Date: Sat Aug 28, 1999 1:19 am
: TR: A week on the PCT and Tahoe Rim Trail
Well, since I have to go to Montana tomorrow, I guess
I don't actually have time to make this trip report any shorter.
Enjoy. My mom says we might get some part of this published in
the Tahoe Tribune. We'll see. I'll be on the road for a couple
of weeks (alas, not much backcountry likely this time). I'll read
any replies/comments/followups/questions in mid-September.
Summary: This was my first solo backpacking trip — a week's walk,
from Sonora Pass, along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and then the
Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), and on down to my parents' house in South Lake
Tahoe (SLT). I started on Sunday 1 August 1999, got "home" the
following Saturday afternoon.
Highlights: The headwaters of the East Fork of the Carson, from the
saddle down a half mile or a mile; views over the Dardanelles and
surrounding volcanic peaks; Golden Canyon; the spring at Asa Lake; the
views from the saddle west of Tryon Peak and south of Noble Lake; the
convoluted volcanic peaks, siblings Reynolds and Raymond; the cool ridges
above Eagle Creek; the trailworkers I saw a couple of times near there;
the bald eagle seen from above Upper Blue Lake; the chairmen; the
canyon below Forestdale Divide; the lightened pack after Carson Pass!;
the view of Tahoe from the high end of the Upper Truckee drainage; my
first parts of the TRT (even in the hail), between the PCT and past
Round Lake; the several nice MTBers I spoke with near Mr Toad's Wild
Ride; the views south from between Freel Meadows and Armstrong Pass;
the newly-built trail around the Fountain Place; my parents' front door.
Preparation: My parents live in South Lake Tahoe, and I have done a
few mountain bike rides nearby, so that I have some knowledge of the
trails that start right behind their house — some of which climb up
to the south rim of the Tahoe Basin, and meet the Tahoe Rim Trail.
I had the idea earlier this summer to do a backpacking trip and have
it end at their house. I first thought to start at Carson Pass,
then maybe Ebbetts, and finally settled on Sonora Pass. The
tentative plans I had made for a partner to come along didn't quite
work out (he had to return to Ireland), so I went by myself — my
first solo backpacking trip. Apple's profit sharing check came
along just in time for me to get a new, lightweight 20 degree
sleeping bag, a modern light tent (REI sololite), a water filter,
and a water bag with a long sipping hose. I spent some evenings
looking at maps and choosing likely distances. I've done day hikes
up to about 18 miles, so I figured I could average somewhere around
12 miles a day. I used the Pacific Crest Trail Association's web
site trip calculator to help estimate, and I marked some likely
camping spots. I made copies of the series of maps that showed my
planned route, and left copies with my wife and my parents. A
friend insisted that I carry her cell phone, just in case. And I
brought a ski pole, for extra balance and to keep my knees from
hurting too much.
Saturday 31 July:
Finished packing, and drove from Ben Lomond up to my parents' house,
buying a few final supplies on the way. Had a nice visit.
Sunday 1 August:
We got up early, had a big breakfast at the local Denny's, and drove down
US-395 to CA-108, turned west. Highway 108 stays low for a while, around
7000 feet, but then wham! gets very steep as it climbs up to Sonora Pass
at about 9600. Started walking about 10:45 am or so. The Mark Twain
quote at the start of the journal that Deborah gave me to bring along
seemed quite appropriate: "... there ain't no [other] way to find out
whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them." So,
well, I don't hate me yet! Saw three or four people in the first mile.
Made it up the climb up the volcanic south slopes of Sonora Peak,
about 900 feet above Sonora Pass. There are a couple of somewhat
challenging spots along the trail here: a snowbank to climb over,
and a stretch of very narrow trail tread traversing a very steep
slope of volcanic pebbles. I was happy to get past the saddle at
10,500', the highest spot I would walk over on the entire trip. The
great views of the whole Sonora Pass area from this stretch of trail
are dominated by Leavitt Peak, just south of Hwy 108. I think I
could see the "Turtle Back" rock, west of Relief Lake in the Emigrant
Wilderness, which my son Nik and I had seen more closely from a
backpacking trip last year.
From that saddle, the PCT descends above Wolf Lake, and crosses a
willow thicket with some of the most brilliant deep blue lupines
I've ever seen. Maybe it's due to the volcanic soil. Took a break
near here, and five people passed by — "the chairmen" (two
backpackers with lawn chairs and extra camp shoes strapped to the
backs of their packs), a couple of day hikers, and a single young
PCT through-hiker. Those turned out to be everyone I saw on the
trail for the rest of that day.
