Flume Trail MTB Ride – May 2014

After playing in the snow at higher altitudes thought I’d come down a bit to around 7,000 feet and ride from Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake and continue down the Flume Trail back to Tunnel Creek Café, at nearly lake level of 6,229 feet. There is a day use parking fee at Spooner Lake, and a self pay kiosk near the entrance for your convenience.

It’s about a 14 mile one way ride starting at about 7,000 feet altitude at Spooner Summit climbing to 8,100 feet in the first 4 miles. The North Canyon Road is a wide Forest Service access road. There are vault toilets located about the midpoint near North Canyon campground and Marlette Lake which also has vault toilets.

The weather was still quite cool, about 55°, but beautiful. I drove myself to the Spooner Lake Campground and would get a ride back from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes. There were still patches of snow on the ground left over from winter and yesterday’s snowfall. I was huffing and puffing on several of the 16% grades, but was able to cool off at the top of Marlette Saddle before my descent down to Marlette Lake. This was all good, as this was the only climbing I had to do for the day after reaching the saddle at the top of my ascent. The rest of the day will be all downhill.

There is a spur trail off of the road that leads to Snow Valley Peak, zigzagging its way, 1.2 miles to the summit. Luckily I’m not doing that today. I had to get off the bike several times descending down to the lake, as there were still deep snow patches that made it difficult to ride the bike through. Once at the lake, I made my way out to Chimney Point to have lunch and enjoy the beautiful panoramic views of Marlette Lake. Chimney Point has its own place in history, as you can read from the signboard posted there.

After lunch, I started on my mile and a half ride around the west side of the lake, connecting to the Flume Trail at the dam. Soon after one rocky switch back, and small wooden bridge over the effluent from the dam, the view opened up to all of Lake Tahoe to the west. I was finally on the Flume Trail itself. Now for the next 4 miles, I will be descending 1500 feet back down to lake level at Tunnel Creek Café.

The views of Lake Tahoe on this ride for the most beautiful you will find anywhere in the basin. Famous for it’s world class reputation, it is definitely the best adult “Disneyland-style” ride you will find. Turn off your Strava app for this ride as you will want to savor every moment and every sight along the way.

Since my ride was in early spring, the debris loosened by the winter’s storms were still across the trail for me to navigate around. The Forest Service and Flume Trail Bikes has not yet been able to clear the trail that early in the season. It was quite a challenging obstacle course, with boulders the size of Volkswagons and downed trees across the trail, not to mention the snow that was still deep in the shadowy sections. At some point, I needed to lift my bike over the boulder and then shimmy around it, rejoining the trail on the other side. It was a “crawl over or crawl under” training course half of the way back down the mountain. At some point along the trail, the trail fell away, and it got a little dicey to get around. A misplaced step would have me 2000 feet down the mountainside to Highway 28.

The views above Sand Harbor were breathtaking. I took quite a few pictures as it was one of the most beautiful sights around all of Lake Tahoe. The crystal clear blue and emerald waters of Sand Harbor were amazing. I could have hung out there all day just admiring the view that I had all to myself. Don’t miss an opportunity to make this trip the next time you’re in Lake Tahoe. It is an unforgettable ride.

Continuing on down the mountain my only obstacles were the snow and ruts made by winter’s runoff from the mountainside. There are some steep sections with loose decomposing granite, and a couple of hairpin switchbacks. One wooded area of Quaking Aspen is a very pretty sight… you’ll want to make sure you get a few pictures of that. There are many more panoramas of North Lake Tahoe, Agate and Crystal Bay and Stateline Point that you will enjoy continuing your descent back to Tunnel Creek Café.

Just above the café is the old Ponderosa Ranch movie set, from the 1950s and 1960s television show Bonanza. After my long ride today I was hungry for a lot more than I brought with me in my backpack. I think I bought at least two gourmet sandwiches from Patti and the gang at Tunnel Creek Café, one because I was starving and the second one was for dinner and I would be having at Nevada Beach Campground that night.

Since it was still early in the season, Nevada Beach Campground was pretty open, and I got my favorite spot right on the beach. Picked up some firewood along the way, made camp, then went out for a walk on the beach watching the sun set over the western shore. After chowing down my second sandwich, I got my bonfire going and made some hot tea. Hung my wet socks next to the fire pit to dry them out, but ended up melting them a bit in the process. Since it was a full moon that night, a pack of coyotes were were howling their lungs out as I watched the moon rise over Heavenly Peak. I doused my fire before retiring to my tent for the night.

