Tahoe Rim Trail: Echo Chalet to Spooner Lake

TRT Day 7: 20 miles

We got woken up around 10pm when a large group of people showed by at the lake.  Flashlights kept penetrating our tent, and I kept hearing someone shout “there are tents RIGHT there!”  We had to listen to them for probably an hour as they set up camp, made dinner and talked loudly.

We all woke up in the morning very grumpy, and being the considerate human beings that we are, we didn’t make a racket while we packed up, and left fairly quickly.  We did notice, however that an empty bottle of wine was sitting next to one of our neighbor’s tents, and their “bear bag” was hanging about 4 feet off the groud, leaning on the trunk of a tree.   I would call that a bear piñata.

We hiked though a pretty meadow called Big Meadow, and lots of day hikers were out.  That’s what happens on a Saturday close to a road.

Once we crossed the road, and started climbing again, we lost most of the day hikers.  Donner wasn’t feeling great, so we took a long break and I offered him some electrolytes.  We were probably all dehydrated, and the lack of sleep didn’t help.

We had a long and steady uphill, which seemed to go on forever.  I felt completley sleep deprived.  Half way up I started closing my eyes for several steps at a time until I realized that was probably dangerous, and I was on the verge of falling asleep while walking.

We wanted to camp as close to Freel Peak as possible to make a side trip tomorrow morning to reach the top, since it is the tallest peak in the Tahoe Basin.

Luckily, right at the intersection of the Freel Peak trail, we were able to find a couple of small spots to camp. 

We all made ramen for dinner and Donner complimented it with an uncooked, day-old hot dog.  Our diets are pretty disgusting, I’ll have to admit.

This will be the highest elevation we’re camping at – around 9,700ft roughly.  It’s a bit breezy, but hopefully we’ll sleep OK.  The sunset was gorgeous, but I was so tired I just wanted to fall asleep.

TRT Day 8:  22 miles

Our alarms were set for 5AM so we could climb Freel Peak (10,881ft) for sunrise.  Our intention was to get going by about 5:10AM, leaving our camp set up at the bottom, and hike up the one mile trail to the summit.  Unfortunately, that was slightly ambitious, and we didn’t get going till about 5:25AM.  Sunrise is right about 6AM these days, so we still had more than half an hour to get to the top.

We headed out with our headlamps shining the way.  The summit was nearly a thousand feet up, and having not had breakfast, and being at around 10,000ft already, I quickly lost all steam.  I pushed myself to continue as quickly as possible, against the will of my aching legs, and wheezing lungs.  The trail was much steeper than almost any part of either the Tahoe Rim Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, with many steps and steep sections of deep sand that allowed each step to slide half way back down again.   I let John and Donner pass me so that they could maybe make it to the top for sunrise, since I could tell I was unlikely to make it at my pace.

I made the mistake of blowing my nose, and even though it was still dark, I could tell I had just created a massive nose bleed.  I kept wiping my nose on my bandana as I huffed and puffed up the mountain.

I saw John waiting for me close to the summit, and he shouted words of encouragement.  Donner was already at the top and also shouted that sunrise was moments away.  I pushed harder, but I could tell by my wheezing breath that I was having an asthma attack.  Normally I would stop, but I didn’t and pushed to the top seconds before the sun crested over the ridge.  I gasped for air, and John tried to get me to breath deeply, but until I calmed down, it was almost pointless.

When I had my wits about me again, I admired where we were: on top of the world with the most beautiful lighting.  It was windy and my bandana looked like I had killed a small animal on the way up, but at least my nose bleed had mostly stopped.

We spent about 20 minutes watching the sunlight touch distant mountains, and the mountain we were on was casting a giant shadow down the valley.  Although the climb had been the hardest part of this trail so far, the reward was also the greatest.

Eventually, we climbed down, and once back at the gap, we packed up camp and hiked on.  We descended to Star Lake where we met the first other counter clockwise TRT hiker, named Amethyst.  She was on day 17 and taking it very slow.  We chatted for a while, and while we were chatting, a group of runners stopped to collect water.  One of them was in the middle of trying to run the entire trail in 4 days.  So on one side of us was someone completing the trail in double the number of das we were, and on the another was someone who was completing it in half.  Funny.

I decided to have Ramen for breakfast since I thought I probably needed the salt.

We continued to descend, and the day grew very warm.  We stopped by streams and got our shirts wet, and John decided the Ramen was a good idea, and soaked some for himself.  Donner quickly followed suit.

We eventually got to the last water source for the next 17 miles, and decided to take a very very long break.  It was unbearably hot.  The stream was at the bottom of the downhill and we didn’t want to start climbing again until it cooled off.  We sat by the creek and drank water, slapping the occasional mosquito.  Along came several other hikers – one of which was a clockwise hiker named Song and Dance, and another was a counter clockwise hiker named Dog Man, along with his dog.  Another counter clockwise hiker!!!  The second one today, and only the second one of the whole trip.

We all decided to all have more Ramen and call it dinner.

At 5PM, we finally moved on.  I was full of energy, having eaten quite a lot of food at our breaks (mostly Ramen).  We headed uphill and hiked at quite a decent pace until we found a place to camp, only 10 or so miles out from Spooner Summit where we started this whole thing.

Dirty hiker feet (with dirty girl gaiters!)

Day 9: 10 miles

I woke up excited to get to town.  Mostly for a shower, but also for some food that wasn’t Ramen.

We only had 10 miles to hike, and we got going quite quickly.  The trail climbed up to some magnificent views of Lake Tahoe and right at the top of the hill there was a wooden bench that trail maintainers either built or carried up to this spot.  Not many benches have a view this good!

Not far from the bench we saw Dog Man with his dog “Fox” (Fox was the dog’s trail name, his real name was Pepper).  I asked if I could get a picture of him, and he posed proudly with his dog on his shoulders.

                                                        
Before we knew it, we got down to Spooner Summit Trail head where we started just 8 days and a few hours ago.  175 miles done, and another amazing thru-hike ticked off the list!

