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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Tahoe City to Brockway Summit West

This trip I tried something different – to hike with some “thirty-somethings”…you know, try to be sociable or the like. I think I just chose the wrong demographics. More on that later.

I knew the route, as I had done sections of it by myself before, but my Garmin 800 cycling computer didn’t record it correctly. Since the drought was a big factor, caching water was a good idea along the dry sections. From Tahoe City to Brockway, there are only two water sources, one would be “iffy” around Martis Peak.

I drove up a day early and cached 6 liters of water for our group at the Vista Point about 1.5 miles from the Brockway East Trailhead. I saved it to my GPS and headed back down the hill, making camp at my usual Kaspian Campground south of Sunnyside. A simple bike-in/hike-in camp without trailers and RV’s.

This trip started by joining a “Meetup” group in the San Francisco Bay area. Seemed like a good idea at the time, meet some people with similar interests, have some company along the way. The logistics were always difficult for me, hiking alone, as I never was sure how I was getting back to my car, or getting to the starting point, one or the other. With a group, we would drop off one car big enough to fit everyone at our end-point, then drive back to point “A”.

Worked in theory… more on that later…

Three of us met in the morning for breakfast at my fav west shore café, The Fire Sign Café in Sunnyside. From there we carpooled to the Mount Rose Summit parking area to drop off one car, then double-back to meet up with the others at the Tahoe City Trailhead, behind the Community Center. Ample parking, but no facilities to start your day. Be sure you take care of things before you get there. Several members of the group were already over two hours late in arriving. (Former military training: early = on time, on time = you’re late, late = you’re dead) I don’t like to wait for anyone.

So now it’s 1100, two hours plus late for getting started on the trail, it was already hot. We had 13 miles to go to get to camp at Watson Lake, our only water source on that stretch. An older dad hiking with his daughter were good company while we were close to each other. The others seemed to be in a foot race and fairly unsociable for a “social” Meetup group. (Run along children)

Day One GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/532033636

This trip I tried out a new pack that really wasn’t the correct size for me – sometimes a good deal is not necessarily a good idea. Combined with shopping and packing when I was hungry (also not a good idea), I had too much on my back. Not even going to mention the weight of my bloody Bear Vault.

Also, I’m like a raccoon…I drink a lot of water. And at nearly 2 pounds per liter, I tanked up with 4+ liters for my first 13 miles to Watson Lake. Should be enough, right? Hot, slogging up the hill from TC, the one that never seems to end, I was running low already. To add to the discomfort, I was still in my winter mode with my comfy Keen boots I wear when snowshoeing. With the heat, and trying to keep up with the kids, I turned my feet into Dim Sum – yep, steamed ‘em soft as oatmeal. Now I have heat (I hate heat), heavy pack, low water, both feet in a solid blister. Lord take me now!

The trail from Tahoe City is a climb packed with many false summits. You get to the top of one to realize there is another even higher behind it. And the trail has a very frustrating northern direction at the beginning, giving you the feeling that you will soon be back in Truckee if the trail doesn’t turn east soon. The trail was not all frustration, as the constant climbing brought you to incredible views of the lake and the Truckee River below.

We could see people rafting down the river, what seemed like a half mile below us. Looking southwest from a lava rock promontory, I saw Twin Peaks, where I had been just the week before. That weekend, the views were endless, as often is the case in Lake Tahoe.

On this segment of the TRT, much of the soils are volcanic rocks, cinder cones and lava flows. Very rugged red lava rock contrasts with broken talus beneath your feet, sometimes catching a toe or two on the irregular trail.

Onward.

“…And miles to go before I sleep”.

I fell behind the group in short order – just as well. I decided to bivouac overlooking Tahoe City for the night. I had just 1/4 cup of water to get me through the night and several miles in the morning to Watson Lake. No dinner, no breakfast, just enough water to take my morning meds. Broke camp at 0630 and, after a never-ending climb up and around Watson Peak, arriving at the lake at 0830.

At least it was still in the cool of the morning. Broke out my MSR water filter, made one big bottle of cold mountain lake water and chugged it in a New York minute. Saved !

Water never tasted so good. I continued tanking up the rest of my bottles and Camelback bladder, and I was back on the trail, ahead of the others who were still in camp. I knew that in my “damaged” condition, they would soon catch up with me.

