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: 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!!