We sat by some smelly toilets that weren’t open due to COVID and assessed the situation.  We definitely smelled objectionable, and we needed a ride into Carson City.  We contemplated changing into other clothes, but all in all we didn’t have many other clothes to change into.  I found a small bottle of tea tree oil in my pack, which carries a strong smell, and Donner got very excited and started spreading it around himself like perfume.  That seemed to be a good way of masking our scent. 

We considered trying to hitchhike, but decided that trying to get an Uber was probably a safer bet, and so 15 minutes later we were in a car with a teacher who was lamenting about having to return to school with a bunch of kids.   He was a Physical Education teacher, and had no idea how he was supposed to conduct such a class safely.  I certainly can understand that parents, especially those who work full time, need to get their kids out of the house.  But teachers, especially in high risk groups are having to put themselves in quite a hazardous position.  I certainly didn’t have the answers.

We got dropped off in town, and wandered into a nearby McDonalds and got ice cream.  It was nice to eat something cold in the heat of the day.  As we savored our first taste of civilization, I went about calling hotels to find the cheapest one in Carson City.  Trust me, hikers don’t need anything fancy.  When you’ve been calling any flat spot in the dirt home each night, anything with running water feels like a luxury.

Soon we checked into this crummy hotel I found and started getting excited for taking showers.  I washed layer after layer of dirt off of my body.  When I got out of the shower, Donner pointed out that there were was buck shot embedded in the wall next to our bed.

We then climbed into the grubby hotel pool, which was roughly the size of a large hot tub, situated right next to a dumpster.  We watched the occasional piece of trash blow out of the dumpster and float towards the pool.  Beyond the dumpster, a barbed-wire fence caught the remaining flying garbage.

“I’m not sure we actually needed to shower first”  I said, admiring the peeling paint, and dirt floating in the pool. 

Somebody had made the effort to spray-paint the fence around the pool with black paint, but in the process, they had spray-painted a tree and part of the dumpster as well.  I guessed this was probably the response to a bad online review.

Once we were completely pruney, we headed back inside, and dealt with our laundry, food and packing for the next couple of days.  Our plan is to check out Donner Summit and attempt to climb Donner Peak.  Donner got his trail name out East on the Appalachian Trail, and had never made the pilgrimage to the area where the Donner Party famously resorted to cannibalism while getting stranded during a particularly brutal winter storm.

We heard a rattling sound outside in the parking lot.

“Do you think that’s a broken down car, or just an empty can rolling down the parking lot?” John asked.

Donner cracked open the door.  “It’s a can rolling down the parking lot.”  He answered.

Days 10-11 (PCT Side Trips)

I slept like a baby and woke up the next morning ready for the next adventure.

Looking at the map, Donner Peak does not have a trail to the summit, but the Mount Judah trail, which creates a short loop with the Pacific Crest Trail comes quite close, so we figured we would just hike off-trail to the summit.

We met up with Jenna, who works for Big City Mountaineers, the organization we raised money for as part of this hike.  She wanted to take some video footage of us, since she lived nearby so that they could help promote similar fundraising events to what we did.  We were glad to help.

We didn’t tell her in advance that we’d be scrambling to the top of Donner Peak, not knowing if there was a social-trail to the summit, but we figured that if she worked in the outdoor industry, she’d probably be up for it.

We met Jenna at the trail head.  She was young, and the type of California girl who says things like “rad” and “stoked” a lot.  We chatted about the outdoor industry and the work that she was doing with Big City Mountaineers.

Once we got close to Donner Peak, the scramble up was well worn, and quite fun.  Nothing like bushwhacking to summits on the East Coast.  From the top, we got views of Donner Lake along with nearby ski resorts.

We decided the next course of action would be going for a swim in Donner Lake.  The water was not too cold, but the breeze was chilly, and we didn’t stay in too long.

Once we parted ways with Jenna, we headed north on the Pacific Crest Trail from Interstate 80, so as to camp for the night.  We were aiming for a Sierra Club hut, which was only about 3 miles in.

Along the way we met a couple who also looked like they were planning to camp out.  I asked them what their plan was, and they told us that they were going to camp out to watch the Meteor Shower.  We hadn’t realized that there even was a Meteor shower, so it was serendipitous that I even asked.

We made plans to wake up in the middle of the night to view the show.

When we got to the hut there was a single man who was camped in the loft of the hut and we decided to camp out.  The hut was quite nice, somewhat similar to the hut we saw at Richardson Lake, but maybe even nicer.

The night was cold, and at 1AM I woke up to pee, and decided to wake up John and Donner.  We dragged our sleeping bags out and laid down on some rocks with a clear view of the sky.  We spent about an hour staring at the sky watching shooting stars whiz by every minute or so.

In the morning, we headed back to I-80, and the gentleman who had stayed in the hut asked us if we could give him a ride to Truckee.  We agreed based on the fact that he had a mask, and we could roll the windows down for the short drive into town.

Before we headed back to the airpot, we made one final stop at In N’ Out Burger, our favorite fast-food joint on the West Coast.  We don’t have anything like it back home, and soon we will have no excuses for eating fast-food.

Just to solidify our Ramen obsession on this trip, we decided to eat a Ramen dinner in the airport between flights.

Do you think Top Ramen will sponsor our next thru-hike?

I’m finishing up this blog on the flight home, but I’m planning to write another blog soon about my final thoughts on the Tahoe Rim Trail with some advice, some thoughts on starting/ending points and direction.  Stay tuned!                         

Tahoe Rim Trail: Tahoe City to Echo Chalet

TRT Day 4: 23 miles

I heard Donner get up to go pee around 5AM, and John was tossing and turning.  I hadn’t slept well because of the bed – soft and the covers got totally messed up.

We managed to leave the hotel just after 6AM, and although I was tired, I was thankful that we were getting an early start because I knew we had a lot of climbing to do and I wanted to get as much of it done as possible before it got hot.

