Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 4

The sunrise is pink, purple, and neon orange, a ball of fire rising over the Nevada hills. The view from the trail is straight down into Washoe Valley, three thousand feet below.

I’m hiking by 6:30AM, over sand covered in bike tire tracks—the only other footprints are left by deer. The stunning views of Nevada to the east are followed by stunning views of Lake Tahoe to the west as the trail snakes over the ridgeline. And suddenly it’s backpacker rush hour: I meet a solo woman going counter-clockwise (who is reassuringly smelly and uninterested in chitchat—hikertrash!) and then overtake three very clean East Coasters who are eight days out from Tahoe City, hiking a very leisurely half-TRT.

There is water in Twin Lakes! Huzzah! It’s kinda brown and has tiny critters in it, but shrug. At the lakes I get a jolt of adrenaline from what sounds like a swarm of angry bees but turns out to be a small drone. I leapfrog with the owners for a while before stopping for a proper chat at the next big vista point: Papa Bear and Cheese Stick (she had many trail names, but that was my favorite) have hiked the JMT and now the TRT and are considering the PCT. We discuss hiking and gear (I was happy to learn that it was her drone, not his—yay for fellow female camera nerds).

Because the water pump at Marlette Peak Campground is broken I decide to take the Marlette Peak Alternate, which goes around the Lake Tahoe side of Marlette Peak for what turns out to be the most ridiculous views of the entire trail. I had been internally yelling “Get the %*^& out!” at the scenery ever since sunrise, but this turns it up to eleven. The trail runs along a hillside overlooking a 180-degree panorama of Marlette Lake, Lake Tahoe, and the line of peaks along the western shore. Everything blue is an impossibly brilliant blue, surrounded by greens and reds and yellows.

The ridgewalking continues through sagebrush and scattered white rocks—a landscape that feels more high desert than Sierra Nevada. I’m not sure I knew what to expect from the Nevada side of the lake, but my California bias didn’t prepare me to be so impressed by its beauty.

Lunch is at the day’s high point, looking down on Lake Tahoe. It’s 13.3 miles from Twin Lakes in the morning to the next water stop at Spooner Lake, which is a mile off the TRT. Right before Highway 50 at Spooner Summit there’s a side trail to Spooner Lake—my feet ache and no water is coming out of my drinking tube, so I briefly consider hitchhiking, but I can’t deal with the thought of watching car after car speed past. The trail to Spooner lake is green and lovely and I see two deer along the way, but I’m thirsty and tired and furiously speed-hike the mile to the picnic area.

At 3:42PM I throw my pack down next to the picnic area’s water faucet and drink a liter immediately. There are bathrooms with flush toilets and sinks and a ranger recounting tourists’ stories of bear encounters. When I take my water bladder out to refill it, I discover that I did still have water, but it was stuck behind a fold in the plastic reservoir. As I’m sorting through food at a picnic table, a guy comes over to chat about my gear and then offers me a beer, which is awesome, and then a salad, which is extra awesome, and then a ride back to the trailhead, which is extra super awesome.

Back on trail, I tell myself I’ll take the first campsite I find, but this is a section in the midst of forest service maintenance so there are piles of logs everywhere, like a tree graveyard or something from Blair Witch, so I keep walking. Past the tree graveyard there are thickets of manzanita that feel very… bear-y? So I keep walking until I reach an overlook that’s really just a bump near the trail with a tiny patch of gravel that finally lets me test out my “I could fit my tent there!” claims.

Trail company: three bikes, twelve-ish day hikers, one trail angel, two deer, two military planes, and six(!) backpackers
Lesson learned: Nevada is better than expected

  • August 23, 2018
  • 18.4 miles / ~ 2,600′ ascent,  3,200′ descent
  • Mile 47.9 to Mile 65 + 0.3 on Marlette alternate + 1 to Spooner Lake Picnic Area