. (Turn north on N. Benjamin Dr. from 207, Kingsbury Grade – street becomes Andria Dr. – follow to the end, where the trailhead sign will be on your left, next to a paved parking area)

The trail started up quickly, with several large boulders to overcome. This is a very popular mountain biking segment, so be prepared to encounter menu along this route. They usually do an out and back also, so you will meet them going and returning. Soon after, I arrived at a level area and the trail junction for Castle Rock or the TRT to Spooner. (Castle Rock is a nice side trip for short day hikes with great views of the lake) Since my last trip, the weather had warmed up considerably. Gradually climbing past the 75°F mark, I looked forward to the shade of the large trees. I should have started this earlier in the day, when the sun was still on the east side of the mountain. There were many great vistas, but I must say, this part of the TRT’s scenery doesn’t change much. Not far from Genoa Peak trail junction I met another TRT thru hiker going in the opposite direction. It seemed like a good place to take break, chat for a few moments, and get out of the hot sun -now about 84° if I recall. Coby had come all the way from Louisiana to solo hike the TRT, starting at Tahoe City. I was so impressed and envious, as I was not able to get away from work and home for that length of time. We exchanged info on the trail so far, where each of us had been…and instantly we became like old friends.

Since this was as far as I needed to go, it seemed like a good spot to start back to the car.  Our meeting was perfect timing, as Coby needed to re-provision for the next long segment ahead, Kingsbury to Echo Lake.  He really needed this break, as he had covered the last 75 miles from Tahoe City to Kingsbury in five days – I can’t do that anymore.

I know south shore pretty well, so we headed to Raley’s Market for his  provisions  and Blue Dog Pizza for both of us. Coby was kind enough to buy lunch, and I was too hungry to turn him down. Before parting ways, we exchanged numbers, Facebook names and a few recommendations for an inexpensive place to stay near the shopping center. There are many to choose from across the street on Park Ave., all within walking distance.

The TRT Association lists many options for transportation around the Tahoe area, including Go Blue Tahoe Transit.

As I was driving home, I looked behind me to grab a water bottle and noticed something that wasn’t familiar. It was Coby’s digital camera – it had fallen off of his backpack. I called him and told him of his loss, and that I would FedEx it to him on Monday. All’s well in the end. He got it back in time to take many great shots going through Desolation Wilderness and Dick’s Pass (with snow), and the remainder of the trip back to Tahoe City.

A good trip in the end – made a new fellow hiker friend, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.

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See ya on my next adventure…in the Tahoe Wilderness

Maggie’s Peaks to Azure Lake, Desolation Wilderness

It was Tuesday, September 15. I was driving on Highway 50 to the Pacific Ranger Station at Pollock Pines to pick up my permit for the Desolation Wilderness for the week. From as far away as Sacramento, I could see the smoke from the fire in the distance, growing larger the closer I got to Pollock Pines.

The King Fire had just started on Sunday, but was growing rapidly with southwesterly winds and continued dry weather. I pulled into the Ranger Station to find an exodus of vehicles leaving the station. The office personnel had already evacuated and the smoke and flames were just behind the station. One half mile down the road it was growing rapidly with fire crews gathering roadside, ready to do battle with the wildfire. I still needed a permit from the Ranger Station in South Lake Tahoe, so change course for the USFS South Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Offices on College Ave. When filling out my itinerary for the permit, the young lady behind the counter informed me that they had just had a fire reported at Fontanillis Lake, my intended first night’s campsite. An illegal campfire that was quickly contained by USFS personnel. My intentions were to still make the trip.

I spent the night at Fallen Leaf campground trying to find out the most efficient way of getting to the trailhead in the morning and how I was going to get back to my car. I picked up a senior discount card for the campgrounds which helped quite a bit. $10 for lifetime gets me half off federal campground fees. It’s about time we started getting some discounts around here for our age.

My hike itinerary was to enter the wilderness at Bayview campground across from inspiration point overlooking Emerald Bay, going over Maggie Peaks down to Fontinillis Lake for the night. It was a pretty steep climb going up Maggie Peaks; I’ve done it before in April in snowshoes and it took me a lot longer but it was fairly strenuous this time with the 25 to 28 pound backpack on my back.

Parking at the Tallac trailhead at Highway 89, I had about 5 miles of a hike to get to the Bayview trailhead. I started thumbing a ride but was all in vain, even with my pretty legs I could not get a ride. I was beginning to think I couldn’t get laid if I smeared myself in bananas and jumped into a gorilla pit with a bunch of female gorillas in heat! Don’t know how long it took me but it was a long time, and it was warm and I took a lot of breaks. There were a couple of sections of 7-8% grades on the highway with very little or no shoulder. I remembered so well when riding my bike around the lake many times. I finally reached the Bayview trailhead by about 11 AM.

The trailhead is about 300 yards from Highway 89 through the Bayview campground. Right off the bat, the trail starts at a 7 to 10% grade. Many switchbacks through the wooded area finally brings you to a clearing, with a nice view of Lake Tahoe.