I also wanted to carry as little water as possible, so I decided to chug two liters of water before leaving the hotel and only carry 1 liter for the next 4 or 5 miles uphill.

The trail was nice and cool, and because of all the water I drank, I had to pee every 10 minutes.  That got old really quickly when I realized that there were quite an abundance of mosquitos around.  I remember these mosquitoes from the PCT.  They were most similar to the Oregon variety, which could land on you regardless of how quickly you were trying to run through them.

Luckily the mosquitos were not a constant.  They were only really present in spots where we were going through a meadow, in the forest or near a stream.  This side of Tahoe is definitely much more wet than the other side.  Water sources are plentiful.

Early on we passed an active logging site, and repeatedly heard chain saws followed by trees falling and crashing onto the forest floor nearby as loggers cut them down.  Although we weren’t close enough for it to be dangerous, we jumped every time a tree fell.

Donner made the mistake of showing an interest in lichens, when the topic somehow came up, and John spent the next hour or two regaling us with every detail on lichens he could possibly remember – which, given that he has a book on the topic, and the brain of a sponge, was a lot.

I decided to steer the topic away from lichens and onto quantum mechanics.  Donner was a physics major, so between us we tried to remember details of our physics and chemistry courses.

There were tons of hikers – both day hikers and backpackers.  We intersected the Pacific Crest Trail, and that brought a few PCT hikers into the mix too.  We were constantly pulling our buffs over our faces as we jumped off the trail to let folks pass.  I’ve been really impressed with how many hikers have pulled out masks to pass us.

At lunch we cracked open a gigantic jar of Nutella, and also made tuna wraps.  Once we finished, John and I packed up and John was standing there with his pack on ready to go 20 minutes after we sat down to eat.

“God, you guys really just like to hike, don’t you?!”  Donner said.

It’s at that point that we realized that we had been such in thru-hiker mode that we hadn’t really taken a really long break just to sit and admire a view or take an extra long lunch just to relax in nature.  Our style has always been to just keep walking.  It’s not that we don’t admire views, but usually not for more than 5 minutes or so.  Donner was more used to taking half hour or hour long breaks to enjoy the scenery.

Since we got such an early start, we got done with quite a few miles early on in the day.  We realized that there was no point in rushing or completing more miles than we needed to, since that would just mean that we finish the hike before we had planned.  We made plans to attempt to slow down a bit and take more breaks during the next section

We decided to camp at Richardson Lake, a popular camp spot – there are dozens of other people here, but really pretty.  The lake was very warm, and I soaked my feet.  I would have gotten in if it wasn’t so breezy and getting a bit chilly as evening descended.

 

We decided to take a little stroll around the lake to check out a Sierra Club hut that was listed on the map.  It turned out to be quite a quirky little hut, built in 1955, and obviously designed for use during the winter, when snow would pile up to the second level, so the leave a door unlocked at the top of the hut, which gained us entrance.  The inside was warm and there was a register, which I signed, which had many recent hiker’s signatures in it as well.  Outside the hut was a double decker outhouse, which we did not investigate as thoroughly.

Tomorrow we will be entering the Desolation Wilderness, which is probably the most scenic stretch of this trail.  We are all very excited, and anticipate enjoying some breaks near lakes along the way.

TRT Day 5: 21 miles

We woke up in the morning refreshed from an only slightly interrupted sleep. An animal repeatedly hissed for an hour in the middle of the night. Maybe a fox?  Who knows.

The trail was noticeably moist compared to the dry Carson Range on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. At points it seemed like someone had been spraying the trail with water and other times it was even slightly overgrown with vegetation around dry creek beds (on the dryer side, there was much less vegetation).

Today was the day that John and I have been looking forward to since booking this trip. We entered the Desolation Wilderness, one of our many favorite spots from our Pacific Crest Trail hike. A few steps past the Wilderness boundary sign John said, “We really are in the Desolation Wilderness look at all the granite rocks!”

Slowly the damp trail became more rocky. We came upon the first lake of the day and took a long break to swim.  I was nervous to get into the cold water, but John and Donner convinced me to jump in from a rock.  It was nice to go for a swim.  Four years ago when we were here it was too cold to even think about swimming here.

We continued onto Dicks Pass which presented us with an absolutely gorgeous view. We could see the chain of lakes we passed as well as many others that were out of view.

Dick’s Pass

Moments after we arrived, another a hiker arrived and gasped at the scenery. It was wonderful to watch her reaction.  We spoke with her for a bit, and found out that her name was Rose. We also found out she hiked from the Washington/Oregon Border along the PCT and was finishing her section tomorrow.  As we walked away we noticed that there would be an even better view a few steps further along and John said, “It will be great to see her reaction over there.” Predictably, Rose gasped again.

Rose

Rose had wanted to hike the whole PCT this year, but changes her plans when COVID hit.

“I hope you get to hike it in 2021,” I suggested

“If there IS a 2021….”. She retorted.

There was a small patch of snow at the top and Donner attempted a snow angel and threw a couple of snowballs at us. 

As we descended my hip started to hurt and we slowed down.  Donner and John both offered to carry some of my weight, and I took them up on their offer since John always accuses me of being too stubborn.  I was pretty upset that my hips were not cooperating, and I silently wondered if my thru-hiking days weren’t over.

The temperature seemed really warm with all the granite reflecting the sun back at us. When we got to Susie Lake we decided it was worth taking another swim.

Donner: “Did I miss a spot?”

We debated spending the night there but it was still early so we moved onto Aloha Lake, where we found a perfect spot with a spectacular view.

Can you tell which way the wind blows?

As we watched the sun set and the moon rise, we noticed that little tufts of pink clouds passed by.

“Hmmm, clouds”  John commented.  I knew what he was thinking.  We hadn’t seen clouds in almost a week.  Out here clouds usually mean weather.

