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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Spooner Summit – Marlette Peak & Marlette Lake – Flume Trail

Total distance 19.7 miles

Minimum altitude 6,306 feet
Maximum altitude 8,538 feet

 

I arrived in Lake Tahoe on the last day of September planning to get an early jump on the trail starting at Spooner Summit the next morning. That morning I started my day at Tunnel Creek Café for great cup of coffee and to bum a ride with the bike shuttle driver from the Flume Trail Bikes up to Spooner Summit. I had to wait a little while so they could gather enough mountain bike riders to make the trip worthwhile – then we were off for the summit. I had to hike a quarter-mile back down the road to get to the Spooner picnic area to start my hike. It was a beautiful fall day that inspired several others to get out on the trail and enjoy the weather. I briefly stopped and chatted with everybody who would talk to me, but kept on moving.

At the trail junction to Marlette Lake Trail  I came upon a spring that was still flowing under the road even this late in the season. The trail and road rises quickly moving away from Spooner Summit and lake. Two hike-in cabins are available for rent from Spoonersummit.com. Several spur trails branch off of the main trail – they are flagged for cross-country skiing that connects with the Marlette Lake Trail. You pass the first of three approved campgrounds in the Nevada State Parks system for that area. North Canyon Campground is the first providing vault toilets and picnic tables for about six campers. It is also an opportunity to rejoin the Tahoe a Rim Trail, 1.2 miles to the ridge.

One can see the trail zig-zagging its way across the face of Snow Valley Peak up to the ridge line. The other two campgrounds are Marlette Peak and Hobart Reservoir. I will be staying at Marlette Peak Campground tonight. Recently I noticed mile markers placed there by a joint effort between the Boy Scouts of America and the US Forest Service. Very helpful if something goes wrong and you need to tell somebody where you are. After an arduous climb of 16% or more out of the valley you arrive at the pass dropping down to Marlette Lake. With a valid Nevada fishing license, fishing is allowed Marlette Lake from July 15 through September 30, using barbless hooks and no bait – catch and release only. Unfortunately there is no camping allowed in the Marlette Lake Basin – understandable but unfortunate, as it would’ve made a beautiful sunrise camping out at the lake. So I pressed onward, to the Marlette Peak Campground, 4 miles ahead.

From the lake the road meandered northward in and out of Aspen Groves bringing me to another very steep section. It was going to be pretty slow going for a while. Finally arriving at the crest there were signboards and benches placed there by the Nevada state parks department. One sign explaining how Marlette Lake came into being and one of the rules and regulations for the area. No time for that now, I needed to make camp and I still had a couple of miles to go. I soon descended along the access road and puddles of water from recent rains. It was good to see that the parched forest got a little sip of water from this long drought.

After a while the trail opened up into a sandy clearing connecting the trail junction to the Tahoe Rim Trail. This was all pretty familiar to me now, just backtracking along the route my hiking friends, Tamara, Chris, and Chuck and I were on earlier in September.

After one more climb switchbacking up to the ridge I came upon another trail junction – one leads to the Marlette Peak North West Tahoe Rim Trail (A side trip taking you around the west side of Marlette peak displaying great views of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe) Another spur trail called the Sunflower Trail leading to Hobart Reservoir, and the trail I was taking, the north east route to Marlette Peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail leading to Tahoe Meadows, 13 miles to the north.

As the trail meandered through a small grove of fir trees, reminiscent of the sights and smells of a Christmas tree lot – telling  me that fall and winter were upon us.

Finally I arrived at the familiar sight the Marlette Peak Campground where Tamara, Chris and Chuck and I camped out for the night in early September.    Not a soul was there, just the vault toilets and me.  I got my pack off, and made the trip down to the well to get some water. I spoke about this well before… looks like a throwback to the old west, where you had to pump the water 10 or 12 times to get that cold, pure spring water. Soon I’ll have some water boiling for a Cup-a-soup and tea before bedding down for the night.

I was freezing my buns off so I couldn’t wait to get into my new Marmot Helium sleeping bag that I just got off of eBay. Finally I was the winning bid on something! I stashed everything in the bear boxes that they had provided in the campground and got into my cozy new sleeping bag and MSR Hubba one-man tent. I thought somewhere between the soup, the tea, and the new sleeping bag I would be warm and toasty in no time – but no. You know when you get a bone chill and you just can’t seem to warm up no matter what you do? That’s where I was, shivering myself to sleep by about midnight.