Headed on down the beautiful granitic bowl at the headwaters area at the
southern end of the canyon of the East Fork of the Carson River (EFCR
henceforth). Some of the sections of trail here had a profusion of
colorful wildflowers, and large stretches were low willow bushes
interspersed with granite boulders. There's a pretty cascading waterfall
high on the west side of the canyon here. During one stop, I had a
hummingbird fly straight at me, stopping only 2 or 3 feet away once it
realized I was alive. The open bowl of granite and low bushes gives way
to a more forested, U-shaped canyon, with some interesting jointed
granite cliffs on the east side. A few times during the afternoon, I
heard a distant boom or two, but hadn't a clue as to what it was. The
weather was clear and beautiful, in the 70's. I passed the single
through-hiker, who was stopped for a break. Some ways down the canyon, I
saw the chairmen's tent set up, with the lawn chairs next to it.
I was getting somewhat concerned at my slow speed, having planned eight
miles for this day. I stopped for a long rest break at about 5:40, at a
small campsite right by the trail. I was not quite sure where I was, but
there was a smaller trail marked with a rock cairn or two, which I
thought could be the unmaintained trail that the maps show descending the
rest of the EFCR canyon. I decided to have dinner here (freeze-dried
Mandarin Orange Chicken), then walk on a ways until I was more certain of
my location. Though it tasted good, I was only able to eat about a third
or less of the "2-servings" dinner.
I left that dinner site at 6:35, and started walking again,
refreshed from the long break and the dinner. The trail soon
started climbing, and I was relieved to see it do so, since it meant
that I had had dinner at the trail junction, and I had indeed gotten
as far as I had planned for the day, and any more hiking I did
tonight would put me a bit ahead of my plan, and give me a bit more
leeway for later in the week. The trail junction is at 8100'
Though the slope is steep, the climb was pretty gentle, with long
switchbacks, which cross a steep, cascading stream three times.
Somewhere along here, the through-hiker passed me again, moving
pretty darn fast, and told me that he was indeed headed for Canada.
There are some nice views south from here, of the saddle at the head
of the EFCR canyon. The climb levels off after about a mile, at
about 8800'. It was getting near sunset, so I started looking for a
spot to sleep. Walked maybe another half-mile before I found a
decent looking spot, around 8:00pm. Sort of a stealth camp, I guess;
nowhere near any water. Had the tent up by 8:35, and then it took
another half hour to hang the extra food that wouldn't fit in the
bear box. "Better eat more tomorrow so the rest of the food will
Saw some awesome alpenglow on the cliffs east of the EFCR — some of
the peaks enhanced by their already-red volcanic rock. I did some
quick estimating — maybe 10 miles or so, in barely under 10 hours
including stops. "Hope that improves as the pack lightens." 9:30
lights out, 50 degrees in the tent. Hadn't seen a trace of any
mosquitoes all day.
Monday 2 August:
I awoke at 6am, 40 degrees in the tent; found the food unmolested.
There were mosquitoes out there this morning. Hit the trail about
8:30. Saw one guy at about 9:00, headed south from Ebbetts Pass to
Tuolomne Meadows or Yosemite Valley. Got to the first Boulder Lake
turnoff sooner than I had expected to, and wondered whether I could make
it to Noble Lake that day. (I thought Asa Lake might be a fall-back
spot. My plan said I should camp somewhere along one of the fingers of
Wolf Creek, two or three miles before Asa Lake.) From the Boulder Lake
view, a short climb leads to a nice spot with views of several volcanic
peaks and ridges, including dominant Stanislaus Peak, over 11,200'.
Around 10:20, I stopped for a fifty minute break at a tributary of
Boulder Creek, to filter some water, boil some more for tea, eat a
bowl of cereal for breakfast, and prepare for the 900 foot climb to
come. Along that climb, there were more views of the distant EFCR
saddle and the closer Stanislaus Peak. The climb tops out at about
9500', where there is an imposing andesite lump, a big pile of
reddish, squarish rocks. More level now, the trail passes a pretty
little meadow/lake, some beautiful meadows near Golden Lake, and
then goes on into Golden Canyon. Saw a hawk along here, and a guy
with a solar-powered AM/FM radio, who said he'd had two lung
transplants, but was out there hiking for a whole month. Made me
think of singing David Wilcox' "Farthest Shore": "... all the
things that make a life worth living, that only come to those who
dive right in." After climbing up out of Golden Canyon, I saw some
cool white Rhyolite outcrops right at the saddle separating Golden
Canyon from Murray Canyon.
