Tahoe Rim Trail – The Dry Stretch

Seems to be a dog friendly trail.
Seems to be a dog friendly trail.

Click here to get to the start of this journey. The night at Grey Lake was a bit warmer than the night before, probably in the mid-forties. For the second night, I slept with my water filter. The first night was to keep it from freezing. Apparently the second night was just so it didn’t feel unwanted. Despite that awkwardness, I slept pretty well and got rolling on Day 3 by around 7:15.

In a move that will certainly upset any purists, I climbed out of the Grey Lake camp on a different trail than I came in on. This put me back on the TRT a bit beyond where I had left it; near what was left of Mud Lake. I suppose I could have stayed on the TRT and got my water at Mud Lake, but as it looked more like Mud Puddle, I was happy that I had made the detour.

Regardless, the climb out was significant and I was doubly glad that I didn’t try it the evening before laden with water.

Once back on the TRT, the path kept climbing. There was nothing extreme, but several miles with long switchbacks and even a few stairs. I completed the climb to the top of Relay Peak at about 9:30. I was at 10,330 feet and the highest spot on the trail. It was a great spot to take in the views and fit in a snack and a break. IMG_0097

Heading down the back side of Relay Peak, I had the option of 5.5 miles of new trail or 4.5 miles of old trail/road. Not wanting to offend purist hikers even more, I took the longer trail even though that meant some additional climbing. Dropping down, the new route was well built. As it was Saturday and the weather was perfect, I started meeting a significant number of day hikers. One stuck in my mind as he was wearing a shirt I’d never seen before. There were a photo of Native Americans from the 1800’s. Wording was “Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.” I guess everything is a matter of perspective.

Yours truly by Galena Falls
Yours truly by Galena Falls

I found a large group of day hikers around Galena Falls. It’s no wonder, the falls are really impressive drops of freezing cold water. Since I had a bit of water left, I didn’t bother to filter any among the crowd and kept pushing toward Ophir Creek. A light pack and downhill trail kept me going at a good clip. The area’s big boulders and open pine forest was very reminiscent of much of the JMT, though not quite as dramatic. The crowds of hikers reminded me that this was no wilderness either. 

I soon hit a road crossing/trailhead with a restroom and garbage cans. A couple ways to lighten the load. Across the street was the entrance to a National Forest Service campground. The trail follows the entrance road before dropping into the woods just before the camp office. However, a 50 yard detour put me at a water hydrant where I filled up a couple bottles of water; no filtering needed!  I thought about filling everything as I was looking at a dry camp, but didn’t want to load up any sooner than necessary. 

Once out of Mt Rose Wilderness area, the mountain bikes returned to the trail. I don’t consider them a problem, but if you do, they are only allowed on this stretch on even number days. IMG_0123

I soon Found Ophir Creek and filled my remaining water bottles. I was looking to camp after another four miles or so and this would be my last chance for water for quite a while. Past the creek the trail was flat to rolling, but I still felt the weight of carting 4+ liters of water. 

A couple puffy clouds floated by and I was under cloud cover for a few minutes; the first time that had happened on the hike. Apparently things were going to change. Two different people on the trail both told me there was rain forecast for Tuesday (three days). I’d have to wait and see on that one. 

Several people walked by carrying grizzly spray, which seemed like tremendous overkill as there are no grizzlies in either California or Nevada. One of the bearophobes began checking on me to make sure I’d survive the upcoming cool night. I told him I’d be happy down to 25, miserable below 15 and only become a frosty corpse if the temperature dropped below zero. (The forecast was for 35.) A few mountain bikers were wearing bear bells as well. Between the bells one guy was wearing and his girlfriend loudly making fun of him about it as they rode, I knew they would be 100% safe; from bears anyway. 

After passing on a few large open campsite opportunities,  I spotted a pretty little spot within some tall pines, but with a bit of a view. I was done for the day around four. One of my favorite freeze dried meals, Pasta primavera, was on the menu.