This is when I confirmed that I was a solo hiker – do not fix what isn’t broken

Day Two GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/532033638

Not far after leaving the lake, I did come across Watson Creek, though not running strong was a drinkable water source. You could tell where the water source was as the vegetation was more abundant as it trickled down the hillside in the meadow.

After the creek, the trail opened up to a large meadow, covered in Mule’s Ear and Corn Lilies (poisonous, don’t eat). The Mules Ear reminded me of a faint smell of cigar, or perhaps it was just my nose.

The bright yellow flower of the Mule’s Ear and purple mountain Lupine, looked like a scene from “The Sound of Music”, painting the slopes above Tahoe City with the colors of summer. I met many day-hikers going in the opposite direction – many locals with their dogs out for a hike in the beautiful Tahoe sunshine. Someday, I will be living there full time (or buried there, whichever comes first).

Several hours later the group caught up with me and passed me. The dad and daughter team did slow down for me, as dad was also a little weary from his young daughter’s brisk pace.

She was very sweet and didn’t seem to mind slowing down for us old guys.

Just before arriving at the Fiberboard Freeway (one of the first logging roads between Highway 89 in Tahoe City and Highway 267 at Brockway Summit) we met another young lady on her way down to Watson Lake on a day hike. A school teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, out west to satisfy her hunger for adventure on her summer break. She had more gadgets on her than I had – looked like REI made out well with her before she left Missouri. Solar charger on her backpack, big enough to power the International Space Station…and the biggest can of Bear Spray that money could buy. We chatted a bit, and told her of my plans to bail out from the group at Brockway. She was so genuinely sweet to offer me a ride back to my car if I waited for her to return from Watson Lake. At my slow pace by now, I wouldn’t have to wait long.

After a long while, we arrived at the Brockway Summit West Trailhead. Our logistics now had changed. My feet were toast, and I was not too proud to throw in the towel this time. It this point, I realized why they were slowing down for me. They wanted my water cache less than 2 miles up the trail, and it might be a good idea to have on the next 10 mile dry section. They also did not do their homework and get their own Campfire Permit, which was needed for camp stoves in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

(With the drought, campfires were still forbidden) I gave them the coordinates for the water, and the permit (in my name, non-transferable so they’re SOL anyways if the ranger checks).

The young lady in the group was sweet enough to scout out the location of the Missouri license plate of the car that was taking me back to Tahoe City. Now if I just get my pack off, put my feet up for a bit and wait until my other “Trail Angel” comes back from her hike to drive me back, I’ll feel better in no time.

Not more than an hour went by before my girl emerged from the forest, as fresh looking as she went in. Loaded up her mini SUV, and off we went to Tahoe City. I noticed that her fuel gauge was at 1/4 tank or less, and happily gave her $20 for bailing me out. Being such a highly overpaid teacher (sic), she was thankful to have her favor returned. We wished each other the best of luck in our future endeavors and parted company in Tahoe City.

On the way back to my usual marmot hangout at Kaspian Campgrounds,

I stopped by my fav spot on the lake to soak my poor tired dogs. Pure heaven now; off the trail, feet in the lake, sitting back in my lawn chair. Soon I was back in camp, set up my hammock, popped open one of my non-alcoholic beers I had been saving in the cooler for such an occasion and was in marmot heaven for the next hour.

Don’t remember even making dinner that night. I started my campfire and made a cup of peppermint tea to chase down a handful of ibuprofen needed to feel normal again. As the flames of my fire grew dim, so had I. It was time to put myself and the past two days on the TRT to bed. I never cease to learn something each time I set out on the trail…

And hiking alone is not such a bad thing after all.

GPS Track (Partial)

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/532033638


The Road Goes Ever On

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.

~The Hobbitt, J.R.R. Tolkein

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See ya on my next adventure…

Mount Rose to Brockway Summit TRT

Two prior attempts at this segment were unsuccessful . One time due to a snowstorm in May, and another in June due to blisters. Each direction has its share of challenges; Mount Rose to Brockway the initial climb is steep, and there is a good campsite and water for the first night. On my trip through Desolation Wilderness, my trail partner Dioko was using an app by Guthook Hikes, Tahoe Rim Trail Hiker. He swore by it, so I downloaded it for this trip. Turned out to be very useful, as it was TRT specific and solicited user-input for trail updates. Since it uses your cellphone’s GPS capability, the cell signal is not always needed.