TRT Day 6: 17 miles

We took our time packing up in the morning – no need to rush since we had only 6 or so miles to Echo Chalet, where there is a small store where we planned to resupply, and we knew they didn’t open until 10AM.  The clouds were strangely gone after a quiet night, and we had a perfectly blue sky.

We descended from Aloha Lake to Echo Lake through huge boulder fields.  The trail was mostly pointed rocks, which was slightly hard on the feet.  It was in one of these rocky areas that we heard some little squeaks, and found that they were coming from a pika!  Pikas are only the cutest alpine rodent.  They’re actually closely related to rabbits, I believe, but they look kind of like big fat fluffy mice with big ears.  I attempted to take its picture, but it was in a hurry to get somewhere with the tuft of grass in its mouth.

Pika

I’m assuming that this area is normally quite crowded, but today being a Friday, it seemed especially busy.  We passed group after group after group of hikers walking up from Echo Lake.

I remembered this section quite vividly from the PCT.  Once you exit the wilderness, Echo Lake has quite a few cute little houses and huts along it, with no access besides either the trail or the lake.

When we made it to Echo Chalet, we immediately bought a half gallon of ice cream to share along with chips and guacamole, soda, and potato salad. 

“Growing up, my dad used to microwave the whole tub of ice cream so he could eat it melted, and then put it back in the freezer so all we ever had was freezer burnt ice cream,” Donner griped.

“That sounds awful!”  I replied

“And then my mother would dig all the good bits out of the ice cream, like if we got chocolate chip cookie dough, there was never any bits of cookie dough left.  That was pretty much the extent of my horrible childhood.  Maybe I’ll write a book about it.”  He said, shoving spoonfuls of ice cream into his mouth.

Donner noticed that Rose was in the parking lot, having met her family who were there to pick her up.  He came back with a bag of cherries that she gave us.  So sweet!!  We went over to say goodbye and gave her our website to look us up when she got home.

It took us another hour or two to buy and sort through all the food we needed for the rest of the trail, which should take us about three and a half days.  The store was two or three times more expensive than a normal grocery store and with limited selection, so we wanted to choose our food wisely.  We managed to buy a few things that we could split between the three of us, plus a ton of Ramen noodles.

Echo Chalet

When we started hiking again, it was brutally hot.

“East Coast heat melts you, and West Coast heat bakes you”  Donner remarked.  It’s true – I felt baked, and my legs were cracking because of the dry heat.  In fact, right at the front of my ankles, my skin is so cracked that it is bleeding.

We got to a cold stream where we collected water and I took my shirt off and dunked it in the cold water and put it back on again.  That felt divine.

“What’s for dinner?”  I asked Donner

“I’m pretty sure all my meals involve Ramen somehow”  he replied.

“I think we’re going to have instant stuffing mix and hot dogs”  John said.

“Oh, then I’ll have Ramen with hot dogs!”  Donner said with excitement.

We noticed that clouds were beginning to form, and quite quickly.  These were not cute little clouds like last night, these were very obviously thunder heads.

Soon enough we are shaken with a sudden “KABOOOM!!”  A thunderstorm was upon us.  I started hiking faster, since we were headed up a hill, and we scurried over the top of it.  The rain soon started, and we made sure everything in our packs was in something waterproof.  I was glad I brought my rain jacket and rain pants, because the temperature dropped quite quickly.  Luckily my shirt was almost dry.

Now instead of holding our umbrellas up for sun, we had them open for the rain.  It didn’t rain hard, but it rained enough to bring life to the hillsides, and as we continued we passed many meadows and drainages absolutely packed with wildflowers.  Views of nearby mountains were incredible.

The rain subsided, and the flowers and views continued to take our breath away.  We could hardly stop taking pictures.

Eventually we got to the lake where we wanted to spend the night, called Showers Lake.  Funny that we came through on a day with showers…

We ate dinner by the lake, and enjoyed the last lake that we will have along this trail.

Tahoe Rim Trail: Spooner Lake to Tahoe City

TRT Day 0

Well, here we are!!  We’re currently in Carson City, NV, the day before we begin the Tahoe Rim Trail.  We’ve thought about this trip for many weeks now, not only because we were raising money for Big City Mountaineers, but also because of our fear of COVID-19.

By the way, we reached our goal of raising $5000 for Big City Mountaineers!  This will effectively breakdown some barriers in order to get kids into nature.  The $5000 will outfit an entire week-long expedition of kids from dis-invested communities who would otherwise not have the means to go backpacking.  Thank you so much to everyone who donated, we had at least 85 people who contributed to this effort!

We’re doing this trip with an Appalachian Trail friend of ours, whose trail name is Donner.  We drove to his house in Nashville so that we could all be on the same flights to Reno. 

We’ve spent the entire day traveling, wearing KN-95 masks.  The flights were somewhat terrifying because people just can’t seem to understand how to wear masks correctly, and Donner and I witnessed a girl in the row next to ours wipe her exposed nose with her fingers.  She then looked at her dirty fingers like she wasn’t quite sure what to do with them next.  Donner and I looked at each other wide eyed and I whispered, “get me out of here!!!”  We were so grateful to have bought KN-95 masks (the Chinese equivalent to N-95 masks).

Southwest is currently keeping middle seats empty unless you’re in a group traveling together, so even when the flight was completely full (which our second flight was), there was still a feeling of space on the plane.  I did find it funny that although you apparently have to wear your face mask for the entire flight, they also hand out water and snacks.  We all decided not to eat or drink on the airplane, so I stuffed the packet of pretzels in my bag for later.

We decided for the sake of logistics to spend one night in Carson City before hitting the trail early in the morning.  We arrived basically famished, and the first thing we did after dropping our bags at the hotel was order Chinese take-out.   We brought the food back into the hotel room and for a good 15 minutes we acted like we had been hiking for weeks.  There was a long period of silence while we stuffed our faces.

