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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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.

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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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Tahoe City to Ward Creek, Tahoe Rim Trail Run

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 This year the area behind the dam is bone dry – the lake behind the Gatekeeper’s Residence has been replaced by a field of Crest Lupin, beautiful purple flowers that grow out to the water’s edge, some 100 meters away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks for riding along with me…until then…

See you on my next adventure, in the Tahoe wilderness

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Eagle Lake & Mt. Tallac – January Snow

Newly fallen snow in Tahoe was all I could think of to celebrate my birthday with. Had a bad bout with the flu, but I had already paid for my fancy hotel room at the Grand Residences Marriott in Heavenly Village, South Lake Tahoe. I was not about to just lie around in front of the fireplace and not go play in the snow. It was snowing all the way over Echo Summit and down to the lake. There was still plenty of daylight left, so I went directly to the Eagle Falls Trailhead near Emerald Bay. About 8 miles north on Highway 89 from the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe, where Highway 50 and 89 meet. Parking is across the road from the Vikingsholm parking lot on Highway 89. If there is not enough space, park at Vikingsholm and walk (run) across the road to the trailhead. Before leaving the parking area, hike below the road on the Vikingsholm side, as the waterfall below the road is worth the effort to get there.

Once at the trailhead, the trail is not as easy to find with the accumulated snow from the past few storms. A little GPS, a little memory, and a little luck I found my way back to the lake. It’s only about one mile each way, about 20 to 30 minutes without snow in spring and summer. (If you wish to camp overnight in the Desolation Wilderness, you need to buy a permit from the Ranger Station in South Lake Tahoe or the Pacific Ranger Station in Pollock Pines on your drive up. You can also get a permit online at Recreation.gov. California Campfire Permits are also needed for camp stoves, and there are no open fires allowed in the Desolation Wilderness.)

Topo Map of Area

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.94707,-120.11198&z=15&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

The snow was getting heavier and the wind picking up right behind it. After leaving the bridge and stones, the trail turned to snow about 6 inches deep. It was now time for the snowshoes. I met several guys coming back out from the lake also in snowshoes. They told me that they were the only ones back there, so I kept that in mind going back to the lake, another half mile in the snow. I do crazy things, but not stupid things…since I was the only one that knew I was back here, I didn’t get overly adventurous and leave the trail.

After dipping my hand in the cold lake and admiring the icicles cascading down from the rocks, it was time to make track back to the car. The snow was coming down a little heavier now; gusts of wind would send it sideways into my face or down the hood of my parka. It was still plenty warm, even working up a sweat trudging through the gathering snowdrifts back to the parking area. One last look and picture of snow falling over Emerald Bay before I go.


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As always, another day, another adventure…

This time I’m off to Mt. Tallac, between Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake, Mt. Tallac is one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tahoe Basin, with a “T” or cross of snow below the peak in the spring and winter months. Rising above the lake at 9,735 feet from near lake level of 6,480’ at the trailhead, Mt. Tallac is about 4.8 miles to the summit. The views are some of the most spectacular in all of Tahoe, as you have unobstructed 360° views of the lake, the Carson Range to the east and Desolation Wilderness and Crystal Range to the west, and the Granite Chief Wilderness to the southwest and northwest. At this time of year, the metal barrier was not open yet for the season, allowing me to drive to the trailhead, about one mile up the paved access road. I parked my car near the roadside of the Mt. Tallac turnoff and Highway 89 and walked the extra distance. I started out wearing my Kahtoola Micro-spikes, as the snow and slush became icy in the shadowy sections of the road. Not long after first light, I was at the trailhead. I filled out my Desolation Wilderness Day Permit (instructions are at the trail sign), attached it to my daypack and was on my way.

It had snowed just yesterday, and the freshly fallen snow on the branches of the pine trees looked like Christmas trees, more than I could count. I was once again in a “Winter Wonderland” in one of my favorite places on earth.

The trail is fairly level for a half mile or so, until you begin to climb to the ridge between Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake. The higher elevation starts to open up views of Fallen Leaf, Lake Tahoe, the Carson Range and Heavenly Valley as you climb along the ridge line. The ridge is quite rocky most of the year and difficult to walk on. This time with snow and snowshoes, it seemed a little easier oddly enough. Once dropping down from the west side of ridge, the trail winds down and behind into a wooded section, deep in powder this trip to Tallac. After about 1½ miles, you arrive at Floating Island Lake, frozen over this time of year.

Looking up directly at Mt. Tallac peering down on you, the southeast chutes are visible for those die-hards that want to avoid the crowded trail in the summer, or ski down the gnarly face in the winter and spring.

About ¾ mile after Floating Island Lake, you emerge from the forested area of the trail at Cathedral Lake. A beautiful yet small lake, nestled in a rocky moraine at the foot of Cathedral Peak – this is a good place for a rest and a bite to eat before tackling the big climb that awaits you to the ridge.

The trail becomes quite rocky and steep much of the way up to Mt. Tallac. There are several switchbacks up the mountain, but it still quite steep and challenging any time of year. It is quite a cardio workout even if you don’t do the entire 3,300 feet of climbing to the summit of Tallac. After many stops to catch my breath, photo ops and just taking in the grandeur of the sights below me, I finally made it to the ridge. The saddle branches off at a trail junction, one direction continuing on to the summit of Mt. Tallac, the other, down the back side of the mountain to Lake Gilmore, deep in the Desolation Wilderness. That trip will have to wait until summer, when the snow and low temperatures melt away with the warm sunshine and more livable conditions.

The usual 6 hour, 4.8 mile hike has taken me that long to get nearly half way in the snow. I will not summit today, as I need to get off the mountain before nightfall. I hadn’t planned on being this slow, and did not bring my Petzl headlamp with me to hike after dark. Now to slog down the switchbacks in snowshoes – I actually think it was easier going up. Snowshoes were not designed to sideways, and it’s a killer on the ankles trying to do that. OK, I’m past Cathedral now, so the real steep past is past. Another hour plus getting out of the shade of the forested section and past Floating Island Lake, and I’ll be on the open ridge above Fallen Leaf Lake and in the sunshine. I came upon a couple with their dog, that must have turned around backtracking to their car. They didn’t have snowshoes and seemed to be moving faster than I was, so I took mine off and tried that for a while. It was all good until the shady areas turned to ice, and I had to put my Micro-spikes back on before I fell on my butt on the icy sections.

Finally back to the car, I have been out nearly 10½ hours today. Quite an adventure. At least nobody needs to come looking for me. Now, back to my fancy hotel for a sauna and jacuzzi bath tub, cozy in front of my own fireplace – a kitchen to make a nice pot of hot peppermint tea… and a giant king-size bed to fall asleep in.

After all…this was my birthday weekend to play in the snow – flu or no flu
I had another fun-filled vacation, in the Tahoe Wilderness.

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See ya on my next adventure, in the Tahoe Wilderness

Jake’s & Maggie’s Peaks – Snowshoes in April

Fresh powder just fell up in Tahoe and I made a beeline to be one of the first to make some tracks with my snowshoes on some of the north facing peaks on the west shore. Those areas would most likely have the most snow accumulated, not getting much sun light to melt it yet. I decided that I would do two separate outings, Jake’s Peak rising above D.L. Bliss on the west shore on Day 1 and the next day I would do Maggie’s Peaks starting at the Bayview trailhead across from Inspiration Point overlooking Emerald Bay on Day 2.


I arrived at Tahoe city and the weather was perfect. Lows in the 40s highs in the 70s. Crystal clear blue sky… hardly a cloud anywhere. From Tahoe City I drove for about 17 miles south, or a half an hour on a good day, down the West Lake Blvd. to D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. (In case you needed, the TART bus runs down to Bliss also every hour, June to September 1st) The entrance is also several miles north of Emerald Bay. There is a small parking area off of the east side of the road near the entrance to  D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. Well great minds think alike and I wasn’t only one that thought this would be a great idea to go out on the mountain today. About six young “telemarkers” in their 20s climbed up to Jake’s to do some backcountry skiing with the fresh powder. Jake’s is a favorite spot of the locals, kind of like a favorite surfing spot and they get a little territorial as well. Today I only had to contend with the telemark backcountry skiers with climbing skins on their skis. I tried to stay out of the path that they made with their skis, just using their marks as my general direction.

The route starts at at just above lake level, about 6,800 feet, and is nearly straight up the eastern facing slope for about 1.5 to 2 miles up to the main peak which is closer to 9,137 ‘ from my GPS. I doubt if I will get all the way to the top today. The southern route to the ridge is the most popular route to take in the spring time. If it hadn’t recently snowed, the conditions would’ve been typical springtime corn conditions to hike and ski on. This route also gives you an unbelievable view of Emerald Bay from high above. Let’s see how far I get today.

I followed the young skiers’ tracks up through the trees… there wasn’t a defined trail, or if there was it was covered in snow now. My route was straight up the mountain making my own switchbacks along the way when it got too steep and some places. I made sure to look back often and admire the view – that was my primary purpose for being here anyway. Just like my snowshoe trip to Mount Tallac in January for my birthday, everywhere I looked was like a scene from Courier & Ives – snow drifts of fresh powder covering downed trees and boulders, sparkled like glitter in the afternoon sunshine. Behind me, Lake Tahoe lived up to its name as the ”Crown Jewel of the West”…the deep blue water, with snowcapped mountains of the Carson range behind it. With all the smells and colors of the trees, the bright white snow and deep blue sky, it was sensory overload and I was loving every minute of it.

After several hours of climbing, I sat down in the snow to take a little breather – I didn’t even bother taking off my snowshoes. I wasn’t getting anywhere fast today. Soon after returning to my climb, the young telemark skiers zipped on past me, enjoying all that they worked for that morning climbing the mountain. I’m nearly at the top now and gave it another 30 minutes before throwing in the towel and heading back down the mountain. After all, I was the only one up here and no one else knew that. I took my last pictures of the views that I earned on my way up, then made my way back down the trailhead across from D.L. Bliss. I need to go rest up for my next adventure tomorrow, climbing to Maggie Peaks from Bayview Trailhead.

Jake’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.96543,-120.10692&z=15&b=t

Another day, another adventure. I parked at the Bayview Trailhead to begin my ascent to Maggie’s Peaks for the day. Getting there early in the morning, it was half slush and half ice. Today I brought my snowshoes, crampons, and my Kahtoola MICROSpikes. The micro spikes were the best thing to start the hike with while walking from snow to ice on the paved road to the trailhead – kept me from falling on my butt mostly. At the trailhead you need to fill out a Desolation Wilderness Permit even for the day, as it gives the Rangers a “heads-up” if they need to come looking for you if you don’t get back before nightfall.

The climb to the saddle between Maggie’s north and south peak is a series of many switchbacks up the side of the mountain. There is a great vista point along the trail, one of the lake in the background and another 100 feet more opens to a beautiful view overlooking Emerald Bay directly below – far more beautiful than the Inspiration Point view could give you… this view you will have to earn by climbing here.

The trail flattens out a bit, meandering through the trees and manzanita brush, eventual bringing you to Granite Lake, nestled at the foot of Maggie’s South Peak. This is another popular spot for backcountry skiers, the real die-hards…but not today. Today I had it all to myself, with the fresh powder from yesterday waiting for me to put the first footprints in for the day. I got down to Granite Lake that looked frozen over, but it was so calm the powder from the day before was just lying on top like goose down feathers – not a breath of wind to disturb it.