Another hundred feet of the trail brings you to a wonderful view of Emerald Bay.

Another half mile or so brings you to Granite Lake. While still semi-frozen in April, September it was nice and cool to get a drink from and wash my face. I carry the Sawyer Mini water filter with collapsable 1 liter bags. Only 2 ounces for the filter, comes with a straw for sipping out of the lake or stream.

By the time I reached the pass between the two peaks the Pyrocumulus clouds of smoke from the King Fire was becoming more ominous.

I kept trudging on though, only meeting a couple of people on the way up, and one young trail runner girl who passed me going down to Azure Lake. Not too far from Fontanillis lake, my destination for the night, I met another big guy with a sizable backpack coming back up the mountain stopped to chat for a while.


He told me he had just come over Dicks Pass to see an illegal campfire on the west side of Dicks Lake. It got out of hand from the two idiots that started it. He said some other backpackers and pitched in with a bucket brigade trying to extinguish the fire but with little luck. We discussed my route beyond Fontanillis which would’ve been over Dicks Pass to Gilmore Lake for the next night, summiting Mt. Tallac on Friday, then returning to my car at the Tallac Trailhead. He cautioned me to reconsider my decision to stay at Fontanillis saying the heavily wooded path and 1,400 foot climb back up over Dicks would have left me little margin for error as an escape route. After hiking about another hundred yards after he and I parted our ways, I stood staring at the enormous clouds of smoke from the King Fire. I then pondered the routes to get out of Desolation if something went horribly wrong. Since Dick’s Pass would’ve been blocked by fire the only other routes were to continue onto Velma Lakes and Phipps Pass or back the way I came over Maggie’s Pass.

I ended up choosing the latter, backtracking from where I came at the Bayview Trailhead. You will see the pictures of the smoke when I reached Maggie Peaks again from 8,400 feet.


As it turned out, that was a really good thing, as I realized they had hot showers… Just four quarters gave me three minutes of a nice hot water shower, giving back the trail dirt I had borrowed that day. I ate a nice trail dinner and was fast asleep by 1930 that night.

GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/594408890

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See ya on my next adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness

Mt. Tallac via Floating Island Trail

Google Map

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zNoUHvQ5tz1Q.k4ENvzapucR4

Southwest of Emerald Bay, Mt. Tallac sits in the southwestern quadrant of the Lake Tahoe basin. It is about 9.5 miles out-and-back hike on the Floating Island Trail starting at the Mt. Tallac Trailhead. There are port-a-potties there to take care of business before heading out on the long, strenuous day hike. The turn off for the trailhead is easy to miss coming from the south. The trailhead is nearly 1 mile form the highway, with a sizable parking area for about 15 cars. Be sure to fill out the Desolation Wilderness Permit located at the Trailhead. Its free, and lets the Forest Service know who is out there and how many visitors are in wilderness areas.

After a pretty windy night without much sleep I broke camp again the next morning at about 0730 to head up to Mt. Tallac. I have done this route on my birthday in January and snowshoes but only made it to the ridge line. Some parts of it I will admit or easier and snowshoes, as the rocky and uneven ground I had to walk over gives your ankles a good workout.

The three lakes that you pass along the way, Fallen Leaf, Floating island and Cathedral Lake, looked a lot different when they weren’t frozen over. The rest of the way up to the ridge to Mount Tallac was arduous, steep and loose. Met many people coming back down the hill so it gave me opportunities to stop and catch my breath and chitchat. I met one older lady of 81 years who had been doing it for the last 65 years – made me feel like a wimp -I should last that long.

When I arrived at the top and started hiking along the ridge to Mount Tallac, I glanced to the west to see the Crystal Range in the Desolation Wilderness my hiking partner Dioko and I saw several months ago. They drained Lake Aloha recently to give water to the El Dorado county due to the drought. I’m happy we still had it full when we were there.

I could get glimpses of Heather and Susie Lakes, and a sliver of Gilmore Lake from the ridge. I met a tribe of young kids coming down from Tallac, similar to the ones we met at Dick’s Pass in July. Nice to see they exchanged their Playstations for a backpack and enjoy life outdoors. We exchanged pleasantries and kept on hiking.

By now the weather was becoming thunderstorm-like and I still had at least 30-45 more minutes to the top. Being paranoid from the last T’storm I was in at Armstrong Pass, I had no desire to be in another one. I decided that it would be prudent to be a sissy and throw in the towel and live to hike another day.

All that being said, it still took me 3.5 hours to get off the mountain…that shower and a big fat juicy bacon cheeseburger was all I could think about all the way back. Turned out it was Nat’l Cheeseburger Day! I drove back close to South Lake to my great local burger joint, Burger Lounge, and got the biggest burger they had for $9.50 and took it back to my camp.

Had my shower, ate my burger and again fast asleep by 2030 that night.

TahoeMarmot2 copy-resized copySee ya on my next adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness