Thursday, August 06, 2009

Tahoe Rim Trail Hike - Day 6

Photo above - cabins a Meiss Meadow. Below - Carl making his way across a stream at Meiss Meadow.
After having a really long day the previous day we were relieved to have a shorter hiking day. This was also the day where we got two opportunities to go swimming in one day, once in Round Lake and once in Showers Lake. The trail started out at the Big Meadows trailhead above the campground. It turned out that this hike was quite popular at this time of the year, as there were many parties all around us. Perhaps it was the fact that a short hike brings you to a beautiful meadow or that a slightly longer, but still pretty short hike brings you to Round Lake. Whatever it was this was a very popular hike, and rightly so. At Round Lake we all junped in the lake and went for a swim. It felt great to clean off and cool off, and our swim ended right in time. Not long after swimming storm clouds were building and before we knew it there was thunder (although I don't remember seeing any lightning). Fortunately we dodged the worst of the weather, because I guess that rain was falling north of here. We continued our hike trudging farther into mosquito country, and before we knew it we were at the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail. This junction has one of the prettiest meadows along the entire TRT and is flanked by some really nice mountains. The meadow has two little cowboy cabins in it.

From these meadows we traveled north along the PCT/TRT and started to climb gradually. Eventually we came upon a lovely little alpine lake known as Showers Lake where we set up a camp high above the lake where we could look out across the lake. We didn't go for a swim because the air was chilly, but we did wade out into the lake a little after filtering water. From our filtering spot we were able to gaze across the lake toward the alder covered avalanche slopes which still had just a little bit of snow remaining. I took the opportunity to wander around the area and check things out and discovered that there were terrific views of the Upper Truckee watershed (flows into Lake Tahoe near the town of South Lake Tahoe). Strangely there is small dam stone dam at the outlet of the lake. Carl also spotted the largest fish that we saw on the entire trip in this lake.

Photo below - Chester loved to roll around in the snow whenever he got the chance.

Tahoe Rim Trail Hike - Day 5

Photo - Views from alongside the trail near Freel Peak.
Our fifth day of hiking was one of the longest days we encountered, but also one of the most beautiful. We started at Star Lake and went over the shoulder of Freel Peak. From the TRT it is only a mile or so to the summit of Freel, but requires extra hiking on a spur trail. At the crest of the trail there were some glorious views and lots of snow patches. Rolling around in the snow was Chester's favorite pasttime on the hike. He always seemed a little disappointed to leave the snow patches. At this point the trail descends pretty much all of the way to Armstrong Pass, which is at the intersection of four trails. Along the way we start picking up a few small streams, some beautiful granite outcrops and, best of all, beautiful displays of wildflowers.

From Armstrong Pass the trail really does become a "rim trail" because it literally runs along top of the watershed divide. The trail is also quite dry along this section consisting largely of decomposed granite. After going along the watershed divide it drops down to Freel Meadow, our first real meadow along the hike since leaving Tahoe Meadows on day one. We also encountered our first real run-in with lots of mosquitoes. Then we continued along where we passed the infamous "Mr. Toad's wild ride" where mountain bikers decked out in some serious protective gear hurl themselves down the mountain. From there we dropped down into thick forest with frequent streams, more meadows, and more wildflower displays. At 14.5 miles we showed up at the Big Meadows trailhead realizing the bug spray had fallen out of Holly's pack somewhere back up a few miles and that we had just entered mosquito country. Not knowing how long it would take I volunteered to hitchhike into the town of Meyers some 5 or so miles away. Fortunately for me I got a ride from a friendly Forest Service employee/UC Davis botany student down into town, and even more fortunately he offered to give me a ride back up to the campground. I ended up returning to the camp site bearing bug dope plus some treats, bananas and pudding, which made everybody happy. That night we learned from a camper that a bear had ripped through a tent the previous night. I made sure that nothing with even the slightest scent was out of the bear box, and fortunately we didn't have any incidents.

Tahoe Rim Trail Hike - Day 4

After three fairly long hiking days we were treated to our first moderate day, a nine mile hike from Kingsbury Grade to Star Lake. The hike started off under the Stagecoach Lift at Heavenly and then winds it way around and traverses a mountainside overlooking Carson Valley. Along the way there are some gorgeous views looking out across the Great Basin. The route crosses Monument Pass where it enters back into the Tahoe Basin. Along the way there are some beautiful old junipers (photo below) and eventually some nice lake views. After refreshing at our pit stop at the rental house at Kingsbury Grade we were all feeling pretty good. Carl had dropped about 10 pounds of his pack weight. Holly was starting to get used to the altitude.

Star Lake turned out to be a beautiful lake. In fact, it is probably one of the nicest lakes along the entire TRT. However, it was also very popular and kind of noisy. We had the unfortunate experience of camping next to some sort of "hoods in the woods" type of group. They were quite noisy for much of the evening but eventually quieted down before going to sleep. Colleen and I took the opportunity to go for an evening hike up Freel Peak, which at 10,886 feet is the highest peak in the Tahoe Basin. Needless to say the views are quite spectacular and include expansive views of Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley, and the sierra peaks to the south. Carl had his first opportunity to set up his tent-fly shelter which we began to refer to as "the homeless shelter" because of its ad hoc appearance. Nonetheless, the homeless shelter turned out to be a great weight savings, so I think that Carl felt that it was a better option than lugging a heavy tent around the entire lake.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Climbing in the Sierra - Third Pillar of Dana, Tenaya Peak

This weekend I got to join Alex Alexiades and Abby Grimmer for some Sierra rock climbing, alpine style. The original plan was for a very full weekend of climbing the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney and the Mithril Dihedral on Mt. Russell. Unfortunately, we got some very bad information about the likelihood of getting permits to climb at Whitney and we ended up needing to go with a plan B.
The plan B was that Alex and I were going to climb some of the best rock in the Sierra, the 3rd Pillar of Mt. Dana, and that Abby, Alex, and myself were going to do a quick climb of Tenaya Peak. We ended up needing to drive from Lone Pine to Tuolumne so that ate up half of last Friday. With the remainder of the day we jumped onto Tenaya Peak, which is a 5.5 climb with about 10 pitches or so, although much of the climbing is only 4th class. That allowed us to simul-cliimb the peak in just over 2 hours.
On Saturday Alex and I headed off to the 3rd pillar, which is a 5.10b with 5 pitches. With at least 3 of the pitches going at 5.10 Alex did most of the leading. I took the middle pitch with the choice between a chimney and flake (5.8) and a 5.10 finger crack. Throughout the morning the clouds seemed to be building, and by 11 am they looked ominous. However, the rain and lightning held out and we were treated to a great climb without having to bail on the route. We were treated with some truly remarkable climbing on really good rock. For me these were the hardest pitches that I've followed in the alpine, and probably are going to be beyond my leading capabillities for a while. However, this first real climb of the season has me motivated to get onto as much High Sierra rock as I can before summer is over.
Photos: (Top) Final moves on the 3rd Pillar of Dana (AA). (Middle) The three of us on top of Tenaya Peak (AA). (Bottom) The 3rd Pillar from the bottom looking up (TD).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tahoe Rim Trail Hike - Day 3

The chargers at the top of the hill: Colleen and Corrinne at the lake overlook
Day 3 consisted of a 13 mile hike between Spooner Summit and Kingsbury Grade. This turned out to be one of the hardest days of the journey along with days 1,5, and 11. At this point we were still getting used to hiking, plus we hadn't really had any rest days. Most people had blisters developing. Cara had tripped along the trail the previous day and was nursing an wound on her knee. However, it was also a rewarding day in which we were greeted with excellent views and met friendly folks.

After the initial section of trail leading from Spooner Summit Colleen and Corrinne decided to charge the hill. They took off up the mountain with the rock pile in the alpine area as the pre-designated meeting spot for lunch. At this point in the hike Holly was still struggling with acclimitization (she has a difficult time catching her breath at higher elevations). For whatever reason I really like this section of trail. It probably isn't on anybody's top list of the best hikes in terms of scenery, but it makes a great day hike. If you are a strong hiker you can probably do the entire section out and back in a day. For slightly slower hikers the 13 mile section makes a good hike with a car shuttle.
At the end of the day when we rolled up to the trailhead we were ecstatic. After three fairly hard days we got to stay at the rental house off of Tramway Drive. The best part was that there was a hot tub. Sally met us at trailhead and provided a shuttle to the condo. There is a 3.5 mile stretch along which the thru-hiker must walk along roads. I opted to do the walk so that I could have the full experience of circumnavigating the lake on foot, however the others decided that we had already done enough hiking and gladly accepted the ride. After a soak in the hot tub, we chowed on pizza and beer. We also got showers and got to do our wash. A lot of time was spent bandaging and treating blisters and wounds. Fortunately, Sally and John are both veterinarians and were able to offer some good medical advice. Our pit stop also provided us with an opportunity to drop off unneccessary gear. I think that Carl dropped nearly 10 pounds from his load by cutting out his tent body (while keeping the fly) plus some other heavy items. While it is possible to hike the trail without a support crew having an excellent support crew really helped us out in a big way. We were really lucky to have had Sally and Chris helping us. I think we were pretty much a wreck when we finished this segment, but this stop followed by an easier 9 mile day really helped us a lot. A support crew is really big help when it comes to dropping off items and picking up forgotten items. One of the nice things about the Tahoe Rim Trail is that there is good cell phone reception along much of the trail so we were able to make emergency drops and pick up forgotten items. That definately wouldn't be so easy on the John Muir Trail.

Tahoe Rim Trail Hike - Day 2

The second day of our hike featured a climb through some beautiful country towards Snow Valley Peak. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this rolling countryside and the opportunities for solitude that it offered. As we ascended into the alpine areas around Snow Valley Peak the views got better and better. Along the way we encountered some pretty large snow patches, which caused Chester to just go beserk. He really is a snow-loving dog! We spent lunch below the peak taking in the wonderful views of the lake and tending to our blisters (except me because I didn't have any at this point). Colleen had an amazing amount of energy and decided to go run up the peak while we had lunch.

Snow Valley Peak itself is a great destination for a day hike. It is fairly similar to Mt. Rose in length and difficulty (I think a little longer but not quite as steep). I had been up here a few years earlier with Scotty Strachan and enjoyed the hike to the top. As we approached the trailhead at Highway 50 at Spooner Summit the number of hikers increased dramatically and we encountered the first and only equestrian parties on the trail. The horses got Chester worked up a bit, but not too bad. I don't think he had ever seen a horse up that close before and didn't know what to make of it. He didn't bark or growl at them, but I did have to pull him out the way quickly.

I'd say that everybody was pretty relieved when we got to Spooner Lake. The first thing we did was hit up the ice cream at the bike rental shack. We then proceeded to fill up our water bottles, cook dinner, and go for a swim in Spooner Lake, which is not something that I'd recommend unless you are covered in a couple of layers of trail grime. Then, by all means, go ahead and jump in, it feels good. The only problem that I can see with Spooner Lake is that it is the only water supply for 10 to 15 miles in each direction along the TRT. That means that all thru-hikers need to drop down to get water, but there is no camping allowed at Spooner Lake. A hike back up to the TRT at night is not something that most exhausted TRT hikers want to do. I'd hope that the State Parks System might consider building a small hike-in campground. That would go a long way toward giving hikers a place to rest their heads and re-energize for the next morning's hike.

Photo - Carl and Holly enjoying lunch in the alpine near Snow Valley Peak
Information about Lake Tahoe State Park (Nevada) -

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Topography Toolbox reaches 1,000 downloads on the ESRI website

I tend to do a lot of GIS/mapping for work. As part of my job I've put together several models using ArcGIS Model Builder, and I've posted the resulting tools on the ESRI ArcScripts webpage Right before leaving on the Tahoe Rim Trail one of my tools, the Topography Toolbox hit 1,000 dowloads making it the fourth most popular geoprocessing model on that website. The Topography Toolbox can be used to derive maps of topographic variables, such as topographic position index, slope position classification, landform classification, topographic wetness index, and stream gradient. I've also got a couple of other tools: composite polygons, PRISM data helper, quarter polygons, plus I'm working on a Riparian Topography Toolbox that will contain tools for calculating height above river and flood height.

Tahoe Rim Trail Hike - Day 1

Our journey begins at Tahoe Meadows Trailhead off of Mount Rose Highway, the closest part of the trail to Reno. From left to right (in the photo)we have Carl, Chris, Colleen, Cara, Holly, myself, and Chester. Within a half mile we were already getting excellent views, plus we had an absolutely blue bird day. Everyone started off in good spirits. Chris decided to join us for a day hike for the first half of the day. The rest of us continued on to Marlette Peak Campground that night. The first part of the Tahoe Rim Trail is extremely well-traveled. The trail tends to be wide and easy to follow winding its way through subalpine forest and decomposing granite outcrops. For the most part the views tend to be of the lake, however there are some areas with excellent views of Washoe Lake and environs.

This section of trail has some interesting regulations. While parts of the trail are closed to mountain bikes (along the PCT, Mt. Rose Wilderness, Snow Valley Peak area) this section of trail is closed to mountain bikes on odd days and open to biking on even days. We started on June 27, making it an odd day, however we got passed by several mountain bikers. While most are friendly I found that it really changed the dynamic of the trail. Portions of trail that didn't have bikes tended to have an almost wilderness-like feel with low numbers of users, while areas with bikers had a fairly steady stream of traffic. Although I don't know of any formal study on the number of bikers that choose to ignore the regulations based on two back-to-back weekends I estimate that about 50% of bikers go right past the sign with large lettering and ignore it. Personally, I find it appalling that 50% of bikers would choose to disregard the regulations and ignore the wishes of hikers. Despite this annoyance I really did enjoy this part of the hike.

One of the highlights of the hike is Christopher's Loop, a 1.5 mile spur trail that offers outstanding views and Sand Harbor (photo to the right) and the rest of Lake Tahoe. In addition to views of Tahoe there are also some nice views of Marlette Lake to the south. While enjoying the views at Christopher's Loop we spotted a couple of mule deer. There were also a few snow patches for Chester to role around in (his favorite hiking pastime). From here the trail climbs up into the alpine near Marlette Peak before dropping back down into the forest. Right before the campground we encountered the first major stream since leaving Tahoe Meadows and took the opportunity to filter some water and get water for cooking. This water was a welcomed relief because we were completely dry by the time we arrived here. Anyone who is thinking about hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail should know that water is especially scarce along the eastern portion of the trail. I typically carry two liters of water when hiking, however, for dry parts of the hike and long days it seemed like three liters was a more appropriate amount. Of course I needed to carry extra water for Chester as well so in total I ended up going though nearly five liters on the first day!

Marlette Peak Campground is a pretty nice spot. Granted it is no wilderness setting, with pit toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and plenty of other campers, but the amenities were pretty nice for our first night of camping on the trail. There is a giant stockpile of wood from forest thinning operations all around the camp too! We truly enjoyed our first night here after such a long and hard day. We sat around the camp fire that night, but it wasn't too long before everybody was ready to go to bed.

Photo on the left: Holly and I at Christopher's Loop with Marlette Lake in the background

Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail - The Plan

This month Holly and I completed a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail with our family members. It was a wonderful experience, and doing the hike as a thru-hike and a family excursion provided us with some great memories. I suppose that I've been interested in thru-hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail ever since I moved to Reno. I've always been envious of the people who take an entire summer off and thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, however, the reality is that hiking a long trail requires a significant investment of time, as well as lots of planning. The Tahoe Rim Trail, on the other hand, is right in our backyard and makes a perfect two week trip (or less for some folks).

The plan was set in motion during the spring of 2008. Holly and I decided to do this hike, and that it should be done as a family hike. Holly's dad, Carl, and my sister, Cara, were immediately interested and committed two weeks of their summer to the hike. Later my other sister, Colleen, came back from a year and half of working in China, and she too wanted to do the hike. To round out the mix we had Holly's cousine, Corrinne Hasenau, join us. Holly's uncle, John, joined us for the Desolation Wilderness portion of the hike, and Holly's mom, Chris, joined us for the Lake Aloha portion of the hike. In total we had six people who hiked the entire trail and up to eight people at Lake Aloha.

The plan was to start at Tahoe Meadows, which is located off of Mt. Rose Highway. We would hike three days to Kingsbury Summit where I arranged to rent a house from Larry Suter for one night This would give us the much-needed opportunity to re-stock on food, catch showers, and take care of any medical emergencies. Plus the place provided us access to a hot tub! From there we would travel four days to Echo Summit and stay at the city of Berkeley's Echo Lake Camp. From there it was five days to Tahoe City, three of which would be through Desolation Wilderness. Finally there would be four days in which we hiked back up to Tahoe Meadows along the northern part of the TRT. This strategy was designed to break the hike into manageable chunks of 3 to 5 days.

For gear we ended up bringing two stoves and two water filters for the entire group. For the most part Holly and I shared a tent, Cara and Colleen shared a tent, Corrinne slept in a bivouac sack (kind of like a small one-person tent that covers a sleeping bag). Carl started out with a full two-person tent, but eventually decided to switch to a tarp with a bug net rather than carrying the entire tent. For dinners we took mostly Mountain House and Backpacker's Pantry freeze-dried meals, which, I felt were sufficiently tasty and high in calories for us. By mixing things up we were able to provide some variety, although I have to admit, that we always looked forward to the drop days where we got to pig out on something really good. For lunchs we had trail mix, Cliff bars, peperonni sticks and jerky, although we did get tired of these foods pretty quickly (except the peperonni sticks which were a favorite). Breakfasts were coffee (made from liquid extract) or tea with a Cliff bar.

