Tahoe Rim Trail – Halfway and Beyond

Click here to get to the start of this journey. The bus into South Tahoe took me to the Stateline Transit Center which happened to be next door to the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel where I had a reservation for the night. The place was very nice; maybe too nice for a hiker, but I wasn’t complaining. I had picked it after a short Internet search because it was next to a bus stop, had a laundry on site, accepted a mailed resupply package and had a room available. At $120 per night, it was more than other lodging in the area, but also much fancier. My “suite” had a separate living area, three TVs and a spectacular shower. My opinion of the shower may have been affected by it being my first shower in nearly a week though. On top of that, they had a daily happy hour with $2 beer and free snacks. It looked like my evening was set.

Heading down to Happy Hour

Heading down to Happy Hour

Checking the TV weather forecast, there was indeed rain approaching. The next day (Tuesday) was looking like it could be a wash out. Since I had plenty of time to finish the trail before my flight back, I made the less than difficult decision to stay in the lap of luxury another night. Unfortunately, when I tried to book a 2nd night, they stated they were full. Back to the web where I found a room a block away. I’d be moving to the Alpine Inn. It was slightly lower on the indulgence scale, but at $55/night, the cost matched the opulence. My room was clean, so it was fine. 

Beyond switching hotels and strolling a quarter mile to Sports LTD for a fresh fuel canister, the “day off” was chore free. The rain fizzled out by mid-morning so the cool cloudy day would have been perfect for hiking. It was also perfect for relaxing and my legs weren’t protesting about the day off. I visited the lakefront, the Explore Tahoe Visitor Center, a couple great restaurants and, of course, the $2 Happy Hour. In addition, just across the street was Nevada and a couple casinos. Since I feel that backpacking solo is enough of a gamble, I steered clear of those.

Big casinos start at the Nevada line.

Big casinos start at the Nevada line, just down the street.

Morning found me on the first bus (7:20 AM) heading back to the trail and by 8 AM I was off the bus, the side trail and back on the TRT. The bear canister was full, but with more water available on this half of the trail, I was only carrying two liters.

Despite being near the southwest corner of the lake, the trail continued heading in a generally southern direction for the next 25 miles, getting well away from regular views of the lake. The path climbed into taller mountains that still harbored significant snow near their peaks. The big granite boulders were reminiscent of hiking near Yosemite. Lunch was by Star Lake, a beautiful snow fed spot where I refilled my water before continuing the climb.

Time for lunch

Time for lunch

The grade was moderate, but unrelenting until I made it to Freel Pass. At 9,700 feet there were some tremendous views. Along the way I passed a couple pushing their bikes/camping equipment up the trail. The woman talked to me about how hard it was to push her load up the hill. It didn’t look fun. At a certain point the bike just became a poorly designed wheelbarrow. Of course when they flew by on the next downgrade she was not complaining. 

Dropping from Freel Pass, the trail was etched into a pretty steep mountainside. As I stepped aside (as much as possible) to let a few mountain bikers by, one told me, “Thank you so much! I’m scared to death of heights!” It never ceases to amaze me how often I meet people scared of heights while I’m “in heights.” She was not enjoying her chosen recreation.

Looking south of Freel Pass

Looking south of Freel Pass

With about 16 miles in for the day, I was hiking the high, wide ridge of Freel Meadow. There were great views of either the distant Lake Tahoe to the north or impressive mountains to the south. It seemed like a good spot to stop for the night and I picked a spot with a southern view. With the tent sitting exposed at about 9,200 feet, it looked like it could be a cold night. IMG_5224

Now what?

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?

Tahoe Rim Trail-Starting Out

Click here to go to the start of this journey. a-lake-viewBeing used to Eastern Daylight time, it was difficult to stay in bed until 6, but I managed. After taking my last shower for the next 5 or 6 days I wandered down to the America’s Best Value Hotel’s free continental breakfast. There was coffee and OJ, but all the food options were prepackaged buns and doughnuts. Actually, it was a perfect way to prep my system for all the processed and freeze dried food I’d be eating over the next 170 miles; so, I was good.

After rechecking everything one last time, I began walking through Tahoe City for the half mile to the trail. My pack was heavy with 3 liters of water. While I started right next to the lake, I wouldn’t be near it for long. Once I hit the trail, I began my clockwise circle with a moderate but long upgrade, leaving the lake and its 6,225 foot elevation behind. Despite the cool (39 degree) morning, I was down to a t-shirt and shorts almost immediately. 