Mid-afternoon, I was getting pretty tired; I mixed up some Gatorade
powder and boy, did that feel like something my body needed. It
helped a *lot*. The trail traverses across the top of Murray
Canyon, staying pretty high, then it climbs over another ridge and
enters a huge bowl that holds the several forks of Wolf Creek,
flowing down from the cliffs and ramparts of Arnot Peak, which forms
the southern and western sides of this bowl. As it crosses the bowl,
the trail drops from 9050' to below 8400', and the tendons at the
top of my left calf, which had been kinda sore for a while, started
complaining more loudly. This made the descending even slower than
the climbing. Heard some more distant booms today, still didn't
figure it out.
At 5:45, I stopped to cook up some dinner, next to one of the Wolf
Creek tributaries. Couscous and veggies, this time I separated the
dry stuff so I only used half the (2-serving) couscous and a third
of the vegetables. This worked, but still ended up being more than
I could eat. I was thinking that I had brought twice as much food
as I would be able to eat. My nice dinner spot had a view across the
creek of a meadow with lupines and paintbrush, and some scattered red
fir trees. Was done and on the trail again by 6:40, with more than a
mile still to go before Asa Lake, now my day's goal. My original
plan for this day had me camping right about here where I ended up
ACK! I didn't read my topos quite carefully enough — didn't realize
that the rest of the way to Asa Lake involved a couple of fairly
decent climbs. Got a shadowy photo of a neat little waterfall that
cascades over some squarish volcanic blocks. Turned off of the PCT
to climb the steep trail to the lake, and made camp at the near
(western) end of the lake. Arrived 7:50, had the tent up and extra
food (dammit!) bagged and hung (badly) by 8:40. So I had only seen
two people all day, cool. My hope was to get past Ebbetts Pass the
next day, and drop off (throw away) a bunch of food so that the rest
would fit in my bear box. I guess I walked about 13 miles today.
Tuesday 3 August:
Awake at 6:00, but didn't really start moving until 7:30. Broke camp
and packed up by around 8:45, moving pretty slowly. Walked around the
lake to its east side, where the map showed a spring. Found Asa Lake's
real campsites over there, just above the awesome spring next to the
lake's outlet creek. Filtered two liters or so, made some tea, and
ate some trail mix for breakfast. I really got started about 9:55.
Today's route starts with an 800 foot climb, from 8530' to 9340', at a
saddle just east of Tryon Peak and south of Noble Lake. The climb was
not too bad, traversing across some steep, gurgling, wildflower-laden
meadows, and through some sparse forest. Had some more Gatorade as I got
to the top. The views from here are awesome, encompassing almost the
entire week's hike: south as far as the Dardanelles, north to the south
edge of the Tahoe Rim (around Freel Peak, I think). Closer, you can see
one of the Highland Lakes, across a flattish, forested valley.
Today's quote in the journal says "Travel is the most private of
pleasures." I crossed out "travel" and wrote "solo backpacking".
After the trouble my left calf tendons had been giving me, I got out
my first aid kit and took an Advil. That helped a lot — I actually
enjoyed the descent into upper Noble Canyon. Saw one guy by a tent
at Noble Lake, then nine more in various groups as I descended the
gnarly switchbacks below that lake, down into Noble Canyon proper.
A steep climb brought me west out of Noble Canyon, to a saddle where
I saw a family of 5 people, 3 dogs, and 2 llamas. Nice views north
from there. There remained about a relatively level mile before I
would get to Ebbetts Pass.
GRR, disappointment!! It turns out that the PCT crosses Highway 4
about a mile away from the Noble Lake trailhead; and I didn't feel
like going that extra two miles out of my way; and at the PCT crossing
itself, there are no trash cans to deposit half of the food, no
fresh water, and no normal outhouse. I crossed at about 4pm and
I got some photos of the incongruous American flag that flies from
the top of Ebbetts Peak. The trail climbs around the peak; a mile or
two later, after seeing a few more groups of day hikers, a small
snowfield, and another small lake or two, I stopped at about 5, near
the Kinney Lakes, to make some dinner. I was pretty spent, and this
would finish off my water. And it was still more than a mile to get to
the spot in the Raymond Meadows where I had planned to spend the night.
I could see thunder clouds in the valley to the northeast, with rain
falling steadily from some of them. I hoped it would stay over there!