After dinner I walked about 200 yards back up the trail to a tremendous lake overlook near the 46 ½ mile mark of the trail. The spot came complete with a comfortable rock chair to sit and watch the sunset. IMG_0142

After heading back to the overlook to watch the sunrise, I got going about 7. I made pretty good time early on, and started seeing runners heading the other way. All were moving fairly slowly. Turned out they were participants in a 204 mile race around Lake Tahoe. They had started a couple days earlier, with a time limit of 100 hours. I saw maybe 30 runners that had completed 120-130 miles at that point. Few of them were smiling and talking. Most were grim. In fact, a couple looked like they were barely staying ahead of the grim reaper.

I’ve run many trail races. I’ve even run a few marathons, but I couldn’t even comprehend wanting to race 200+ miles. I didn’t even know how to cheer them on. “Looking good! Only 80 miles to go?”

The trail was flat to downhill and the walking continued to be easy. It was a good thing as I needed to make significant miles on that day. By mid-morning I was in Lake Tahoe (Nevada) State Park and there were only 2 areas where I could legally camp. Marlette Camp was right on the trail, but I reached there mid-afternoon; too early to stop. North Canyon Camp was five miles further down the trail, but required hiking a mile and a half down a side trail. I decided to hike all the way out of the park before stopping. I did stop at Marlette Campground for a snack and to refill my water supply. The well water was my first option since Ophir Creek, 13 miles back. The well was potable, though a sign said it was tad high in aluminum. Since I lose the opportunity to drink beer out of aluminum cans while on the trail, a little extra in the water was probably fine.

From there the trail started climbing, eventually getting back to 9,000 feet. The stretch was on a high ridge running the east side of that lake. It bounced on either side of ridge top for a bit giving views of both the lake and mountains to the east. It eventually spent several miles overlooking the lake with great views of Tahoe and Marlette Lakes.IMG_0184

Unfortunately, the wide open vistas meant no trees, no shade and howling wind. I just wanted to get that stretch over with. 

No hiding from the sun, or the wind.
No hiding from the sun, or the wind.

I needed water for the night and morning and there wasn’t any on the trail for a while, so I cut off toward Spooner Lake. The guide showed restrooms and water on far side of the lake if I didn’t want to filter the turbid water. I didn’t. It had been a long day and the 1.5 mile detour went slowly. I tried the first cutoff hoping it was there, but it was just an empty parking lot. Kept walking for a while among a number of day hikers. Finally, I ask a guy walking the trail if he knew where the restrooms and water were. He said he saw some portalets, but the restroom was under construction. My heart just sank, but I kept walking. Got up near another parking lot and there was a hydrant. Yea! I’d have been up a creek w/o that water.  

Near the hydrant were a couple guys sitting under a pop up booth. Turns out they were support for a bike race, had burritos in a warmer and offered me some. That detour was getting better all the time. I ate my unexpected big dinner, loaded up with 4 liters of water and headed down the trail. I even crossed paths with a couple deer as I walked back along Spooner Lake. The burritos gave me energy to climb the steep hill at the park’s exit and I continued to the first decent camp spot I could find. With the water detour, I had walked around 21 miles and was beat.

It stayed windy throughout the night, rattling the tent and making sleep difficult. I was up before first light, had a bar for breakfast and was moving by 6:40. I was looking at a 4 mile climb to Lake View then 12 or so more miles to my break in South Tahoe. 

The climb was significant, but not overly difficult and in around 2 hours I topped out to a really cool view of the lake from near 9,000 feet. With the temp around 40 and the wind howling, it wasn’t just cool, but downright cold. I took some quick pictures and moved on. Once off the edge of the rim, the updraft wind eased off quite a bit. IMG_0207

The next nine miles were mostly downhill, dropping close to 2,000 feet in that stretch. With visions of a hot shower and cold beer I was hustling and made it to Kingsbury Grade by noon. There’s a road (Route 207) crossing there and the local bus service uses it. You’d be tempted to jump onto the road and hike it towards town and the closest bus stop. Don’t do it. The road is windy, steep, not safe to walk along and the bus stop is nowhere close. Continue on the trail another few miles and take a half mile side trail right to a bus stop at Stagecoach Lodge.

Just 1/2 mile to the bus!
Just 1/2 mile to the bus!

The $2 fare delivered me nearly to the door to the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel in plenty of time for Happy Hour. Eighty one miles down, 89 to go.

What’s next?