Brockway to Mt. Rose, there is little water to be found, especially after Spring in a drought year, so you will have a dry camp the first night if you don’t cache some water at Brockway or Martis. Gray Lake is about equidistant for an overnight, so it’s becomes a toss of the coin really. This trip I chose to park at Mt. Rose Summit parking area and walk over to the Mt. Rose Campground for the night. The walk-in campgrounds for tent campers is at the top of the hill and out to the summit. Nice and removed from the trailer and RV campers. Nice vault toilets and pressure (a lot of pressure) running water at the entrance to the camp area. I took the one all the way in the back for seclusion, though there were only two other campers there. Well manicured area for the tent of coarse sand, nestled between a few trees kept me protected from the harsh winds I would have that night. New bear box, picnic table and fire ring was also there, though I only used the bear box.

I was treated to a beautiful alpenglow sunset over Mt. Rose before turning in for the night. The strong winds of 25-35 knots all night made for little sleep; I imagined myself as Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, ending up in Reno the next morning. I wanted seclusion, I got it, as the campground was deserted by morning. After coffee and a few protein bars, I was off for the trailhead. A nice crisp morning with a late start by most standards, I was hiking by 0830. The trail climbed quickly away from Highway 431, soon bringing me to a view point, overlooking Tahoe Meadows and a glimpse of the lake. The trail soon turned north into a wooded area, following the steep 25° contour of the hillside. I had hiked this route once before in May, but in snowshoes, finding it difficult to find the trail. After a few miles the trees dropped away for me to see Mt. Rose and vast meadow stretching into the Washoe Valley towards Reno.

In a short while I arrived at Galena Falls. Time for a snack and to top off with water from the cold waterfall. (Not the easiest to get to, safely) Soon after breaking out the trail mix and Oreos, I had a hoard of little furry new friends offering to help me eat it. (They especially like the Oreos)

Time to start up the switchbacks up to the next high meadow. After the climb above Galena Falls, the trail was not terribly steep until I crossed an access road for the communications workers for the AT&T relay station on Relay Peak.

(If you follow the road, it would bring you to a gondola that the workers use mostly in the winter time to access the relay station, when the road is not easily navigated.) Many long switchbacks later I arrived at the ridge between Mt. Houghton and Relay Peak.

From there I could see Donner Pass and Lake; nearly 360° views with visibility of 25+ miles. The trail leading from there to Relay Peak was loose crumbling talus, but the folks from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association had done a great job at keeping it well maintained.

At the ridge between the relay station and Relay Peak (10,330’) I came upon a female hiker traveling the opposite direction. We chatted for a bit, but began to notice some rather peculiar things about her. She seemed well schooled and knowledgable, but her mannerisms and rambling “one-sided” conversation struck me as very odd. Most of us hikers/backpackers would have hiking gear, you know, from a sporting goods store like REI, Moosejaw, etc. Well, not this lady. Can’t blame her for wardrobe and gear choices, but wearing railroad engineer’s gloves struck me as unusual. After about ten minutes of disjointed ramblings, I asked her if she had difficulty with high altitudes before. The “deer in the headlights” look told me I should be on my way, and bid her “happy trails”.

The view from the very windy Relay Peak was spectacular. Cotton-ball clouds resembling “The Simpsons” were blowing right over my head. 360° views of Shasta and Lassen to the north, Donner Lake and the Martis Valley to the west and the Crystal Range and Lake Tahoe to the south made the arduous climb to the top all worthwhile.

Time for another snack, photo ops and a brief rest to get my pack off. There trail down now was quite steep – many switchbacks 1,100 feet down the ridge brought me eventually to Rose Knob Peak. From there I could see Ginny Lake, far below to the south.

More of a green pond by this time of year and too far off the trail as a water source. Turning right at the trail junction at Rose Knob Peak (9,740′) and Gray Lake, I headed down to the lake for my camp for the night. A short 0.9 mile hike down behind the peak brought me to another trail junction – to the right was the stream flowing into Gray Lake – to the left, the north side of the lake with several campsites are. Fairly level and rock-free spots for about 10-12 small tents.

