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
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Kingsbury South to Big Meadow TRT

Google Map-link

GPS Route

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/542872194

Since I am a solo hiker, I have to plan more efficiently how I begin and end my segments. From the Tahoe Rim Trail’s website, I located a shuttle service, WannaRideTahoe in Myers, to pick me up at my final destination of Big Meadows and shuttle me to Kingsbury South trailhead at the end of Tramway Drive. Lake Tahoe has three seasons it seems: winter, summer, and road construction. There is always something going on somewhere around Lake Tahoe to delay you wherever you want to be or need to be. Though cell phone service is spotty near Big Meadows, I did receive a call from Kat telling me that she would be delayed in picking me up but was still on the way. After a relatively long and convoluted drive taking all the shortcuts, I finally arrived at Kingsbury South at the end of Tramway Drive, to start my next adventure. While making sure that everything was ready to go and my GPS’s were locked and loaded, I met another person that was also getting ready for her big adventure.

Candice Burt from Bellingham, Washington was the brainchild behind a enormous undertaking in Ultra-running, The Tahoe 200. A trail race around Lake Tahoe with a 100 hour time limit – grueling to say the least. The sleek, and beautiful young woman that runs 100 miles as we would walk to the store. Brimming with  confidence and self-reliance – She could kick the butt of any pro athlete alive – not to mention any fashion model. We took a few selfies with each other, then we were both on our separate pilgrimages, promising to meet up again soon.

It was a pretty warm day I recall at least at the start at Tramway. I realized why they called it Tramway as there was a “Disneyland” type tram ride for all the rich folks to get to the chairlifts from their nearby  condominiums.

A life I’ll never know…That being said, onward, I have work to do.

The trail was a gradual climb following the contour of the eastern side of Heavenly Ski Resort. Occasionally at a clearing in the trail, I would be treated to wonderful views of the Carson Valley below. Vast expanses of ranch and farmland reminiscent of Gold Rush days, made you feel as though you had been transported to a different era.

Soon I would be passing under the chairlifts of several of the ski runs, that I didn’t know went that far on the eastern side of the mountain. Being a back country guy, I don’t usually spend much money on pricey lift tickets. You wanna ski down the mountain?…hike up it! I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a very fast hiker.  I take a lot of breaks, I take a lot of pictures, chat with everyone that I meet, take deep breaths and especially I take in the moment.

Nearly four hours later, I’m only at Monument Pass. Not a milestone, but downhill for at least a little while.

Looking towards the south, thunderstorms were on the horizon. Something I expected, but not looking forward to. I don’t mind getting wet mind you – I don’t like the thought of being struck by lightening.

It’s nearly 1800 now and I’m just arriving at Star Lake. The northwestern slope of the mountain on the other side of the lake turns golden in color with the sun getting ready to set. The lake is like glass, though it was completely abuzz in swarms of mosquitoes at evening time. I found a clearing next to some small trees to block the wind for the evening and settled in for the night. After an austere dinner and my usual peppermint tea, I took a walk around the area of my campsite.

I found some rather discouraging evidence of primitive camp fires people had started at the lake. I am constantly dumbfounded by the stupidity or arrogance of people that build a campfire without contemplating the dire consequences it has on the entire Lake Tahoe region –

It is a tinderbox at the moment. I am quite content with my little MSR PocketRocket camp stove to heat water for coffee and tea, saving the romance of a campfire for a safe place and warm company. First light came before 0600 the next day. The winds had calmed and the air was fresh and crisp to enjoy my morning coffee before packing up. Cold Creek was only about one mile away, but since I had an abundant source of water at the lake, I stocked up before heading out.

The trail climbed steeply up the mountainside until arriving at a clearing beneath the base of Freel Peak and Job’s Sister. It resembled a movie set somewhat, with well placed trees and open coarse sandy ground. Nearing Cold Creek, was a great campsite – open and flat, exposed though, with soft coarse sand perfect for a good night’s sleep. Cold Creek was flowing very well, but I had enough water.I stopped briefly to listen to the flowing stream and take in the moment.

It was nice looking back on where I had come from. After a little snack and rest for my feet, I couldn’t help gazing up at Freel Peak, the tallest peak in the entire Tahoe Basin. A little sign close by read “Freel Peak 1 Mile”. Hmmm… One mile, that’s not so bad, and it’s still early yet…When am I going to do it the next time?…   When I’m 70 ???