I heard plenty of thunder. I finally figured out what the booms had
been, that I had heard the first couple of days. Duh.
A guy walked by, said his stove had quit on him, so he'd have to cut
his trip shorter than planned, to end it at Ebbetts Pass. He was
carrying the whole PCT guidebook.
Scared up a deer who couldn't have been 10 feet away from me, just off of
the trail. Shortly after that, I stopped and had a quick dinner — I was
so exhausted that I couldn't eat very much of it — and was on the trail
again by 5:25. Still, the food did help. I found a small creeklet and
filtered some water.
I had been seeing several kinds of butterflies the last couple of days:
blue ones, some black and orange and yellow, some orange with black
spots, and some beautiful little iridescent mother-of-pearl ones. I had
also seen a few snow plants along the way. These are all red, contain no
clorophyll, subsist only on decaying matter from other plants. They
always make me think how persistent life can be. "Think different!"
Walked out onto Raymond Meadows, a rather dryish, bush-covered slope
just east of Reynolds Peak. The peak (more like a series of peaks) was
pretty awesome to look at, a very complex volcanic ridge with caves,
spires, and convoluted crests and gullies. And the views east over
Carson Valley were pretty dramatic, with the various columns of
thunderheads and visible rain. I saw a few dozen cows grazing, below
and east of me, and heard some goofy recorded cowbell music. The
approaching thunderstorm was getting close enough that I got out my
poncho and put it in my belly bag. (A fanny pack whose straps would
interfere with my main pack's hip belt if I wore it as normal, so
instead I would hook the fanny pack through the big pack's straps, so
it hung across my chest and belly.) When the rain finally started, it
was about half hail; by the time I got my poncho on, it had stopped.
Saw some pretty good rainbow fragments, got some pretty bad photos of
Looking at the topo map, I saw what looked like a broad, flattish
bench above Eagle Creek. As this was a mile or two farther along,
I decided that it would be a decent camp spot. I descended into Eagle
Creek's canyon, crossed the creek, and followed the trail downstream.
While crossing one of the tributaries, I saw what I think was a couple
of bear tracks. I was hoping I wouldn't see a bear. The ridge north
of Eagle Creek's canyon has some interesting rock formations along the
top. One of them looked to me like a giant prairie dog. Right around
8 pm, I came to a flat bench that looked like it would indeed work as
a campsite. I felt much better this evening — thank goodness for
Advil and Gatorade.
Total for the day (egads, I was still counting such things) was 25
people, 6 dogs, two llamas, 1 deer, 2 bear tracks. *Still* had food
that I had to hang, damn! All the setup (*with* the rain fly this
time!) was done by 9. The tent sure was warmer with the rain fly.
(Without the fly, most of the top of the tent is just mesh.)
Songs today: "We may never pass this way again" (Seals & Crofts);
"Barefoot Boy" (Harry Chapin) ("... He knows he'll never pass this way
again"); and "Take It Easy" (Jackson Brown/Eagles) ("... but we will
never be here again"). And some David Wilcox, Cliff Eberhardt, Nanci
Griffith, Cheryl Wheeler. I must have been feeling better.
Slept pretty well, protected by the spirit of the giant prairie dog.
Wednesday 4 August:
I awoke at 6:30, was moving by 7:00. Big Duh: Last night, since I
already had the big poncho out, I started using it as a porch for the
tent. Nice! Today's plan was to go up north out of the Eagle Creek
drainage, down to Pennsylvania Creek (get water), and then climb up
along/around Reynolds & Raymond Peaks' east and north sides.
I had gotten a couple of blisters on the right side of my left foot
(side of the heel, and side of the big toe). So this morning I got
the molefoam and put some on those two spots.
For the past couple of days, I had been amazed at the variety and
prevalence of volcanic features in this part of the Sierra. My
Eagle Creek campsite was forested (firs) with some low pinemat
manzanita for ground cover, and normal forest duff. But 20 yards
away there was a 5-foot-high lump of fused rock that looked like
it could have spewed from a volcano yesterday. Eagle Creek was 100
yards away, and 60 feet below the side ridge I was on.
As I was stirring, two rangers came along, she carrying a six-foot-long
flexible, two-person saw, and he carrying a MacLeod, another trail tool,
and a medium sized fanny pack with their camping gear in it. She asked
me about trees down on the PCT between Sonora Pass and Ebbetts, saying
that they hadn't been there since three years ago, when they had had
to clear about 60 trees from the trails. I said I thought there were
maybe 8 or 10 there now. They also warned me about a real tricky/iffy
section of trail along the north face of Raymond Peak.