The stream was running strong, with stones and wooden footpaths for crossing the stream or continuing to the northeast trail around the lake. After filling up on cold, clear water, I headed for the north end of the lake to make camp for the night. At the time, I was the only one there, so I had pick of the litter. I found a site with a nice long fallen tree as my settee and picnic table. By mid-August now, the mosquitos didn’t seem to be much of a problem at Gray Lake. Nice not to wear my head net for bugs, as I forget I have it on and try to drink soup or coffee, thus spilling it down the front of me. (happy nobody is around to see my faux pas) A short time later, another solo hiker, Melissa (?) came into camp. She was doing a thru hike on the TRT before heading off to school. We made friends, had dinner and chatted for a while before adjourning to our separate tents for the night. We were both packed up and on the trail by 0730 the next day, each of us going in opposite directions. It took about one hour for me to reach the ridge and rejoin the TRT going west towards Brockway. The winds were building and a cold stiff breeze had me stop and put on more clothing. The “Buff” scarf/headgear that I bought at my fav store in Truckee (Mountain Sports & Ace Hardware), turned out to be a great buy. Kept my neck, ears and head warm along with my wool tuque.

The trail was quite open now to the south with no trees for shade or blocking the wind, with spectacular views from Incline to South Shore. The trail from Rose Knob Peak to Mt. Baldy was now a sea of drying Mule’s Ear, rustling in the wind. It has the faint smell of a cigar, at least to my nose. Picked up my pace a bit as the trail was nice and buttery and I needed some trees to block the wind and sun that was buffeting my tired old face. I didn’t need any more wrinkles on my turkey neck either.

From Mt. Baldy to Martis Peak it was uneventful. There were several times however, that I felt as though I was being watched – the same feeling that I had while in a thunderstorm over Armstrong Pass to Big Meadow – like the hair standing up on the back of your neck, knowing that you were not alone in the wilderness. I had evidence of mountain lion scat before, but not on this segment so far…may have been a bad thing…maybe he hadn’t eaten yet. In that case I’ll  pick up the pace a little more. I passed a young guy, trail running. I was relieved now that the cat had choices…new young meat, or old and tough. Below Martis Peak the trail crossed Forest Service access roads several times. I welcomed returning to the trail, as the road was marred with ruts and more rocks to avoid. I met several other day hikers on their way to Martis from Brockway Summit. One local couple was riding their mountain bikes to Martis Peak from Brockway – didn’t sound like much fun to me, and I love to bike – just not endlessly up hill. By now I had passed East Martis Peak, nearing the Vista Point 1+ miles from Brockway Summit. This is where I cached some water for myself for the dry section from Watson Lake to Gray lake several months before.  Not only was I close to finishing this segment – but my last segment, concluding my Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge for the summer.

I reached Brockway Summit that afternoon, finding my way down to the road to start my real challenge – getting a ride back to my car at Mt. Rose Summit, some 20+ miles away by car. Soon after reaching the road I befriended some hikers asking for directions for their next day’s hike. Of course I helped, which got me a lift down the road to Kings Beach. From there I walked about 1/2 mile to the bus stop that took me within 100 yards of the roundabout at Highway 431. (got a senior discount for the bus ride too!) It was hot, I was pretty damned weary already from hiking since 0730 that morning. Now I had to thumb a ride back up the mountain 8 miles to my car. HitchikingI am not good at it – I didn’t even hitchhike in High School when I looked good. Now at 62, dirty, I haven’t shaved or used deodorant in days…and I’m expecting someone to stop and pick me up – Guess not. Figuring 2 mph and 8 miles to go, I hoped to be back to the car before dark. I walked at least 2 miles up the hill before setting on the guardrail for a rest. Moments later, my angel arrived. A young man on his way home back to Reno had passed me, turned around and came back to help. He said he thought I looked like a needed a break…I did. I offered to pay him but he said it wasn’t necessary, he was going that way anyway. He was hurrying home to take his daughter out for ice cream. I handed him $20 for ice cream and his unselfish deed that saved my poor dogs from a certain fate. Good deeds and unselfish people need to be recognized – and rewarded before they get to heaven.


The conclusion of my challenge was bittersweet – I never really wanted it to end. The preparation, the learning more and more with each trip, meeting other people on the same pilgrimage as I was – became an addiction – the euphoria that you get when you went one-on-one with nature – you were self-reliant – and you made it, in the Tahoe Wilderness.

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See ya on my next adventure…in the Tahoe Wilderness