As we packed our backpacks, and I realized that I forgot my p-style (the device I use to pee standing up), and Donner suggested I try cutting a small plastic water bottle in half as a substitute.  I found one to attempt to engineer into the right shape, and then practiced in the bathroom, and found that the new set up may actually work.  Gross or genius – you decide, but it will allow me to pee in a gatorade bottle inside my tent at night.  Yay!

Hotel room gear explosion

Now jet lag has started to set in, and although it’s only about 8PM, it feels like midnight.  I have a feeling we’ll have no trouble getting an early start tomorrow to get a full day’s hike in.

TRT Day 1:  22 miles

I woke up sometime between 5 and 6AM, and John and Donner were still asleep, so I stared at the ceiling for a little bit until the alarm went off.  I must have slept well.

We packed up, and used Uber to get a ride to the trailhead.  Our Uber driver was chatty and proclaimed that he had only started wearing a mask a couple of weeks ago when it became a mandate, because the mask was not letting him get enough oxygen because he was an asthmatic.  Then he started complaining about COVID-19 and how it’s really only a bad flu and our government should have just let it run its course instead of letting it drag on.  John and I rolled our eyes at each other and tried to change the topic.  Once again I was so grateful that we had bought KN-95 masks.

Once at the trailhead at Spooner Lake Summit, I was thrilled to be in the wide open forests of the dry mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe.  We climbed and climbed, but the trail was easy.  As usual, the trails out West are so nice because of the lack of tree roots and water erosion.

Donner stepped only a couple of feet off trail to pee and suddenly there was someone coming in the opposite direction.  Bad luck, I thought.  But moments later we passed another set of people, and then another.  I realized that this was not going to be one of those remote feeling hiking experiences.

We climbed up a few thousand feet, and started getting lovely views of Lake Tahoe.  The sun started beating down on us, and we all whipped out our umbrellas.  The trees were all pine and fir trees spaced wide apart with lots of sandy ground between them.

The air was very dry.  I could feel sweat evaporating from my lower back, and my tongue felt dry since my mouth was hanging open, panting from the lack of oxygen at this high elevation.  We climbed to over 8,000ft, and my lungs could feel it.  I haven’t been at this elevation in a while.

Cute little wildflowers dotted the side of the trail and John, who had brought his Sierra Nevada field guide book stopped intermittently to identify plants.

Ten miles into our day we reached Marlette Campground, which had a water pump that we had spent quite a bit of effort trying to figure out if it would be functional or not.  Donner had even called the Tahoe Rim Trail Association (and got a reply in the form of a voice mail!).  The pump worked, and we sat there and ate lunch, while downing at least a liter of water each in order to try to stay on top of our hydration.  The next water source wouldn’t be for another 12 miles or so.

Eventually the trail became a popular mountain biking trail, and we had to jump out of the way of dozens of mountain bikers.  Maybe 50-100 mountain bikers, I kid you not.  It definitely got old and certainly slowed our progress.  On top of that the wind picked up quite a bit, and blew more dust in our faces, while making it slightly challenging to hold up our umbrellas.  But, we were making good time, and before we knew it we were already at the next water source.  Two young men were collecting water in what looked like a dribble coming out of some rocks. 

“This is Ophir Creek!?”  Donner said looking wide eyed at our water source.

“Welcome to west coast water sources!!”  I said. It actually turned out to be the headwaters of Incline Creek, but we managed to collect plenty of water from it.

We hiked a bit further and found a somewhat sheltered spot tucked away between some rocks and some trees and called it home for the night.

TRT Day 2: 24 miles

I heard John unzip the tent, and I looked at my watch, 5:50AM.  I felt fairly well rested.  Donner emerged from his tent and told us that his thermometer read just under 40 degrees.  What a perfect temperature for sleeping in.  We were hiking by 6:30AM.

We soon hit a road leading to a campground just slightly off trail where we stoped to use the toilets and dumpsters.  They also had running water, so we filled up our bottles.  The chipmunks in the campground were fearless, and one almost stuck up behind me to grab my breakfast.

The trail then climbed up to the tallest point on the trail, 10,398ft up at Relay Peak.  On the way up there was a little waterfall with many beautiful flowers on either side of it (such as monkey flowers and lupine).  The trail was very exposed, and we were so happy to have our umbrellas to keep us from getting sunburnt.  As we climbed over 9000ft, I started to really feel the effects of the altitude.  My stomach was a bit queasy, my head slightly achey and my lungs gasping for air.

The scenery, though was so breathtaking, that I easily stopped every few hundred feet to take a picture.  That made the climb much easier.

When we got to the top of Relay Peak, it felt like we were on top of the world with 360 degree views.  I hardly knew which direction to point my camera.

Then, we started the long descent to the next water source, which was a lake that was about quarter mile off trail.  Along the way we crossed from Nevada into California.  Once we got to the lake, we sat there and collected and drank water for quite some time since we knew that the next section would be over 17 miles with no water sources.  I decided to wade into the water a bit to get my feet wet and wash my dirty legs.  The water was frigid.  Across the lake we saw a deer munching on some grass, occasionally glancing up at us.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if a cougar took that deer down in front of our eyes” Donner asked.

“Maybe the deer is waiting to see a cougar take us down.” I answered.

We realized that it was already 2:30PM and we were barely half way done with the miles we had planned for the day, so we made a move, and I tried to pick up the pace a bit.  We had a lot more downhill to go, which made it easier to go quickly, but also harder on the joints.  Soon my hip started to hurt followed by my shoulder, my ankles and my feet.

Around 6PM we stopped to make dinner and let it soak.  None of us brought a stove, so all the food we are carrying needs to cold soak.  On the menu for John and I was couscous, which takes about 20 minutes to rehydrate in cold water, and Donner had instant mashed potatoes, which are still pretty instant with cold water.  By 6:30, we sat down again and ate our dinner.  Around this time I got a bloody nose.  It’s something that happens often when I hiked in such a dry climate, especially at high altitude.  A few mosquitoes started pestering us, which helped in finishing dinner rather rapidly before picking up and continuing with a few more miles.  Not 20 minutes later, John also got a bloody nose.  Somehow Donner was spared (so far at least).