Guess I wore myself out shivering so much.

Dawn came too early, getting me out of the rack by 0630. I checked my Garmin GPS had a temperature sensor on it and it had recorded 25°F as the lowest temperature throughout the night and a balmy 29°F at breakfast. After guzzling down 2 cups of my Starbucks Via instant coffee that somehow still tasted like my Cup-o-Soup from the night before, I was packed and ready to hit the trail. I would have to eat my Cliff Bar on the road.

The rain puddles that I had passed the day before had turned to ice skating rinks as I passed them today. It was quite brisk, but I was fairly comfortable except for my fingers that I wasn’t able to feel just yet. The steep section that took forever to get up yesterday went quite quickly this morning. That was the good thing – then that uncomfortable feeling I have had before – that feeling as though you were being watched. I scanned 360° around me, on my way back down to the lake which couldn’t come soon enough.

I made my way out to Chimney Point, a finger that juts out into the lake with an old stone chimney on it. If a cat wanted me bad enough he would have to jump in the lake and come get me. And I know that kitty cats do not like water, so that was my plan for now.

The walk on the road was beautiful in the early morning light. The sun rising over the ridge made all of the fall colors come alive. I arrived at the fir tree that blocked my path last May on my mountain bike – it must have been 6 to 8 feet in diameter. The Forest Service had removed it from the road and it was clear sailing this time. Once arriving at the dam, I took one look back at the mountain and the trail that I had climbed over last month bidding farewell until next season.

Now I was once again on familiar ground, the Flume Trail. Marlette Lake water system and flume was originally created to provide water for the silver mining boom, headquartered in Virginia City, Nevada.

The mines required vast amounts of water to operate and Virginia City needed lumber for housing in the new boomtown. Now a single-track mountain bike and hiking trail connecting Marlette Lake and Tunnel Creek Road near Incline Village, the Flume Trail offers unparalleled vistas of Lake Tahoe to the west and south for most of the hike. (As I have mentioned before, Flume Trail Bikes will rent you a bike and shuttle you to Spooner Summit, and then you can ride back down the mountain to the Tunnel Creek Café, return your bike and have lunch and a beer.)

My trip this time back down the mountain took a little longer, as I didn’t have a bicycle to make the trip go faster. The trail is about 2 feet wide for most of the way, hugging the cliff closely with rock ledges and overhangs making it difficult for passing bikes along the way. The trail can be dicey at times, as the crumbling granite can make for a loose footing. You will meet mountain bikes going both ways, so make sure you make a little noise approaching blind corners.

The mountain bikers are usually expecting other bikes, and I find they get a little spooked when they come across a backpacker. Try not to take your half of the trail out of the middle.

After several miles, the trail joins another trail junction – to the right will take you up to the ridge where the Tahoe Rim Trail connects Tahoe Meadows to the Spooner Summit segment of the TRT. Continuing on straight ahead, the trail becomes a service road for the remainder of the journey back to Tunnel Creek Café. The trail is mostly shaded for another mile and one half, opening up to the afternoon sun the remainder of your hike.

Several hundred feet from the Tunnel Creek Café is a chain-link fenced property, home to the old Ponderosa Ranch of the 1950’s and 60’s TV show, “Bonanza“. The property has since been closed to the public since 2004.

Well I am finally back at my car and the café, tired and hungry. JP set me up with a great turkey and pesto sandwich washed down with a cold Gatorade. What a treat to have a hot homemade sandwich instead of trail food! I don’t think I moved an inch since I sat down an hour ago. Time to head over to the west side of the lake at Kaspian campgrounds and put my senior discount card to work one more time. Just the thought of having a legal campfire tonight was warming me up already. As if we never get enough, I read myself to sleep reading “The Cactus Eaters”, a saga about a young couple’s adventures along the PCT. The next morning I broke camp at 0730 and made a mad dash to my other favorite café, the Firesign Café for a hot breakfast and endless hot coffee.

A great ending to another great trip at Lake Tahoe.

GPS tracks below:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/605202517

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/605202521

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See ya on my next adventure…