The trail was obscured by the snow, though I had been on it before, it was still difficult to know if you were on the trail or bushwhacking your own. After a while, the slope became too steep to walk up. My MSR Ascent snowshoes have “Televators”, like turning your snowshoes into high heels! You pull a little bar up under your heel, so you walk more upright ascending a slope. Many switchbacks later, I made it to the saddle between the north and south peaks.

There, the panorama of the Desolation Wilderness unfolded before me. I could see Phipps Peak and other minor peaks that were hiding the Velma Lakes  and the rest of Desolation behind it. Below me was Eagle Lake, where I had been in January. (Eagle Lake is a short, very easy hike from a trailhead off of Highway 89 across from Vikingsholm and Emerald Bay) Climbing up on a rock, I just took in the incredible “Winter Wonderland” view that I had from the top. Shame I didn’t bring my tent and sleeping bag, as it would have made an awesome sunrise over the Carson Range the next morning. (Technically, I would need an overnight permit from the Ranger Station – I made a mental note to  make sure I camp here next spring)

Ok, time to go home. My light was beginning to fade and I’m already on the shaded side of the mountain. It was easy to find my away back this time. I was the only tracks around to follow down the hill. One final look at Emerald Bay then on down to my car. Walking with snowshoes does take longer than hiking of course, so figure you’re going to make good about half of you hiking speed at best. Less if the drifts are more than about 6” deep.

Maggie’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.93419,-120.10477&z=14&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

That concludes another great day in Tahoe… After a hot shower and some dinner, I’ll start planning tomorrow’s great adventure.

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See ya on my next adventure…

Echo Lakes to Barker Pass TRT

Segment total : 32.7 miles
Minimum elevation: 6,914′
Maximum elevation: 9,381′
Total elevation gained: 6,158’
Moving Time: 12:35
Total Time: 36:57
Minimum Temp: 38°F
Maximum Temp: 94.4°F

 Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha

Starting this segment was another confusing one where I had to call on my resources from WannaRideTahoe to shuttle me from my end point at Barker Pass Road and Highway 89, to my starting point at Echo Lake Chalet. It was a long way to go for Kat and her shuttle to come halfway up the west side of the lake to pick me up. She had several parties down in Meyers to pick up and needed to be back by a certain time, so coupled with road construction we were really pushing the envelope on meeting her schedule. Finally arriving at Echo Lake Chalet off of Highway 50, Kat need to get back on the road quickly so no time for idle chitchat this time.

This time of the year there a lot of youth camps going on at the lake and the Chalet. Lots of young teenagers going to and from some activity or another. The Echo Chalet is a General Store, a deli, a Post Office and mail-drop for many PCT through hikers. The Chalet caters to long-range backpackers coming and going, plugging in their cell phones outside in one electrical outlet (everybody seems to take turns sharing) and accommodates  various requests from all thru hikers. I went into the Chalet’s General Store to see if there was any last-minute things I couldn’t live without for the next 30+ miles. Came back outside and took off my backpack, and sat down on a large log surrounding what looked like a picnic area.

There were about five other backpackers there, mostly PCT’ers picking up their reprovisioning boxes they had sent themselves weeks ago. I noticed one man had a bear vault larger than mine and thought to myself I couldn’t imagine caring one any bigger or more uncomfortable than the one I had, weighing in at 2 1/2 pounds. As it turned out, that man and I would meet once again up the trail and become hiking buddies for the next 30 miles.

Well it was now or never. I needed to get this show on the road. So I headed out on the walkway going over the dam from lower Echo Lake to find the trailhead. After several miscues mixed with a few dumb questions, I finally found the correct direction and was off. The trail started out as a fairly wide road bed, well graded and even.

Beautiful views of lower Echo Lake and surrounding hills and large billowy clouds was a nice visual start to my next adventure. The next half mile to three quarters of a mile was quite a difficult walk. A path of large broken sharp rocks made it very difficult walking surface this section of today’s hike. The rocks were not well packed, but loose, making my ankles work a little harder than I had wanted and making me wary that I was going to turn an ankle any moment.

Soon I passed that difficult section of the trail and once again was on a well packed dirt surface. By this time I had passed upper Echo Lake and Lake of the Woods. I passed one young brother and sister couple from Louisiana that were hiking back out of Lake Aloha on a day hike. We chatted for a moment, they were very pleasant and we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.

By the time I arrived at Lake Aloha, the clouds were continuing to gather in the afternoon and the wind was building. Several other campers had arrived before me and had already staked out their claims on some prime camp spots.

I found a good spot, nestled between a cluster of five trees that would block the wind for my little tent for the night. It was a good thing I hunkered down between the trees, as the wind and threatening thunderstorms were howling all night. I probably slept about an hour or two that night.

When morning came, I emerged from my little green and red tent to find a beautiful, cloudless dawn illuminating the eastern slopes of the Crystal Range that bordered Lake Aloha to the west.

What a sight to wake up to. It seemed as though I was the only creature stirring that early in the morning. I went back to my camp quickly made one of my gourmet Starbucks Via coffee and headed out to the lake to enjoy my view and my morning brew.

The geology of Lake Aloha area was quite fascinating, with polished granite seemingly stacked vertically if you look straight down on it from above. It was as though the glacier that formed it had scraped it with fingernails, forming many long thin lakes to make up the entire 2 miles long body of Lake Aloha.

After breakfast while doing my dishes, the man about my age that I had met at the Echo Chalet who’s bear vault was bigger than mine, was walking near the lake. He was gazing over the lake and the Crystal Range in the distance, admiring its beauty and taking some photos. I said hello and introduced myself as “Tahoe Marmot” and he introduced himself as “Dioko”. He had spent the night a mile or two back at Tamarack Lake, which we found out later from several Rangers that that was a no-no, they don’t like people camping at that lake. After brief greetings and salutations, we realized we were on the same route and thought it might be a good idea to have some company along the way. The wind was still brisk in the early morning hours about 0800, but it was so difficult leave Lake Aloha behind.

The water where the colors of emerald and turquoise, sapphire blue… something that resembled the water of the submarine ride at Disneyland. Turning back to the trail, and looking up to the northeast on our right, we come to Cracked Crag. A decomposing monolith, a heap of rubble of large jagged boulders making up the southwest face. Cracked Crag is home to many marmots (my relatives of course) that make their home there, avoiding predators by hiding in the rubble. We did see one sunning himself in the warm morning sunshine as we hiked to the next trail junction at the north end of Lake Aloha.

Lake Aloha to Gilmore Lake

From there the trail turned east, passing a small waterfall next to the trail, cascading into a small, unnamed lake. Within a half-mile we were upon Heather Lake, another beautiful mountain lake with several islands scattered within it. Probably would’ve been a nice place for a swim however the shoreline seem to be mostly broken talus making it difficult to walk on. We met several other hikers coming and going, all the while the conversation seemed to be about the wind last night, how beautiful the day was today, and our next water source. The trail continued to be the sharp broken talus for another half-mile or so over a ridge until we reached Suzie Lake where we stopped for lunch.

After lunch we began our 500 foot climb to our next destination for the night, Gilmore Lake. Before Gilmore, we arrived at a trail junction, to the northwest the TRT and PCT would continue on up to Dick’s Pass and to the right would take us to Gilmore Lake.

Arriving at Gilmore Lake we took our packs off to scout out our campsite for the night. While Dioko was out scouting, it gave me a chance to do some exploring myself.
At the southeastern section of the lake, was a small man-made stone dam, constructed in the 1950’s to control and maintain the water at Gilmore Lake for later use downstream.  On the other side of the dam, was the trailhead connecting to Mount Tallac, at 9,735 feet, one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tahoe basin. (Mount Tallac rises above Gilmore Lake to the northeast) Dioko returned shortly, having found a prime campsite for us for the night. There was another family of six enjoying the area with the kids swimming in the lake, but it was a little too brisk for Dioko and I so we continued on to make camp.

