Two prior attempts at this segment were unsuccessful . One time due to a snowstorm in May, and another in June due to blisters. Each direction has its share of challenges; Mount Rose to Brockway the initial climb is steep, and there is a good campsite and water for the first night. On my trip through Desolation Wilderness, my trail partner Dioko was using an app by Guthook Hikes, Tahoe Rim Trail Hiker. He swore by it, so I downloaded it for this trip. Turned out to be very useful, as it was TRT specific and solicited user-input for trail updates. Since it uses your cellphone’s GPS capability, the cell signal is not always needed.
Brockway to Mt. Rose, there is little water to be found, especially after Spring in a drought year, so you will have a dry camp the first night if you don’t cache some water at Brockway or Martis. Gray Lake is about equidistant for an overnight, so it’s becomes a toss of the coin really. This trip I chose to park at Mt. Rose Summit parking area and walk over to the Mt. Rose Campground for the night. The walk-in campgrounds for tent campers is at the top of the hill and out to the summit. Nice and removed from the trailer and RV campers. Nice vault toilets and pressure (a lot of pressure) running water at the entrance to the camp area. I took the one all the way in the back for seclusion, though there were only two other campers there. Well manicured area for the tent of coarse sand, nestled between a few trees kept me protected from the harsh winds I would have that night. New bear box, picnic table and fire ring was also there, though I only used the bear box.
I was treated to a beautiful alpenglow sunset over Mt. Rose before turning in for the night. The strong winds of 25-35 knots all night made for little sleep; I imagined myself as Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, ending up in Reno the next morning. I wanted seclusion, I got it, as the campground was deserted by morning. After coffee and a few protein bars, I was off for the trailhead. A nice crisp morning with a late start by most standards, I was hiking by 0830. The trail climbed quickly away from Highway 431, soon bringing me to a view point, overlooking Tahoe Meadows and a glimpse of the lake. The trail soon turned north into a wooded area, following the steep 25° contour of the hillside. I had hiked this route once before in May, but in snowshoes, finding it difficult to find the trail. After a few miles the trees dropped away for me to see Mt. Rose and vast meadow stretching into the Washoe Valley towards Reno.
In a short while I arrived at Galena Falls. Time for a snack and to top off with water from the cold waterfall. (Not the easiest to get to, safely) Soon after breaking out the trail mix and Oreos, I had a hoard of little furry new friends offering to help me eat it. (They especially like the Oreos)
Time to start up the switchbacks up to the next high meadow. After the climb above Galena Falls, the trail was not terribly steep until I crossed an access road for the communications workers for the AT&T relay station on Relay Peak.
(If you follow the road, it would bring you to a gondola that the workers use mostly in the winter time to access the relay station, when the road is not easily navigated.) Many long switchbacks later I arrived at the ridge between Mt. Houghton and Relay Peak.
From there I could see Donner Pass and Lake; nearly 360° views with visibility of 25+ miles. The trail leading from there to Relay Peak was loose crumbling talus, but the folks from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association had done a great job at keeping it well maintained.
At the ridge between the relay station and Relay Peak (10,330’) I came upon a female hiker traveling the opposite direction. We chatted for a bit, but began to notice some rather peculiar things about her. She seemed well schooled and knowledgable, but her mannerisms and rambling “one-sided” conversation struck me as very odd. Most of us hikers/backpackers would have hiking gear, you know, from a sporting goods store like REI, Moosejaw, etc. Well, not this lady. Can’t blame her for wardrobe and gear choices, but wearing railroad engineer’s gloves struck me as unusual. After about ten minutes of disjointed ramblings, I asked her if she had difficulty with high altitudes before. The “deer in the headlights” look told me I should be on my way, and bid her “happy trails”.
The view from the very windy Relay Peak was spectacular. Cotton-ball clouds resembling “The Simpsons” were blowing right over my head. 360° views of Shasta and Lassen to the north, Donner Lake and the Martis Valley to the west and the Crystal Range and Lake Tahoe to the south made the arduous climb to the top all worthwhile.
Time for another snack, photo ops and a brief rest to get my pack off. There trail down now was quite steep – many switchbacks 1,100 feet down the ridge brought me eventually to Rose Knob Peak. From there I could see Ginny Lake, far below to the south.
More of a green pond by this time of year and too far off the trail as a water source. Turning right at the trail junction at Rose Knob Peak (9,740′) and Gray Lake, I headed down to the lake for my camp for the night. A short 0.9 mile hike down behind the peak brought me to another trail junction – to the right was the stream flowing into Gray Lake – to the left, the north side of the lake with several campsites are. Fairly level and rock-free spots for about 10-12 small tents.