I had brought along a tiny (vending machine size) bag of Famous Amos
chocolate chip cookies, normally a favorite of mine, figuring I would
be ravenous for that sort of thing. I only finished them this morning.
Had had two small squares of the big Swiss dark chocolate bar I had
brought, usually a big treat for me. This time, it tasted mostly like
dirt. Weird. What I did crave was beer.
Hit the trail around 9:00 am. Climbed out of Eagle Creek canyon, and
started crab-walking sideways down from there, to make my blisters hurt
less (the molefoam was also helping). An hour of steep descending
brought me to Pennsylvania Creek, where I filtered some water.
Saw some Columbine, with their complex red flowers. They were one of
my cousin Dana's favorite flowers :-(. One of my thoughts for this
trip was to look at everything and see it for her, and hope that in
some way she could see it too.
Around noon, I saw the rangers again, resting from doing some work
on a steep, narrow bit of trail. She warned me again about the iffy
spot a couple of miles ahead.
Took a Gatorade break just past Raymond Canyon Creek. Some climbing
took me over a ridge to where I could finally see the section that
must be where the iffy spot was. Started descending again, at about
2:30, and passed the Raymond Lake trail junction. There are three
long switchbacks /\// that descend the north side of this ridge,
just before the traverse across the steep north side of Raymond Peak.
They probably add up to a mile and a half. There were some more
thunderheads building up, and I could hear some not very distant
thunder. A mountain biker, illegally poaching this trail, came by,
politely asked me if he could pass, and said something about hoping
to get off the trail before the rain started. As I limped down the
trail and watched him coast effortlessly down the switchbacks, I was
sure wishing I had a mountain bike with me (and that they were legal
here). Saw three day hikers climbing toward Raymond Lake. Heard
lots of thunder.
I finally got to the traverse, and walked it carefully. The iffy
spot was only about 8 feet long, and wasn't *that* bad, especially
with my ski pole, but the exposure at that spot could be somewhat
intimidating. I hope the rangers got a chance to make it safer.
I couldn't imagine doing that bit of trail on a mountain bike!
Took a rest break shortly after that, and saw the chairmen coming
by again, so I chatted with them a bit. Two more day hikers, with
a cocker spaniel, came by before I was ready to walk on.
As it leaves the steep traverse, the trail provides distant views of a
full, cascading waterfall on what might be the West Fork of the Carson
River. Then it descends a little, to some level, forested hiking near
the Paradise Valley trail junction. As I descended, the rain started
(maybe 3:30?), and it continued for 45 minutes or so. I found odd dry
spots in the trail, and would stand there awhile, until the mosquitoes
found me. Applied some DEET. Encountered a troop of six teenaged boy
scouts and two adults, the boys actually singing out loud "99 bottles of
beer" (they were down to 87 or so).
I passed the chairmen's very nice campsite in the rain, next to a
full creek just before the ridge before WET MEADOWS Lake. Hear that
alarm bell? Yecch! The whole next section of trail, about three or
so miles, to Border Ruffian Flat, was mosquito HELL and I very soon
ran out of DEET. At one semi-clearing near the Wet Meadows trailhead,
I tried to eat a small snack — the fresh cucumber (ok but somewhat
bitter) and a bite of gorp and a fruit leather. It helped a little.
Racing across the festering hellhole with pond after brown, stagnant
pond wasn't much fun and took a lot out of me. I even discovered
later that one nearby lake is named Hellhole Lake. My mood wasn't
helped much by the lack of signs saying what roads or trails the
PCT was crossing along here, nor by the fact that I had just left
the area covered by the nice, detailed USGS topo, and was now on a
map whose scale I wasn't quite grokking — I had expected that I
might make it past Carson Pass today, but it was much farther than
I had thought.
I finally found a relatively mosquito-free ridge to check the map,
and decided as I stopped that I would not be able to go any farther
that evening. It was about 6:30. I mixed up the rest of the
Gatorade :-(, and then felt enough better to set up the tent and
make dinner (half of the package of Au Gratin potatoes). I surprised
myself by actually eating almost all of it. I hung food from a high
rock nearby. I sure was hoping I could *finally* get rid of the
extra food on Thursday! With only a cup of water left, I would have
to do some filtering pretty early in the morning. Maybe even before
I get to have some tea! It started raining again just as I finished
eating, so the rest of the cleanup was pretty hurried. Still, I
felt much better having some real food in me for a change. I was all
done and in the tent very early, just before eight pm.