We hiked a few more miles and crossed a road.  Hoping to find some camping a ways from the loud road, we continued on.  The last mile or so of a long day always feels even longer… I hurt quite a bit at this point.   I’m definitely not in thru-hiker shape.  It didn’t help that we were carrying quite a bit of water still.

We finally found a spot slightly off the trail along and ATV route.  We set up the tents quickly and dived into them to avoid the mosquitoes.  They’re not terrible, but they’re not fun to have buzzing around your head outside the tent either.

Tomorrow we’ll wake up early and try to hike the 18 miles into Tahoe City fairly quickly so that we can resupply and still hike out of town to camp.  The hotel prices in Tahoe City are outrageous, so we’re going to skip trying to stay the night there even though it would be really nice.

As I’m writing this, darkness has set, and the moon is rising, mostly full.  I hope it doesn’t keep us up.

TRT Day 3: 18 miles

At 5:45AM I heard Donner’s voice: “GOOD MORNING!!  Town day!”

We all scurried around packing up more quickly than normal, and started hiking just after 6AM.  We had 18 miles to get into town, and I knew some of them were going to hurt, because my hip was still sore from yesterday’s effort.  As we hiked, we passed an active logging site which was making a racket chopping up trees.

We had one water source for the day, and that was at Watson Lake, and we got there in short order.  I was somehow still carrying too much from our 17 mile dry stretch, so I only collected half a liter.

We passed a sign saying 14 miles until Tahoe City.  I did some mental math on how long that would take us.  Five minutes later we passed another sign saying 12 miles until Tahoe City. 

I turned to John, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the next 12 miles go as fast as those two went!”

Not 20 minutes later, another sign:  13 miles to Tahoe City.  Huh?  The signage in this area was obviously not to be trusted.  Another mile went by, and we got another sign: 12 miles to Tahoe City.  Ha.  I figured I should stop caring about how many miles it actually was and just hike.

We were at lower elevation than we had been for quite some time, and the heat we experienced really made us appreciate the altitude of the previous section.

A few bikers and a few hikers passed us, but honestly, the most remarkable part of this section was just how hot it felt.  I felt sweat dripping from my back and quickly evaporating.  At least our sweat was working, but we were probably quickly getting dehydrated.

Finally, we made the final descent into town, and I hobbled down the road to the grocery store, my hip aching.  We sat outside the store charging our devices and trying to decide whether or not we were going to spend the night in town.  There were a couple of outlets next to the store, and we bought some soda and sat there while our phones charged, and we took turns buying our resupply food.

Finally, we made the decision to spend the night in a hotel that had a hiker discount, so wasn’t as ridiculously expensive as everything else in town.

So, as I write this, we are comfortably installed in a room with two beds, contemplating where we will pig out for dinner.  A burger sounds good to me.   I’m not sure if I’ll have the opportunity to update the blog until we finish the trail, but we’re now about a third done with it.  We’re looking forward to the Desolation Wilderness, which is supposed to be the most beautiful section.  That should be coming up in a couple of days.

Now, time for a shower and a greasy meal!!

Mt Tamalpais from Public Transit

This post is from 2014 and I never published it.  Someone asked about Public Transit backpacking in the Bay Area so I thought I would finally publish it.  Here it is. This trip would be incredibly easy to travel with the map at this link to Marin Mountain Bike Map. Another good map to have is one of Point Reyes National Seashore as it can easily be added on if you have more time. DISCLAIMER: Always check for trail closures.  While publishing this BLOG I found that there were a few trails that I mention that are currently closed.   Maps are essential for dealing with closures on the fly.

Away we go!

A long time ago, on a BART car far far away…

I was not in the mood for hanging around the apartment twiddling my thumbs waiting for my lovely Dormouse to return from her trip visiting family, so I decided to walk out my front door and go for a little 3-day backpacking trip to one of the Bay Area’s most prominent mountains, Mt. Tamalpais.

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay not  far walking

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay

Located in Marin County, Mt. Tamalpais is surrounded by a plethora of public wild lands.  The Marin Headlands, Mt Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Mt. Tamalpais Watershed all are within less than one day’s walk of the summit.   Mt. Tam as it is known to Bay Area locals, is within view of much of San Francisco and is a fixture of the skyline.  Many people look at the the mountain and think it is far across the bay and requires a painful drive through traffic on the Golden Gate via 19th Ave if you are on the Peninsula or something far worse if you are in the East Bay.  If you live in these areas there is a solution! Make your trip to the mountain a part of your hike.  It is kind of funny how easy it is to get to by transit then walk on foot.  On this and other trips I have made to Mt Tam, I have utilized BART to get to the Embarcadero or Montgomery St stop and then walked from there.

I started the day with another Town Start (the opposite of an alpine start, at 11:30AM) even later than our trip to Henry Coe.  I really had to rush because I knew I had 22 miles to cover to get to Pantoll Ranger Station, where I planned to camp the night (because it is one of the few legal places to camp).  Pantoll is nice because it doesn’t require any reservations and is a purely walk-up campground.

STEP 1: Scenic City Walk to Golden Gate Bridge from Emarcadero or Montgomery St BART Stop (Unlimited Options: Red Inland Option through North Beach, Black Emarcadero Option)

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I made my way to BART and got off at the Montgomery St BART station.  I decided to head down Montgomery St to Columbus St because I could get some much needed shade during the rare 80F “heat wave” that we were experiencing in SF that weekend.  I enjoyed my choice because I got to walk past the Pan America Pyramid and through North Beach, skirting Chinatown.  It is easy to see the walk along Embarcadero as welcoming with its wide sidewalks and views of the waterfront, but this way is enjoyable for people-watching and seeing the interesting neighborhoods.