The stream was running strong, with stones and wooden footpaths for crossing the stream or continuing to the northeast trail around the lake. After filling up on cold, clear water, I headed for the north end of the lake to make camp for the night. At the time, I was the only one there, so I had pick of the litter. I found a site with a nice long fallen tree as my settee and picnic table. By mid-August now, the mosquitos didn’t seem to be much of a problem at Gray Lake. Nice not to wear my head net for bugs, as I forget I have it on and try to drink soup or coffee, thus spilling it down the front of me. (happy nobody is around to see my faux pas) A short time later, another solo hiker, Melissa (?) came into camp. She was doing a thru hike on the TRT before heading off to school. We made friends, had dinner and chatted for a while before adjourning to our separate tents for the night. We were both packed up and on the trail by 0730 the next day, each of us going in opposite directions. It took about one hour for me to reach the ridge and rejoin the TRT going west towards Brockway. The winds were building and a cold stiff breeze had me stop and put on more clothing. The “Buff” scarf/headgear that I bought at my fav store in Truckee (Mountain Sports & Ace Hardware), turned out to be a great buy. Kept my neck, ears and head warm along with my wool tuque.
The trail was quite open now to the south with no trees for shade or blocking the wind, with spectacular views from Incline to South Shore. The trail from Rose Knob Peak to Mt. Baldy was now a sea of drying Mule’s Ear, rustling in the wind. It has the faint smell of a cigar, at least to my nose. Picked up my pace a bit as the trail was nice and buttery and I needed some trees to block the wind and sun that was buffeting my tired old face. I didn’t need any more wrinkles on my turkey neck either.
From Mt. Baldy to Martis Peak it was uneventful. There were several times however, that I felt as though I was being watched – the same feeling that I had while in a thunderstorm over Armstrong Pass to Big Meadow – like the hair standing up on the back of your neck, knowing that you were not alone in the wilderness. I had evidence of mountain lion scat before, but not on this segment so far…may have been a bad thing…maybe he hadn’t eaten yet. In that case I’ll pick up the pace a little more. I passed a young guy, trail running. I was relieved now that the cat had choices…new young meat, or old and tough. Below Martis Peak the trail crossed Forest Service access roads several times. I welcomed returning to the trail, as the road was marred with ruts and more rocks to avoid. I met several other day hikers on their way to Martis from Brockway Summit. One local couple was riding their mountain bikes to Martis Peak from Brockway – didn’t sound like much fun to me, and I love to bike – just not endlessly up hill. By now I had passed East Martis Peak, nearing the Vista Point 1+ miles from Brockway Summit. This is where I cached some water for myself for the dry section from Watson Lake to Gray lake several months before. Not only was I close to finishing this segment – but my last segment, concluding my Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge for the summer.
I reached Brockway Summit that afternoon, finding my way down to the road to start my real challenge – getting a ride back to my car at Mt. Rose Summit, some 20+ miles away by car. Soon after reaching the road I befriended some hikers asking for directions for their next day’s hike. Of course I helped, which got me a lift down the road to Kings Beach. From there I walked about 1/2 mile to the bus stop that took me within 100 yards of the roundabout at Highway 431. (got a senior discount for the bus ride too!) It was hot, I was pretty damned weary already from hiking since 0730 that morning. Now I had to thumb a ride back up the mountain 8 miles to my car. Hitchiking – I am not good at it – I didn’t even hitchhike in High School when I looked good. Now at 62, dirty, I haven’t shaved or used deodorant in days…and I’m expecting someone to stop and pick me up – Guess not. Figuring 2 mph and 8 miles to go, I hoped to be back to the car before dark. I walked at least 2 miles up the hill before setting on the guardrail for a rest. Moments later, my angel arrived. A young man on his way home back to Reno had passed me, turned around and came back to help. He said he thought I looked like a needed a break…I did. I offered to pay him but he said it wasn’t necessary, he was going that way anyway. He was hurrying home to take his daughter out for ice cream. I handed him $20 for ice cream and his unselfish deed that saved my poor dogs from a certain fate. Good deeds and unselfish people need to be recognized – and rewarded before they get to heaven.
The conclusion of my challenge was bittersweet – I never really wanted it to end. The preparation, the learning more and more with each trip, meeting other people on the same pilgrimage as I was – became an addiction – the euphoria that you get when you went one-on-one with nature – you were self-reliant – and you made it, in the Tahoe Wilderness.