Please follow with me as I take you through our entire journey with these next couple of posts. (Image courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association -

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tahoe Rim Trail links

Every good hiker should check out the Tahoe Rim Trail Association's website They have done a superb job of building and maintaining this magnificent trail and have tons of information about the trail on their site. Check it out!

Sorry for the long time without posting. Its not that life has been boring, quite the contrary in fact. It has actually been quite busy and rewarding. I thought I'd comment on an upcoming event that I find exciting. Holly and I have plans to hike the entire Tahoe Rim Trail this summer, and our family members are going to join us on the adventure. My sisters, Cara and Colleen, along with Holly's parents, Chris and Carl Hemming, and Holly's cousin, Corrinne, are all going to hike the entire 165 miles. Holly's uncle, John Hasenau, is going to join us for a portion of the trail. We are planning on taking 16 days total, which should equate to a nice steady pace. Some days will be longer others will be shorter, but there will be no complete rest days. The plan is to start at Tahoe Meadows and travel south. I plan to update the blog shortly after returning. Ciao.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tahoe hiking 2008

These past two weeks I haven't done any climbing, but I've taken the opportunity to get out and go on some hikes. Last weekend Holly, Chester, and I hiked the Shirley Canyon trail outside of Squaw Valley. The trail was beautiful and ended at a small lake where I decided to go for a swim. This trail had some of the larger expanses of granite slabs that I've encountered on a Tahoe-area hiking trail. We decided that it is going to be a must-see in the spring when the creek is running.

This past week I decided to to a good training hike to try to get myself in back in shape (an ever-constant, but seemingly non-attainable goal). I decided to hike Freel Peak, which at 10,881 feet is the tallest peak in the Tahoe Basin. At the same time I wanted to hike a good portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail so I decided to make a loop trip out of it. I started at Kingsbury Grade at Heavely Ski Area and hiked 9 miles with Chester to a beautiful alpine lake called Star Lake. From that point we continued on a couple of miles to the pass where the trail to Freel splits off. Freel Peak isn't a technical climb at all it is just a 1 mile hike off of the main trail, but 1 mile that gains 1,000 feet. Upon summiting I decided to head over to a nearby peak called Job's Sister from which I could travel cross-country to hook back into the trail at Star Lake. All in all, the hike turned out to be an enjoyable one. The views from the trail and from the summits consisted of Lake Tahoe as well as Carson Valley, which is nearly a vertical mile below the summit of Freel. The total distance was 23 miles with a 3,000 foot elevation gain and two summits. It felt good being out, and I enjoyed the scenery and company.

Trip to the coast: Point Reyes

This past Labor Day weekend Holly and I decided to go to Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco. To those of you who live in the Bay Area this is probably nothing special, however, neither of us had been there before, and we both liked the idea of traveling to somewhere with cool weather and nice views. Fortunately for us most of the traffic on holiday weekends seems to go from the Bay Area up to Sierra, so it turns out that we don't have to deal with the horrible snarl of traffic that most people deal with. Point Reyes immediately appealed to both of us, because of its ocean location and the multitude of good culinary products that come out of the area: fine wine, good cheese, and great oysters. We stayed at a small B & B just outside of Point Reyes Station. Over the course of the weekend we were able to enjoy some fine views, go on a kayak trip, take some small hikes, and enjoy the good food. I think that this place is probably Holly's version of paradise. Needless to say we had a great time and intend to go back.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Alpine climbing in Tahoe

This past weekend Newton and I decided to do an alpine climb that wasn't so far from home. We returned to the Emerald Bay area at Tahoe to climb a route called Section 20 that is purported to be the longest rock route in the Tahoe Basin. We started the approach around 6:30 or 7 am as is tradition. This time around it was especially important to get an early start as the weather was calling for late afternoon thunderstorms. The route that we chose was called Section 20 in the Falcon Guidebook and ascends the face northwest of 90 foot wall. We knew that the challenge would be routefinding on this route, which proved to be true. In fact, we never really found the Section 20 route at all and instead followed our own route the entire way. I think that it totalled about 7 or 8 pitches, however in typical alpine fashion some of the pitches had to be cut short and others we could do a running belay. There was even a section near the top that we could unrope and hike about a quarter mile. The real challenge proved to be the rock quality, which was poor, especially in the middle of the route. However, despite getting off route and despite the poor rock quality we were able to put together a good climb without any hangups. We were cut a little short by storm clouds that were brewing over the lake, so upon reaching the summit ridge we decided to head down rather than to become lightning fodder. We also didn't have good information on the descent which proved to be extremely brushy. All in all the climb proved to be a good one. Hopefully I can get a photo or two from Newton to post on this blog.