This would be the first night at camp together, giving us an opportunity to tell each other about ourselves. Dioko was a very interesting man, tall with long grey beard, befitting of a long distance backpacker. A far more experienced backpacker than myself, having designed and made his own backpack and hammock in lieu of a tent to sleep in. He also fashioned his own extra battery packs for charging his cell phone and camera. Though it took him 15 years to complete, he finished the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, 2,160 miles. Quite an impressive accomplishment for a man approaching 69 years old. We greeted several other groups of backpackers arriving late for the night at Gilmore Lake before turning in early ourselves. We had a long day ahead of us, climbing to Dick’s Pass at 9,400 feet.

Gilmore Lake to Phipps Creek

We had a good night’s sleep after the wind died down. Our next day began at first light with 40° temps, and after a modest breakfast and coffee for myself and sharing one with Dioko, we were off about 0730 for Dick’s Pass and our next destination for the night, Phipps Creek. There were many minor trails sprouting off from Gilmore, so we didn’t need to backtrack all the way back to the main trail to intercept the PCT to Dicks Pass. The 1,000 foot climb to Dick’s Pass was a somewhat gentle grade to the pass, with unsurpassed views of our route through Desolation so far.

We could see back to Aloha, Heather, Suzie Lakes, as well as Half Moon and Alta Morris Lakes lying below us at the base of Dick’s Peak. Pyramid Peak and the entire Crystal Range seemed close enough to touch, the day was so clear and the colors were so intense, we stopped for a bit to just take it all in. We passed several mountain springs, trickling down the hillside. Though we didn’t need any water, it was tempting to get a drink from a fresh cold mountain spring. Onward. We saw several marmots and birds along the trail to the pass. One male Western Tanager, a bright yellow bird that I have only seen a few times before. Once again we spoke with a young couple that we had previously met near Heather Lake. They had dropped their new camera their first day out, really bad news amidst all this beauty. Dioko and I exchanged our email addresses with them so we could share the photos that we were taking along the way.

At Dick’s Pass we could now see on both sides of the Desolation Wilderness. We had incredible views with visibility at least 50 miles in all directions. Our cell phones had a good signal so we took a moment to check in with friends and family, and for Dioko to update his trail journal for the last two days.

It was time to begin our descent down to Dick’s Lake, a 1,000 foot descent zigzagging along the mountain to the lake. We came upon another trail junction to Azure Lake and Maggie’s Peaks, and to the left to Dicks Lake. At that point we were greeted by three backcountry forest rangers, a man and two hearty young ladies with full packs complete with shovels, maintaining the trails in the DW. After a brief chat, checking our permits, and thanking them for their hard work we were off to Dick’s Lake for lunch and a needed break.

The lake was a beautiful sight, with unobstructed views of the pass that we just came over. Other than some campers at the southeastern end of the lake, we had the lake to ourselves. Time to move on, as we had many miles to go to Phipps Creek, our next campsite for the night.

Fontanillis Lake was another jewel in the wilderness. An elongated lake, we walked closely along the eastern shoreline at the water’s edge. At the northernmost tip of the lake was a natural dam with the water cascading over the rocks turning to a stream that continued down to Upper Velma Lake.

From atop some of the rocks we climbed on, we could see the other two Velma’s and Lake Tahoe through the pass between Maggie’s Peaks and Jake’s Peak. We had taken many breaks, and Dioko was eager to keep moving. The trail was not quite as obvious as one would hope, but Dioko’s good scouting skills found the trail on the other side of the creek, so we pressed on. We came upon four young women that seemed to be out on a day hike, a little unprepared to have hiked so far into the wilderness. They only had about 2 bottles of water between them, so we offered some of ours. They said they were drinking from the lakes and creeks and were ok, so we wished them luck and kept on our plan.