The molefoam seemed to be working (my blisters didn't hurt any more)
but the tendons in my left leg were still causing a big slowdown on
all of the downhills.
Songs today included several songs that mention rivers flowing
into the sea, which I found ironic since all of the while, I was
crossing rivers that just flow out to the Nevada desert!
Thursday 5 August:
Packed up and off by 9 am, hoping to find water before having to
climb Elephant's Back. I saw a deer, then a grouse doing the
"injured bird" trick. Passed the Blue Lakes trailhead and finally
saw a sign: ten miles to Carson Pass. Crap, I thought it was only
four or five. Got water just above a dirt road crossing — this dirt
road was about twice as wide as Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass! While
filtering, I saw a few trucks and SUVs go by, and then the chairmen
stopped to chat a bit. Moving again at 10 am.
Boy, my lack of grok for the scale change in the different maps
was pretty substantial! I had read the map as showing some quick
little short climbs and traverses, with the Elephant's Back being
the biggie. Well, it turns out that the climb up "The Nipple" was
more than I was expecting. When they say "Pacific CREST Trail",
they take "crest" seriously! I could see the chairmen climbing along,
about 20 minutes ahead of me. The Nipple is a rounded volcanic
mound with, well, a small protrusion right at the top. The whole
thing is very rocky, with some tiny wildflowers and some corn
lilies on it. Very open, expansive views. The trail tops out at
around 9300' here, above Upper Blue Lake. There are nice views of
the Blue Lakes, Lost Lakes, and the whole Reynolds/Raymond volcanic
crest to the south. At one point, I saw a bald eagle! soaring
several hundred feet below me, above Upper Blue Lake. It circled
in the breezy updraft, and within a couple of minutes was higher
than I was, and nearly a mile away. Awesome.
Saw a few people as I followed the trail down from The Nipple, to
cross the road between the Lost Lakes and Upper Blue Lakes. I also
saw the tracks from a single irresponsible dirt (motor-) bike rider,
ground deeply into the trail and off of the trail. I stopped for
some food ("breakfast") near the Lost Lakes, at about 12:30.
Climbed a sparsely forested hillside, towards the Forestdale
Divide. The trail climbs near another volcanic outcrop, then
crosses the Forestdale Divide road and hits a trail junction for
a trail that goes down into Summit City Canyon. Near that junction,
I saw a couple of equestrians over on the road. Started down from
the divide, into a very pretty canyon with steep granite walls, a
bit of forest, some meadows and wildflowers, a couple of pretty
lakes. Classic granite Sierra. The equestrians came by and we
chatted a bit (one said he was a horse-shoer).
About halfway down the canyon, the trail starts up toward the
dreaded Elephant's Back. The first half of the climb out of there is
long but enjoyable, with nice views, and surrounded by low bushes.
It's amazing how intense the smell of sage is when you've been out
walking for a few days. Finally getting up onto the ridge gave me
a view of the nastiest part of the Elephant's Back climb — I could
see two snowfields I would have to cross, and the steeply climbing
trail between them, and the even steeper and narrower use-trail
that climbs up and over the second, more dangerous looking patch
Due east from the first of these snowfields, there is a distant mountain
range that I thought *must* be California's White Mountains — their
lightness very much in contrast to the dark rock of the volcanic Sierra
farther south. (A later map check said that these must be some other
range instead — the Whites are much farther south.) To the north, I
could also see the mountains around Freel Peak and Armstrong Pass.
I was hoping to make it there by the end of the next day.
The rest of Elephant's Back was grueling and a bit scary, and the
painful (left leg tendons again) descent to Carson Pass wasn't much
better. A missing sign near Frog Lake had me pretty livid, since I
wasn't sure that the trail I ended up on would go to the ranger
station instead of the parking lot below it (which turned out not
to be as far away from the station as I had thought). Well, that
turned out ok, and I went right out to the ranger station. Stopped,
rested, ate a small can of tuna (wow, did that taste great!) and
half a Cliff bar, and threw away about EIGHT POUNDS of food. Good
God, did that feel good! I called Deborah and I called my parents,
to let them know I was doing ok.