The climb started off steep…and got steeper as I slogged up the hill. I came to a safe place to leave my pack, knowing that it would be much easier to summit without the pack. A couple that had been camping at Star Lake also, caught up to me on the climb up to Freel Peak.

As it turned out they were the carrot that I needed to get me to the summit.

Huffing and puffing in some spots, and scrambling on all fours in others I finally made the summit of Freel Peak, 10,881 feet. What an incredible 360° view.

All of Tahoe, the Carson Valley, Hope Valley, the Crystal Range…it seemed endless.

After a couple of photo ops and selfies, we sat down for a snack. There, as other places on the trail, were cute, chubby and furry little rodents to help me gnosh my trail mix and Oreos.

They must have lived on this alone, as we were well above tree-line for fresh pine cones, their normal diet. My trip down was not without drama, as I took a wrong turn, following someone’s bushwhack and had to backtrack up the hill a short ways. Finally making it back to the Pass, it was time to make tracks as my little side trip cost me 3 hours of time. Switchbacking down the mountainside, I came across 3 water sources flowing well.

I topped off to 4 litres as the remainder of my segment was dry to Big Meadow. Now, those storm clouds I saw yesterday were building and headed my way.

Now I needed to beat feet back to Big Meadow and the car fast if I was to outrun the storm. I met up with my young couple at Armstrong Pass once again, but after their short rest, they left me in the dust once again. Shortly after reaching  a ridge, the storm hit.

I put my pack cover on and cheap pancho without skipping a beat. The horizontal rain was quite familiar to me for having been at sea for nearly 22 years. Besides, this didn’t taste salty, so I thought it was all good. After so many hours and days on a trail, one begins to hear things, make up things that aren’t there. I wasn’t to the point of hallucinating, but I did feel that my mind was wandering a bit more than usual. I came across rock formations that looked like animals.

I named one “Elephant Toes and Puffer Fish” as you can see in the photo. Fortunately, it still looked that way to me after regaining my senses the next day. Another feeling that I got has happened before on other segments on the trail – the feeling as though you were being watched or stalked. This was particularly evident with “Cat Scat” on the trail. Bears I felt I could deal with, but mountain lions? Mountain lions would scare the “scat” out of me! I remember how much it hurt for my cat to scratch or bite me, let alone a 200 pound cat. I tried making a lot of noise, so as not to sneak up on any unsuspecting forest critters.

Now it was time for the thunder and lightening to start..oh for joy! BZZZT, BOOM ! I was already half deaf, now the other half is gone. Overhead in the treetops, thunder, lightening… like I needed something else to worry about…all the while, carrying around two aluminum lightening rods in my hands. What next? Picking up my pace on my decent to Big Meadow, hopping down boulder after boulder, was having a detrimental affect on my knees. I needed my trekking poles for support – but I also remember how bad I looked with an afro that I had back in the 70’s, when I looked like the dad on the Brady Bunch. I stopped and got out my parachord to trail my poles behind me. If lightening wanted to hit something, I’m not going to be holding on to them like an idiot. Likewise, I’m not going to leave my $160 Leki trekking poles behind if it didn’t. It worked like a charm until it would snag on something. Well, fortunately the storm waned, and I could once again use my poles. The rain had turned to a heavy mist around Freel Meadows and knocked down the trail dust.

(A little rain is a good thing) Crossing my final creek, the rain was not enough to deter the mosquitos from being a nuisance. I crossed the creek at a full gallup and held my breath as I went through the clouds of mosquitos.

My dogs were killing me. I’m not far from Big Meadows and my car. I had almost covered 16 miles in 12 hours of hiking. Mind you, my own fault for the 3 hours side trip to Freel Peak, but I was done – toast as it were. The final few miles seemed the longest.

When will it end???

Help me Mister Wizard!

Finally at 2020 hours, I reached my car. I was so tired I forgot how to open it up. Must have taken me another 45 minutes getting my pack off, changing shoes and stinky shirt before I was ready to head out. But where was I going? Hell, I don’t even know. It’s late, camp at Big Meadow? A hotel? Since that decision seemed too difficult, I hit the easy button. Feeling like a zombie, I drove home, 200 miles, 4 hours back to the bay area. I don’t know how I made it – I had driven it so many times this year, the car knew the way to go. Finally, just after midnight I made it through the door and into bed – and putting to bed one more chapter in my Tahoe Rim Trail Challenge.

 The Road Goes Ever On
Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
I’ll wander back to home and bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!
~The Hobbitt, J.R.R. Tolkien

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See ya on my next adventure…

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