After reaching the end of Columbus I made my way to the In-N-Out on Jefferson St.  I ordered a milkshake so I didn’t have to wait for the delicious made to order burger and so I could walk and consume calories most easily.  I had that shake polished off before going over the hill to Fort Mason.  Now that’s efficiency!  From Fort Mason I past through Marina Green and Crissy Field.  At Crissy Field I saw many wild flowers in bloom.  If you are going through this area make sure you stay closest to the water, as it is much more scenic.  I’ve been doing this wrong for years.

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

From Crissy Field the signs were easy to follow to the Golden Gate Bridge.

STEP 2: Walk through Marin Headlands (Options Unlimited) No water after water fountain immediately after Golden Gate Bridge

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After crossing the bridge I picked up water from the water fountain at the overlook parking lot.  This was my last water source until Redwood Creek just short of 11 miles from there.  After downing some water and filling my bottles to the brim I walked down the the catwalk underneath the bridge to the Coastal Trail.   Now I was in the Marin Headlands (map).  The Coastal Trail switchbacks up until you reach a junction with the SCA Trail.  From there I took the straightest path to Pantoll passing by Morning Glory Trail (a great trail to Sausalito giving you a bail option on the way back), to Alta Trail, Bobcat, Marincello into Tennessee Valley.  I’m unsure if Tennessee Valley has drinking water, but you probably could find a spigot if you ask nicely at the horse stables there.  This would make the stretch of 11 miles much more tolerable. Hiking out of Tennessee Valley on the Miwok Trail is quite busy with mountain bikers.  I really don’t like this part of the area, but it is Marin County, where Mountain biking started, so I put up with it.  As it approached 6:30pm, close to Route 1, I came out of a grove of coast live oaks into some scrub and to my surprise I saw the stubby tail of a bobcat before it bolted.  This was only the second bobcat I’d seen while hiking hundreds of miles in the Bay Area.  I was elated.  Here I was a few miles from home seeing cool wildlife.  I walked up to where the cat was and found that I had literally scarred the crap out of it.  I’m guessing this is much more common then I had previously thought when watching this video.

Bobcat in Marin Headlands

Much less interesting than a picture of a Bobcat. At least you can see it’s fresh.

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After crossing Route 1 I was in Mt Tamalpais State Park.  I would continue on Miwok Trail climbing up to Pantoll Ranger Station.  After crossing Muir Woods road I went up a combination of Deer Park Fire Road and the Dipsea Trail.  After going up Dipsea, I went over to Stapleveldt Trail to dip down into the upper part of Muir Woods then up to Pantoll (walking through Muir Woods main entrance/redwood grove on the way back helps avoid the crowds if you leave early).  The other longer way on TCC Trail has less elevation loss and gain if you are feeling tired at the end of the day.  I made it to Pantoll at 7:00pm and was pleased to sit down and relax.  I paid for a spot in the hike/bike-in site ($5/person 2014) and was surprised to see another tent there. In the past Dormouse and I have been the only ones at that site.  I set up my tent and hunkered down in the tent away from the wind and ate some cold rehydrated chili.  I was satisfied with the spicy, delicious, and quickly prepared meal.  I spent the rest of the night hanging out with my campsite mates.

Step 3: Mount Tam Walk from Stinson

I woke up around 6:15am.  I got my gear together, ate a granola bar and walked down Steep Ravine Trail.  I found the trail nice with plentiful vegetation, including wonderful California bay trees which provided shade.   A nice change from the long shade-less stretches of the Headlands.

Columbine in Steep Ravine

Columbines were all along the route. Pretty good for low light and using my trekking pole as a monopod (Ultrapod)

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

From Stinson Beach I climbed up Matt Davis Trail (at end of the street with the fire house on the corner.)  It’s a reasonably steep climb up the trail to the Coastal Trail which takes you out of the Douglas Fir/ Oak forest of Matt Davis to coastal grassland.

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the north approach to Mt Tam

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the northern approach to Mt Tam

At Camp Fire Road I took a turn north to cross the road so I could make my way to Cataract Falls.  Having such a dry couple of years, the falls were unfortunately a dud.  But in the wet season the falls are a great site.

Instead of turning back like many do when they reach the falls, I headed east on High Marsh Trail.  High Marsh Trail is great because it crosses a bunch of headwaters for streams going into Alpine Lake.  My enjoyment was multiplied by not seeing one person for several hours until I got on International Trail to Eastcrest Blvd and the Peak.  The north side of Mt Tam is really secluded if you like getting away from the crowds.

View from Mt Tamalpais

View from Mt Tamalpais

Heading down from the top I went down Fern Creek Trail to towards Throckmorton Fire Station.  A brief road walk on Panoramic Highway got me to Panoramic Trail which is just a path next to the road.  From there I could take the Ocean View and Lost Trail back down into Muir Woods.  While in Muir Woods I decided to go up Fern Creek Trail (yes the same creek, different trail.)  I was very surprised by how scenic and tranquil it was (and I was there on a free weekend!).  Definitely, make the extra effort to go up it if you have the time.  All my pictures really do not capture the scene, unfortunately.  Racing through the crowds I made my way to Muir Woods Road to catch the Miwok Trail back out to the Headlands.  I actually misread the map thinking that there was no coastal escape from Mt Tamalpais State Park to the Headlands (this can be done by taking Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach and road walking to Green Gulch Trail).

Mountain Lion Kill

As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago!

As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago!  I nervously walked away from the kill thinking at least the cat probably isn’t hungry anymore.  After that scare I made a bee-line for the coast to hike a different trail from the way in and enjoyed the clear views.

In the morning after another windy night, I went into the Tennessee Valley to get some much needed freshwater.  From there I continued down the Coastal Trail past old army batteries through Rodeo Beach on my way back to the Golden Gate.

Along the way I passed a sign for Slacker Ridge a trail so small it is barely noticeable on the map.