After resting an hour or so, I felt a lot better; and my pack felt
*so* much lighter that I decided I *could* make it over into the Upper
Truckee drainage that night, and so I did just that. As I reached the
saddle and got my first view of Lake Tahoe itself, I felt the most
intense wave of relief pass over me, along with the thought "I can
do this! I'm going to make it!" I descended into the wide open
grassy horse pasture land, and found a nice, flat, well-used campsite
in a small copse of firs. I was set up and in the tent quickly —
NO MORE FOOD HANGING! Finally!
Wrote up some notes at "Last Light": "Well, I guess I'm off of
'white man's time' now — my watch stopped."
Songs today: "Future Games" (Fleetwood Mac); "Schoolgirls" (Cheryl
Wheeler). Saw a ton of people near Carson Pass, didn't count.
Inventory: out of DEET, nearly out of sunscreen, one flashlight dead,
no more Gatorade. Wondering whether two more days would get me to my
Friday 6 August:
Lots of wind and rain most of the night, including a ferocious gust that
blew a bunch of dirt into the tent. I slept uneasily. Up at, um, who
knows? I filtered some water, had tea and a Cliff bar for breakfast, but
it was too windy for me to get the stove lit again for the (freeze-dried)
egg-thing that I wanted to eat. I broke camp, and headed off. I noticed
that my watch was going again, but had no idea how much time it had lost.
I was guessing about an hour. The TRT turnoff came along soon, as did
some more rain and hail. But that didn't dampen my spirits this day, as
the lighter pack felt good, the poncho kept me dry enough, and the beauty
of this valley and this trail were undiminished. I stopped and admired
the views of Round Lake, during 10 or 15 minutes of the hardest rain. My
route would be on the TRT from here until Armstrong Pass, which I hoped I
could get to this day. The fact that there would be a substantial climb,
from 7200' at the Big Meadow trailhead, to 9500' above Freel Meadow, made
this an uncertain proposition. Fallback locations would be near Freel
Meadow, or Tucker Flat (the top of Mr. Toad's).
The nice trail descended past Round Lake, then passed a couple
of junctions before making a steep climb over a ridge. Then it
headed down some more, past a pretty little meadow. I cooked and
ate (half of) the eggy scramble thing, and it tasted pretty good.
I thought I should be able to make it across Highway 89, at the
Big Meadow trailhead, by "noon". Heard some more funky recorded
cowbell noises. Was hoping the weather would clear up.
The trail from here down is pretty steep and thickly forested. I saw a
few small groups of backpackers (asked one of them what time it was,
and reset my watch — indeed, it had only been off by 40 minutes). Got
down to Big Meadow, which was dotted with many dozens of cows, and I
had to watch my step carefully as the trail crossed the meadow. The
cows stared at me. By now, the weather was clearing, and it would
stay clear but cool the rest of the day.
Another steep, rocky descent from Big Meadow brought me to the nice
trailhead. Interesting interpretive displays and maps. Across the
parking lot, and start on up. The trail from here to above Luther
Pass is wonderful — a gentle, twisty climb mostly in the shady
forest. Above the junction with the trail from Luther Pass, I stopped
at a small creek for my last filtering — I didn't know whether I
would see any more water that I could use, until I was down past
the Fountain Place. A couple of mountain bikers happened by (on
their way to Mr. Toad's), and we chatted a bit.
Near the top, this trail has a few spots with really nice views of
Lake Tahoe. Done with the first half of the day's intended climb,
I dropped to Tucker Flat and rested a bit. Saw another mountain
biker roll down to the (Saxon Creek trail) junction but he said his
buddy was moving slowly, and he turned around and rode back up to
see how he was doing.
I got going again, and climbed the three more miles, up to Freel
Meadow. I started seeing some more dirt motorbike tracks, from
one or two pretty incompetent riders. These idiots didn't seem to
be able to stay on the trail, and left inch deep, five inch wide
scars along (and off of) much of the trail from here to Fountain Place.
I had remembered Freel Meadows from a previous (July 4) trip as being
a riot of amazing colors of wildflowers. This time, it was not quite
so spectacular, but still a pretty meadow with some lupine and a
sparse few other flowers. I was still feeling fine, so I continued
around the meadow and up the open slopes beyond. I had been saving
my last photo shot to see if I could get a good view south towards
the saddle next to Tryon Peak, where I had been on Tuesday. It was
fairly cloudy, though, and the picture didn't come out great.
Climbed the rest of the way up to about 9500 feet, where the trail
crosses through a flat, sandy area with a lot of potential campsites.