The next day I hopped on my mountain bike and explored some of the great bike trails and walking paths near Stateline, connecting South Lake Tahoe and the casinos. It’s been quite a full and fun action-packed couple of days up in Tahoe. From snowy peaks to mountain lakes on my mountain bike and the beach, I had quite a fun-filled mini-vacation.

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See ya on my next adventure soon…

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Tahoe Meadows – MTB Ride in Snow

Shortly after going into semi-retirement, I bought a Santa Cruz Blur mountain bike from a friend. Since I’m an extreme kinda guy, I thought it would be novel to ride the TRT in the snow. Met with a friend from Reno up at Tahoe Meadows, but she didn’t come very prepared for the conditions with tennis shoes and a thin sweater, so she bailed on me early on.

A short ways down from Mount Rose Summit parking area on Highway 431 is the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead parking area. There are vault toilets, but no running water. If you need water, best hike up to the Mt. Rose campground and fill up from the spigots. Not sure if they shut them off during the winter season to prevent the pipes from bursting. If it is flowing, there is a lot of pressure.

From the Tahoe Meadows parking area, you can take the Interpretive Trail, which is about a 1.2 mile loop around the meadows, smooth and wide enough for persons with disabilities to access, much of it on a “boardwalk”, with informative signboards explaining about the area. The TRT trailhead for Tahoe Meadows starts at the southwestern end of the parking lot, following along Highway 431 a short ways before turning south into the meadows. The TRT allows bikes to use the trail on even numbered days of the week, and I arrived on an even numbered day. (Note: not everybody abides by the rules, so keep an eye peeled for those who don’t.) The trail crosses over a wooden bridge where there is a seasonal stream flowing through the meadow. From the bridge, the TRT blue medallions and blue paint spots on the trees guide you to the correct path through the trees, connecting the TRT to the southwest toward Spooner Summit. Today, unfortunately, I will not get that far.

It was cool, but not cold yet at about 48°F, partly cloudy. I checked my weather apps, looked at the radar, and it all looked like a “GO”. I made it about 3 miles before the temperature dropped to 28°F, clouds formed and dumped two feet of snow on me within two hours. Snowflakes as big as silver dollars, falling gently, turning my Spring MTB adventure into a winter wonderland. I was having a blast playing in the snow…I was dressed for it, why not? Only problem is that I wasn’t getting very far, as the snow, mud and pine needles would jam between the tire and the frame and I couldn’t get anywhere. After taking several pictures of the bike stuck in the snow, I guessed it was time to go. Riding was not going to be easy today, so I ended up pushing it most of the way. Back at the car, it took me about 10 minutes to clear the snow off before I could get my bike back on the rack. Too bad I didn’t have anyone to share all this fun with.

Now back at camp for the night in the snow… let’s see if I stay warm enough. I brought enough gear for an entire scout troop, so I should. The snow was still like Christmas tree flocking, light and fluffy on the ground, so I could still use my tent stakes. Just used a couple of bunches of pine needles as a whisk broom and tada!…clean spot. Used two ground cloths since I had them; one MSR Hubba footprint + my 7’x8’ Tyvek tarp for my front porch to keep things clean. Clean tent=happy tent.

Used both sleeping pads, a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite (which by itself is like sleeping on a piece of cardboard from behind Safeway), plus my other Therm-a-Rest Trail Light self inflating pad. Both together did the trick, as it got down to 23°F that night. My REI +15° mummy bag has lost its loft over the years and I really need a new one. My old wool US Navy blanket I got off a ship I was on years ago was just the finishing touch I needed for keeping me toasty through the night.

Morning came soon enough, made an instant cup of coffee then headed over to the Fire Sign Café in Sunnyside on the West Shore for a big breakfast to start the day.


On my way over to Incline to do the Flume Trail from Tunnel Creek Café…

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See you tomorrow on my next post

Kingsbury North to Spooner Lake TRT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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See ya on my next adventure…in the Tahoe Wilderness

Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Lake TRT

On September 4, 2014 I left the Homewood Animal House early and arrived at the Tunnel Creek Café near Incline Village, Nevada. I got a ride from the shuttle to the Tahoe Meadows trailhead and was off and running about 0845 in the morning.

GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/612631911

Since I had made this trip before in May in the snow I already knew the route and it went much quicker now without any snowdrift obstacles in my way. Ophir Creek was nearly dry, quite unlike May and June as I had seen it last. Since it was an even day of the week, mountain bikes were allowed to be on the Tahoe Rim Trail in this section. I had quite a few riders on rental mountain bikes passed me right and left the majority of them were polite others were focused completely on their own amusement. I was on a mission to cover quite a few miles till my first camp at Marlette Peak campground, one of two approved campsites on the Nevada side in this TRT section. It was also nice that the TRT crews were just there the previous month cleaning trails fixing up campsites and renewing the vault toilets and such. The campground also had fresh clean well water, so I didn’t have to filter what came out of the pump.