Climbing through the pine forest, I heard a few birds, but also an ongoing drone. Sweat bees were everywhere. None of them stung, but every time I stopped, especially if I was in the sun, they would swarm around me. 

As I climbed, I started getting better and better views of Lake Tahoe, though it was a bit hazy over the lake and into the morning sun. Looking away from the lake had some nice views into the surrounding mountains. When I stopped for a snack, the bees moved in, so I made it quick.

Early view away from the lake

Early view away from the lake

After an hour or so I covered myself in sunscreen as there wasn’t a cloud to be seen and the forest was fairly open. There was no need to treat my lower legs as they were quickly protected by a layer of dust from the dry trail. 

Through the morning I passed several mountain bikers and a couple day hikers. The path was easy to follow and any intersections were marked well enough. Only met one backpacker and he was going the other way, seemingly on a mission. He barely raised his head long enough to say hey. 

With the climb and photo breaks, I was averaging about 1 1/2 miles per hour. At that pace I’d make Watson Lake and the first water by about 4. It was 13.5 miles in, so it seemed like that would make a good first day. At five miles, the trail peaked at 7,600 feet and bounced between 7,200 and 7,800 for the rest of the day. At around mile ten, the trail began to follow what was once a road. It had grown back, but was relatively flat and straight. The sky remained clear and the air was warm, but not hot. Despite a bit of heal pain, I made good time through the afternoon. The sweat bees encouraged me to keep moving as well. 

It was around 3 when I arrived at Watson Lake with a half liter of water to spare. It seemed early to stop for the day, plus there was a road to the spot and I’d probably have company. Only hours into the hike, I wasn’t yet craving the sound of a human voice. So, I filtered a couple liters of water, loaded up with 2 more and kept walking. It would be seventeen miles to the next water. 

In another half mile I spotted a nice spot just right for one tent. Shaded by some big pines, there were relatively few bees. With the pack weighed down w 4 liters of water, it was an easy decision to call it a day. The tent was quickly up and I laid inside for a bit until hunger called me back out. Mountain House Beef Stew. Yum. A breeze kept the bugs at bay, with the air turning a bit chilly once sundown arrived. 

Some of the information I had researched before leaving spoke of bear canisters being a good Idea. Since I had one from hiking the JMT, I went ahead and brought it. It adds about two pounds to the pack, but it saves time each evening searching for the right branch to hang the food. The “Bearikade” was chock full, but everything fit into it except my hand sanitizer.  I stuck it into the triple fork of a nearby tree. 

Once the sun was down, a half-moon began shining bright. The temperature dropped significantly and I was wearing my fleece and down vest when hit the bag around 8:30. first-night-tent

Morning arrived clear and cool and the first few, downhill miles went fast. I was getting back down near the lake level and the forest was relatively thick. Once at the Brockway Trailhead though, things began to change. From 7,000 feet the trail began a long climb. After a couple miles of climbing, I arrived at View Point and a gorgeous overlook of the lake. It was near there that I met Lydia and her dog. They were thru-hiking in the other direction. She was on day 7, having started at Big Meadow. I let her know the water situation ahead and wished her luck. At her current pace, I thought I’d see her again on the other side of the lake, but never did.

View Point

View Point

The TRT is extremely well marked for the most part. Some of the signs gave very detailed directions; far beyond an arrow.a-trail-sign

The trail continued to climb and after around 13 miles for the day I arrived at Mt Rose Wilderness. Through here things were wide open for miles and I began to bake in the sun while continuing to climb.

Mt Rose Wilderness

Mt Rose Wilderness

Another couple miles got me to the Grey Lake cutoff. By this point I had climbed to well over 9,000 feet. It was over a half mile downhill to the lake, but was the only sure water in the area. I arrived to find a beautiful creek with cold water flowing into the lake. It was a good thing as my water bottles were empty.

Thought about moving on, but by then it was 4 pm and the climb back out would have been rough at the end of the day. Plus, I would have had to carry extra water out to dry camp. After arguing with myself for a bit, I finally decided to park it. The creek water was so cold it hurt my feet as I cleared the dust off them. Very tasty too (the water, not my feet). 

Cold, clear and tasty

Cold, clear and tasty

There were several nice spots to camp around the lake. A couple more hikers showed up at around 6. They had one more day to complete their thru-hike. It turned out to be a nice quiet evening around the lake.

What’s next?