Still moving, still not ready to stop for the day, I started
descending from here down toward Armstrong Pass. This descent was
much longer and much more of an elevation change (700 feet) than I
had remembered from the one time I had ridden my bike up here with
Pat and Lisa. Must have been anoxia :-). My left knee tendons
were still problematic, but it was nice to have done part of that
descent Friday — otherwise, Saturday's descent would have been the
entire 3200 feet down to lake (Tahoe) level!
About 7:30, I wrote "WOO HOO!" in my little book. I had made it to
Armstrong Pass! "*That* is a day's walk!" There was only about
eight miles left now, all downhill, to my parents' house. I took
my time, wrote a bit, and re-read the my notes, the re-runs of the
trip so far, until I got a chill about 7:50. (I was still at 8800
feet, here.) Had the tent up by 8:00. Guess I'm getting used to
how to do that. Saw an awesome sunset, northwest through the trees.
Songs today: Austin Lounge Lizards, Don McLean, more David Wilcox,
Saturday 7 August:
Woke up early but stayed in the sack for a long time, since it was
still under 40 degrees in the tent. By 8:30, it had warmed up to
50 inside, so I got moving. It was a bit breezy but fairly clear,
so I figured hail wasn't likely today. Time for tea, if I could get
the stove lit in this breeze. Decided to try to boil two cups of
water, so I could have tea and a hot breakfast. This took forever,
and as I lifted the pot lid at one point to see if it was boiling,
I dumped the whole thing. Very frustrating. So I tried again, with
just a single cup of water for tea. With this stove, at this
altitude and air temperature, it seems that one cup boils at least
four times faster than two cups. Had the tea and a Nutrigrain bar
Afterwards, I made a very leisurely start — hit the trail around
10:30. The trail down from Armstrong Pass is a beautiful trail.
The weather was wonderful, and I couldn't believe how empty the
trail was, this close to SLT on a gorgeous Saturday in August.
I saw only two people before I got down to the Fountain Place —
a pair of women riding mountain bikes up towards Mr. Toad's.
They stopped to rest and we talked a bit. It looks like some
people (maybe TAMBA? [the
Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association]
et al.) have built a new singletrack section of trail, to bypass
the private property and meadow of the Fountain Place itself,
and thus to make this route more legitimate for hikers, for
equestrians, and for mountain bikers. It's a beautifully designed
trail, and my thanks and congratulations go to those responsible
Below this, there is a mile of paved road, still descending, before
I could take the Corral Trail turnoff. This goes on down to the
Power Line trail, and I turned right there. Instead of taking that
trail all the way over (and UP) to High Meadow Trail, I took a
turnoff that I had never tried before, but which looked like it was
headed in the right direction. It turns out that it goes to the
bottom of Marshall Road, thus avoiding an extra half mile of walking
and an extra couple hundred feet of climbing and descending. My
turnoff went to Columbine Court, from which another little trail
dropped toward this creek that I had correctly guessed must be Trout
Creek. And hurray, the little trail went right out to Pioneer Trail
(the main paved "backroad" from Myers to Stateline), and hit that
road about as close to my parents' house as was possible. Then,
about a half mile of streetwalking brought me to my parents' front
door. WOO HOO! I did it!
It was wonderful to see my parents, take the pack off, take a
shower, and have a beer, and, later, a nice spaghetti dinner.
Guidebook and maps: Jeffrey P. Schaffer's "Carson-Iceberg
Wilderness" and the map that came with it covered the area up to
about Ebbets Pass. For reasons only Mr Alzheimer could appreciate,
I have two copies of this guidebook. Many of the altitudes listed,
as well as some of the geological info (andesite vs rhyolite) come
from this book.
I ad-libbed the rest, just using one USGS topo map (Ebbets Pass) and
a mountain biking map of the south half of Tahoe, which
showed as far south as the Blue Lakes area.
Lessons for next time: try cooking up one of the freeze-dried
dinners, to see whether the "2 servings" really seems like 2
servings. If at all reasonable, don't bring more food than will fit
in your bear box. Do a trail profile (eg., with Topo! software) so
that misreading a topo map won't result in unpleasant surprises.
Wildlife seen on the drive home: two redtail hawks, bunch of turkey
vultures, several snowy egrets; a drawbridge...
Songs I sang on the drive home: my usual eclectic mix, from John
Dowland's "Shall I Sue?", through a couple of Steeleye Span tunes,
some 20's and 30's tunes ("Tangerine"), the Makaha Sons' "Mo`olele",
and some more from Kenny Loggins, David Wilcox, Jackson Brown, et