Originally we were to stay at Middle Velma, that had good water and campsites. It would have meant for a very long next day, so we pressed on to Phipps Creek for the night.

Arriving at Phipps, the creek was barely flowing. Several pools of water were accessible about 20 to 30 feet downstream. We decided to make camp for the night about 100 feet from the creek, at a nice clearing in the trees. Dioko quickly found several trees perfect for his hammock setup, and I went to work clearing a smooth open spot for my tent. He took pictures of me being so “anal” about smoothing out my tent bed with a large tree branch I found (Happy to have provided some amusement) The bugs, flies and mosquitoes lived up to their reputation of “mosquito death” of Phipps Creek.

I had just added a mosquito head net to my hiking repertoire, and put it to the test.

It worked great, and I was quite pleased with myself for actually buying something that made my day more enjoyable. The only thing with it, was my feeble brain not remembering that I was wearing it before I took a drink of soup or tea. After a couple of spills without Dioko looking I got the hang of it. One odd thing of note, is that we found an old steel skillet while returning from hiding our bear vaults. Looked as though someone had been living here years ago, living off of what we didn’t know. Several PCT thru hikers came through camp later that afternoon, but didn’t even notice us as they were zoned out from their iPods and moving at a pretty good clip. We each took turns going down to the creek to gather water to filter. Dioko used a Steri-Pen, which worked for him, but my opinion was that it was like some Ross Perot Voodoo wand that required more batteries and technology in the wilderness, and was not something that I could rely upon to be foolproof. I have an MSR Micro-filter, but traded it in on most of my long trips for a Sawyer Mini and collapsible liter bags. The Sawyer filter was an offshoot from the healthcare industry and renal dialysis, something that was very familiar to me. It only weighed 2 ounces plus the bags, and comes with a syringe to back flush the filter when it becomes clogged. After fighting swarms of mosquitos for 20 minutes I finally had all the water I needed and filtered for the next day’s trip.

Phipps Creek to Bear Creek

We both had a good sleep, not much wind throughout the night. The only thing I recall in the darkness of the moonless night were airliners flying overhead with their strobes illuminating the dark forest night. It was about 40°F in the morning and the bugs were too cold to get out of bed yet. Had a quick breakfast, shared another cup of Starbucks with Dioko and were on the trail by 0745. Dioko did not bring a camp stove on this trip or any means of heating food. I don’t always have to have a hot meal each day, but I do enjoy my hot coffee in the morning and hot peppermint tea at night. After breaking camp in the morning, we happened upon another nice campsite about 1 mile past our campsite. Nice and level off to the right, enough room for maybe two small tents.

The day was pretty sedate, not as many “wow factor” views compared to the last few days. We had several 400 foot climbs that day, the remainder of it trending downhill until we exited from the Desolation Wilderness. After about 6 miles we made our way to Richardson Lake for lunch at about 1045. The lake is outside of the DW and is accessible by 4×4’s and ATV’s. There weren’t any there at the moment. Continuing on at about 1145, we came across many downed trees across the trail. I made note of their location to report it to the TRT folks so they could clear them when they had the time. The temps got up to about 75°F, but felt hotter without the aid of trees to shade our path.

The Garmin GPS and my trail map showed Miller Creek about 2 miles from Barker Pass. Dioko had Guthook’s Tahoe Rim Trail Hiker App on his Android which showed reliable water at Bear Creek, about 1.5 miles short of the pass. Mine did not indicate the Bear Creek water source. It turned out that both sources were there and were flowing well at that time of year. The TRT Hiker App indicated a good campsite about 50 meters beyond the creek, and indeed it was.

A nice clearing for both of us. After making camp, we both went down to the creek to top off with water and do a little emergency laundry, as we were both getting a little rank at this point in the trip. After chores were done it was time for a little relaxation time for both of us. I decorating my tent with a mantlepiece of a moss-covered branch above my doorway, to give it a more lived in look. One disconcerting sight at our campsite was that of a fire ring that someone had made. The remnants of the charcoal bits of wood in the ring gave no indication that someone had tried to douse the fire after using it. They just allowed it to burn itself out. I am continually astounded by the stupidity of people entering a fragile wilderness area that has been dry as a bone for months. Dioko and I dispersed the fire ring before we left the area the next day, and reported the ring to the USFS when we got back to civilization.

