Five Lakes – PCT – Stanford Rock Trail to William Kent Beach Trail Run

I’ve been excited for over a week now, getting ready for a long trail run in Lake Tahoe with my trail running club, the Donner Party Mountain Runners (DPMR) and my friend Sara. Sara just kicked cancer’s butt two weeks ago, and now she was ready to go kick some butt on the trail in the Sierras. The route was designed by Chris C. from our club, but he’s a kick-ass mountain runner that lives at 7,000 feet year ’round. We had some pretty tough climbs on this route, with our hearts in our throat the first couple miles to the ridge. The rewards from all of our hard work paid off though, with unbelievable vistas and panoramas of the Lake Tahoe Basin and Granite Chief Wilderness.

Since we were meeting at the trailhead at 0745 in the morning, with a start time of 0800, we needed to be up there the night before. The closest place I could get to the Five Lakes Trailhead in the Olympic Valley near Alpine Meadows ski resort was Donner Memorial Campground. It was nice, but expensive for what you get. My senior discount didn’t help much with the State Parks. With the drought, the showers were only turned on Thursdays and Saturdays if I recall.

That afternoon after making camp, we took a dry run to the Five Lakes Trailhead. It was several miles up the canyon from Highway 89. When we got there, some men were repairing and cleaning up the trailhead from the recent rains. A good 20 minutes travel time to the trailhead from the campground, I gave myself 30 minutes to get there in the morning.

Rise and shine, revellie at 0600…we arrived at the trailhead at about 0740, with members already getting ready to hit the trail. After a few formalities, getting the trail map (somewhat useless…too tiny to read) and signing the waiver, we all amassed for a group photo before heading up the hill. And it was literally “UP” the hill. Not living at altitude and trying to run right out of the gate is tough. I was wearing my heart rate monitor, but no need to look and see where my heart rate was…I knew where it was…it was in my throat! The good thing about having to stop so much is that you got to look around and enjoy where you are, take pictures, smell the fresh air and lavish in my element.

Agony led to ecstasy when we finally reached the ridge. Great views to look back on at the trail junction of Five Lakes Trail to the PCT. We’re now are hiking downhill just to make the hike back up the hill with switchbacks ad infinitum. Crossed a small stream, the outflow from Five Lakes. There were a couple of Northbounders off the PCT camping near the creek as we passed. Now for the climb to the ridge-line. Switchbacks…many switchbacks. Sara was not fond of them and preferred a ladder so we could get to the top quicker.

We finally reach the ridge line, and are treated to incredible views in every direction. We can now catch a glimpse of Tahoe to the east, Alpine Meadows Ski Resort below us, the Granite Chief Wilderness to the west, and Desolation Wilderness to the southwest.

There was a cool breeze on the ridge to keep us cooled off, which became cooler when we stopped for a rest or a bite. I made sure Sara was eating something, as we couldn’t afford for her to “bonk” up here…it was a long way back to civilization. When you are on long distance legs of a trip, you have to force yourself to eat and hydrate before it’s too late. We both took SaltStick also for electrolyte balance as well. The problem with this course is water sources – the first source was about 5 miles in, when you have enough water – and the second was at Ward Creek, less than 2 miles from the finish at the lake. We had room for more water, but you have to draw the line about how much you’re willing to carry sometimes. A heavier pack can also mean less enjoyment along the way, so you decide. If I did it again, I would throw in one more 20 oz. bottle for insurance.

Though we could see Twin Peaks from Ward Peak, it seemed to take eons to get there. We met up with several “Northbounders”…most very nice…some chatty like “Driver” and his pretty wife “Pit Stop” from Mississippi that found a common language with Sara. They were on a thru-hike on the PCT, and were holding up very well. Others on the trail very focused, or withdrawn, or just plum tuckered out and didn’t have much to say.  Oh well, it’s all good.
We finally found ourselves on the backside of Twin Peaks and our waypoint, turning  onto the Tahoe Rim Trail from the Pacific Crest Trail. I had been here last year in June with the snow at Twin Peaks, but the trail was obscured by snow and debris, I never got to summit the peak. Sara was much too tired and we were so far behind schedule, it would have to wait for another time once again. (I never need much reason to come back and do it again)
Once again on the saddle between Twin Peaks and Stanford Rock, we could see down into Ward Canyon, where the Rim Trail continues. It may have been easier climbing-wise for Sara, to take the TRT down the mountain, but it was longer by at least one mile. One more mile I didn’t know if she had in the tank. We continued on to Stanford Rock Trail, which was a steep and loose climb. We stopped and waited for about 8 MTB cyclists on the way down the hill – it was very steep and they needed all the room to keep from doing an “endo” on top of us.
The climb to this ridge was tough, especially when you’re really getting trail-weary. When we finally could see the lake, it looked miles away at best.
The trail drops in altitude very slowly, so we didn’t feel like we were advancing to our destination very quickly. Switching directions, back and forth, we felt like we were in a mouse labyrinth. I tried to cheat a little for Sara’s sake and make it to Ward Creek Blvd., and get her to hitch a ride to the end. Poor thing was spent, but kept at it and never gave up until she accomplished her mission. We finally made it to Ward Creek, but needed to find a way across. There was enough water flowing to get our feet and shoes about one foot deep in the cold water (which really wouldn’t have been such a bad thing at this point). We extended our trekking poles and chose our rocks carefully to make it across with no trouble.
Once back at the road, we tried our luck with hitch-hiking our way back to the beach, so we could hopefully get a ride back to the car in Alpine Meadows. (I know that I couldn’t get a ride if my life depended on it here in Tahoe…I know, I’ve tried it several times and failed miserably. Nobody picks up old guys, even with pretty legs) But a pretty young woman with her thumb out is another story. After several attempts, one local guy with his friendly dogs in the van stopped and gave Sara a ride to the beach area where we were supposed to meet our friends to get back to the car. There was only room for one in the van with the dogs using up more than their fair-share. No problem, I still had a little left in my tank to get back. Finally, Sara and I met up at the beach to find that nobody had waited for us or left word that they were coming back at anytime soon. It was now after 6PM and we needed to get back to the car somehow. I finally reached one of the run organizers and had her come back to get us, all the way from Truckee.
Looking back it was quite a day, and Sara had much to be triumphant about. Two weeks prior, she had kicked cancer’s butt and today she kicked some big mountain butt in Tahoe. Much to be proud of, and bragging rights to boot!
In the immortal words of Peter Quincy Taggert…
“Never give up…never surrender!”
Now it’s time for a little kick-back time at the end of the long day with a campfire, some hot cocoa and of course peanut butter for me…a staple for us Marmots.
Tomorrow we head for Barker Pass for a short hike and view from one of my favorite campsites. Many flowers in bloom this time of year so we’ll be taking pictures of some of the plants in this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Until then…I’ll see you on my next adventure,

somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness.

TahoeMarmot2 copy-resized copy

Advertisements

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

TahoeMarmot2 copy-resized copy