After passing Diamond Peak ski area I came across three tourists on rental mountain bikes that asked me a few questions about the trail…and as we chatted, I detected a French accent, so I asked them in French where they were touring from…I never would have guessed, but New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie), about 750 miles east of Australia in the southwestern Pacific. Hard core mountain bikers, on a tour of California with Santa Cruz as their next stop.

I arrived at the trail junction of TRT and Tunnel Creek, and many hikers and MTB people were there, checking their maps and taking a break. From here, I continued on the TRT south, toward Marlette Peak campground, giving me an opportunity to check if the trail markers were still in place for the Tahoe200 the upcoming weekend. People remove or move the markers unknowingly or for amusement.

Arriving at Twin Lakes, they were bone dry. I made my way up the hill finally to Herlan Peak and had some lunch overlooking Crystal Bay and Incline Village. Continuing on, you arrive at a trail junction for Christopher’s Loop. If you are there early enough in the day, the loop is really worth the extra effort. The apex of the loop is a rock promontory above Sand Harbor, with one of the most photographed views in the Tahoe Basin. Do make a point to take the trail on one of your trips to Tahoe. Several more miles down the trail was a vista point for Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe.

It was about 1400, nice and warm sunshine with a nice breeze to even things out. Perfect views of the west shore and all the way down to the Crystal Range of Desolation Wilderness. I took several pictures, a few deep breaths to suck in the fresh air and trudged on to the campground.

Arriving at Marlette Campground, I had the pick of anywhere – quickly got my pack off so I could stretch out my tired old back, and just leisurely walked around the area. Nice to have the new, clean vault toilets all to myself, at least for now. walked down the path further to the well pump to fill up all of my water bladders and bottles. The old-style cast iron well pump reminded me of something from an old western movie. Took about 10 or 12 pumps to get the water but, it was nice and cold, clean well water. After I made camp, three TRT thru hikers arrived.

We exchanged names and places…Tamara, Chris her husband and Chuck, Tamara’s Dad were my new camp mates. Tamara and Chris were on a world tour for the year, and Chuck was retired, living on his boat in La Paz, Mexico. Lucky guy.  Quite a fun hiking team. By morning we were all old friends, and set out on the trail not so early, about 0830.

We took lots of breaks and photo ops, setting out at a comfortable pace for the four of us.

Finally reaching Snow Valley Peak (9,214′), after many false summits we were on our way down toward Spooner Lake (7,214′). The trail was becoming pretty dusty, me leading the way, and I guess that I was kicking up a dust-storm for poor Tamara. She donned her red bandana to block the dust, so we dubbed her “Bandita”, her new trail name for the rest of the trip. This is where we would part company, as they were continuing on around, ending their hike at Tahoe City where it began. I had already completed that section back in June,  and had no desire to do it again. The 17 t0 20 mile section is completely dry, even in a good year. We bid each other good luck and I continued on the trail  to Spooner Campgrounds where I hoped to get a ride back to my car at Tunnel Creek Café. At the trailhead there is a small kiosk for purchasing a day pass for Spooner area.

WATER: Do check with the park service at before you start your trip, as water is not always reliable there. The lake is not really usable and the park area was without running water for 2 months. Flowing again in September 2014. On my way through the Spooner Picnic ground I recognized a lady I met at Freel Peak the month before. We had both been entertained by a friendly and chubby marmot at 10,881′, begging for trail mix and Oreo cookies. I gave the little guy 2 cookies and he was in heaven. He’s family you know! Well, it’s 11 miles back to the car, and I thought that the Flume Trail Bike Shuttle’s last trip was 11:30… and I missed it. So here we go again trying to thumb a ride down the mountain to get back to the car. Another lost cause. Nobody picks up old backpackers…even if you do have nice legs. While walking, I noticed the shuttle bus pass me, so I called the café and asked if he could get me on the next trip…they said sure. Next trip back, he passed me again…SHIT! Keep walking…call again. Oh sorry, next trip… and so on.

Finally after mile 3 in the hot sun on an unforgiving pavement, I’m in the van, on the way back to a cold beer and a dip in the lake to wash off the trail dust I’ve been wearing for the last 23 miles.

What a day! Candice graciously allowed me another night at the Tahoe200 Animal House in Homewood, and a relaxing end to a hard day on the trail and highway.

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See ya tomorrow on my next adventure in the Tahoe Wildeness