Bear Creek to Barker Pass

We began our day on the trail early, on the trail by about 0715. we were eager to get things moving, as this was my last day on the trail of this section. Dioko would continue on around to Kingsbury, where he started the TRT. This was his hump day, marking the halfway point around the lake.

At the pass, we took each other’s pictures and

congratulated each other on our combined achievement.

Dioko had been a great hiking partner for the trip, enjoying the same pace and similar temperament. We wished each other the best and vowed to keep in touch. A lady from the TRT Association was there interviewing hikers about their experiences on the trail. We were only too happy to chime in. Dioko needed to press on, as he had many miles to go before bedding down for the night in Ward Canyon… and  I needed to find a ride back down the mountain to my car parked at Kaspian Campground and Highway 89. An older lady had just dropped off her husband and granddaughter for a day hike to Alpine Meadows where they lived. She was kind enough to take me back down the hill, thus concluding my 33 mile segment of the TRT through the Desolation Wilderness.

GPS Data

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/551247514


Dioko completed his TRT Challenge on August 2 and was soon back home in North Carolina to rejuvenate from his 172 mile accomplishment. We have remained in touch, and hope to hike together in the future.

I will return in two weeks to continue another segment of the TRT, Mount Rose to Brockway Summit.

I will report it here when complete.

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Until then… see ya on my next adventure in the Tahoe wilderness

The Road Goes Ever On

Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are my feet,
Still round the corner I may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but I alone.

The Hobbit ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Wilderness Act 50th Anniversary – Hike to Barker Peak

First of September I drove up to Tahoe with several goals in mind: one was to do several day and overnight hikes to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and two, was there help my friend Candice Burt with her inaugural Tahoe 200 mile endurance Trail Run. Stopped off in Truckee, as usual, to get some fresh ground coffee at Wild Cherries for the Tahoe200 race crew to burn the midnight oil with. Bought some IPA brews too, because it seems that’s all they run on is beer and coffee.

The weather was flawless the entire time I was up there, actually becoming pretty warm by mid morning. Since I was staying with Candice and her Trail animal organizers, we all stayed up a little too late and I didn’t get an early morning start on the trail. Helped with what I could, (not being a Ultra trail runner myself) then set out for a couple of day hikes on the west side near Homewood, their base-camp.  I know the Blackwood Canyon Barker Pass and Ward Canyon area very well so I thought I would take a hike to Barker Peak for some great panoramas since the weather was so nice.

The drive up Blackwood Canyon on Barker Pass Road brought me over Blackwood Creek which was completely dry, unlike my trip in June in which the stream was still flowing quite strong. The 7½ mile drive up to Barker Pass went by quickly, putting me on the trail in good time.

About one mile up the trail brings me to an overlook that I love the most for a chance to watch the sun rise over the Carson Range on the east shore of the lake. Pitching my one man tent in between several trees, and facing the opening to the east, I can assure myself of a beautiful unobstructed sunrise over the lake.

From here, it is just a few short miles to Barker Peak, with some spectacular rock formations as it is all brightly colored red and brown lava rock.

The trail conditions from my first overlook are quite normal, just plain dirt with occasional rocks. Then you approach the ridge that goes out to Barker Peak, which becomes a more volcanic soil which does not seem to support any vegetation. I scrambled out as far as I could without falling off the edge to get some pictures. I enjoyed the sights and solitude without falling off a cliff so I’ll call it a day.

Quite the view

Back to the Tahoe200 Animal House in Homewood for the night, which is always abuzz with activity at least 18 hours a day – A great meal prepared by Candice’s mom and step-dad, and always great company.


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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