Slacker Ridge: I'm surprised no one has mentioned it to me

Slacker Ridge: I’m surprised no one has mentioned it to me

After Slacker Ridge, the Golden Gate and BART were my destination.  I crossed the bridge, taking time to look out for sea life in the cold waters below.  I spotted a few sea lions here and there.  In the past we have seen porpoises and diving pelicans.  Walking down the Embarcadero was an excellent conclusion to my trip through the Marin Wilderness.

Other Extension Options:

Marin Municipal Water District Land  has tons of trails that can link Mt Tam to Point Reyes

Point Reyes is huge and you don’t have to use your imagination to hike here.

Other transit Options:

Marin Stagecoach from Tam Junction to Stinson Beach (Base of

Golden Gate Transit can significantly reduce your San Francisco Hiking

The Historic F Line can drop you off at Fisherman’s Wharf from Embarcadero BART

The Ferry to Sausalito can drop you off at BART after a walk down Morning Sun Trail into town

Do you have any Bay Area backpacking trips using public transit?  Let me know in the comments.

Ixe Axe Training In Tahoe!

Since our last post, where I had foot pain issues at Henry Coe State Park, we were invited by some friends, Don and Jenny, to an Equinox celebration at Big Basin State Park, one of our favorite parks in the Bay Area.  We went both to be social and celebrate with friends with a more typical car camping experience, and also to try again to hike a fair distance to test our endurance.  I am happy to report that although our GPS died, and we do not know the exact mileage, we believe that we hiked somewhere between 25 and 30 miles without crippling foot pain.  That is not to say that my feet did not hurt, but I didn’t feel like I could barely walk without the aid of crutches (my alternate use of trekking poles).

That was last weekend.  This weekend, we traveled to Lake Tahoe in hopes of finding a snowy hill to throw ourselves down.  We must thank our friend Lubko who invited us to stay with him in a cute house by the lake.  Also, our friend Don graciously lent us his Honda Element with snow tires and a set of chains to attach to them just in case.  I don’t think my little Honda Civic would have been able to make it through the snow.  But we were lucky.  We arrived in good weather, and left in fairly good weather, but while we were there, several inches of fresh snow fell.

Lubko pointed us in the direction of a snowy hill that he thought would be a good candidate for practicing self arrest.  It was typically used as a sledding hill.  Dirt Stew and I got out of the car and donned our winter regalia along with the shoes that we would be wearing on the trail (trail runners), and micro spikes, which we bought to hike in snow.  Then we took our ice axes, and climbed up the hill.  Half way up, I stopped and with my ice axe in hand, threw myself at the hill.  I simply sunk into the deep powder, not even sliding an inch.  Dirt Stew joined me, and we climbed to the top of the hill and threw ourselves down several times without sliding an inch.  We laughed and wondered if we couldn’t slide down this hill, how we would be able to practice.  Lubko told us that if we went further up and to the left, the hill got a bit steeper up towards some rocks.

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We trekked over to the steeper slope.  Our feet fell through several feet of snow with each step, and sometimes we would fall into a particularly deep patch up to our waists.  When we got to the steeper area, and this was certainly steeper than the sledding hill, we decided to roll down the hill on our butts first to sort of pack down the snow.  This really helped out, and soon enough we had a sort of track of packed snow in which to practice.

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There are many ways in which you can fall, and each one must be practiced.  On your stomach with your legs facing down the mountain, on your back with your legs facing down the mountain, head first both on your back and on your stomach, and of course you must practice both right and left handed.  The technique, which we watched many times on youtube videos is to wind up on your stomach with your knees digging into the snow, and one hand on the head of the ice ace digging into the snow, and the other one holding the other end of the ice axe close to your body.  No matter which way you fall, you want to end up in this position.

We found that the hardest thing was to maneuver ourselves by digging the ice axe into the snow and spinning our bodies around.  I really think, however, that this was made particularly difficult by the fact that the snow was very soft.  In fact, we decided to run an experiment and see how much longer it took us to self arrest without using an ice axe at all, and in fact it was not much longer.  The ice axe simply did not offer much traction against such powdery snow.

 Watch this video where I practice a head-first self arrest.  My feet should probably be further up off the ground.  That was something I had trouble with.

We will certainly be practicing again next time we find snow (which is probably going to be Washington at the start of the PCT).  I think it is important to practice in many different conditions, specifically different types of snow.

Other things we learned during this trip was that short hiking socks are not great in snow.  The snow pushes your pants and long underwear up and leave your ankle exposed to the snow.  Also, I think it is fair to assume that our feet will be soaking wet at all times.  We intend on wearing trail runners, which are pretty much the opposite of waterproof.  But at least they dry quickly.  If anyone has any further suggestions on how to keep your feet at least somewhat warm while hiking through snow, I would be very interested to hear.  During this weekend, I played in the snow with both my trail runners and some “waterproof” boots.  The “waterproof” boots kept my feet toasty warm and dry for an hour or two, and once they got wet, they remained that way until…. well, actually they’re still wet.  I’m toying with the idea of getting more substantial gaiters for the snow, but I’m not sure how much that will really help.

Once we were satisfied with our self arrest practice, we enjoyed the winter blizzard from the comfort of the heated indoors.  It was so peaceful and relaxing to watch the snow flakes fall and accumulate on the trees around us.  We haven’t had the “pleasure” of witnessing snow falling with such rigor in several years.  I know everyone on the East Coast is probably groaning right about now.  But in the morning, with a fresh blanket of snow covering everything except the blue Lake Tahoe, it felt like we must have traveled straight into Narnia.

Beautiful hike in the snow near Lake Tahoe

Beautiful hike in the snow near Lake Tahoe

We delayed our departure to wait for the snow to melt somewhat, and took a gorgeous hike amongst the snow laden pine trees.  Our upper bodies were totally sore from the couple hours of ice axe training.  In particular our triceps, lats, shoulders and pecs were sore.  Goes to show how much upper body training we ever do.  After struggling to shake some soap around in a bottle he was trying to clean out due to sore arm muslces, Dirt Stew announced that he was very happy we wouldn’t need to self arrest over and over again on the PCT.  Hopefully.