All posts by Bucket

Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 2

I eat a predawn breakfast on my campsite balcony, enjoying the spectacular view.

Today’s trail is mostly one long climb, dipping down below 7000′ before going back up to 9500′. I get to the Brockway Summit road crossing at 9AM, where trail angels have left jugs of water and someone else has left baggies of dog poo. I’m already carrying about four liters of water for the next 11.5 miles, but I’m happy to pause and pour myself a liter for electrolyte mix and drink it while sitting in the dirt next to the trailhead parking.

I pass one solo woman backpacker going counter-clockwise and lots of day hikers out with dogs—which makes sense, since the trail is close to lots of dirt roads with easy access to spectacular Lake Tahoe views. At one point I pause to listen to what sounds like some sort of weird, single-note bird call—before realizing that, nope, it’s actually just 4×4 brakes whistling nearby. My deep trail thoughts include making up a palindrome (“Emo trail, liar to me!”) and wondering what the SPF of dirt is.

I eat lunch right before the California-Nevada border (regretting my failure to bring mustard, mayo, and sweet relish packets for my tuna-in-tortillas), but disappointingly there’s no sign to mark the third state that I’ve walked into via trail. (The first two were Oregon and Washington on the PCT—and I guess it’s the fourth if you count British Columbia.)

But boy howdy, Nevada is in it to win it. Suddenly the trail is snaking along ridgetops and cruising through fields of rustling mule’s ears with huge views of Lake Tahoe stretching out below. Rounding a corner I surprise a coyote, who whips around and disappears down the trail. THIS is hiking.

I’m headed for a “Reliable Spring” at Mile 31.3, which hiker comments in the Guthook app said was still flowing—as of two weeks ago. I’m passing up other water options including a side trail down to Grey Lake (minuses: elevation loss/gain, people, bugs) and the enticingly named Mud Lake. I’m placing my bets on “reliable.” The next water source after that isn’t for another 6.3 miles, with over 1100 feet of climbing, so I really want to find water there.

Water planning is a tricky thing out here: you always want to be carrying exactly as much water as you need. At 2.2 pounds per liter, carrying too much is a real pain in the pack, but carrying too little can be anything from annoying to seriously dangerous. On the PCT I had a pretty good sense of how much water I needed to carry, averaging about 4 or 5 miles per liter depending on elevation gain and temperature. But so far on the TRT I’ve been blowing through my water supply and still feeling thirsty—probably because of sweaty uphill hiking and extremely dry air.

Calculating how much water to carry involves mileage, elevation, and the often imprecise art of interpreting water reports: look for recent comments; decide how to parse “trickle” or “grassy puddles” (Would I drink from grassy puddles? Do I care how brown my water is?); and if there are no recent comments, then what were the reports at this time last year or the year before?

I reach the spring and have a brief oh-shit moment when the only thing visible from the trail is wet mud, but sure enough a few yards downhill there’s a little rivulet with a leaf already in place to channel the water. I collect enough for dry camping and 6 miles of hiking the next morning (about three liters) and head up the ridge to find a campsite.

Speaking of water, one of my gear innovations this trip is a homemade adapter to secure my inline/gravity filter to my water bottle. I drilled a hole through a Smart Water bottle top and connected a Sawyer Squeeze hydration pack adapter to it. When hiking, the water bladder is in my pack with a drinking tube connected to the inline filter; when I stop to treat water I replace the drinking tube with this adapter, hang the whole thing from a tree with the water bottle sitting on the ground, and let gravity do the work. Is the adapter necessary? I mean, not really—previously I used quick connect adapters in the drinking tube and just let the drinking tube dangle into the water bottle. But this is definitely more satisfying.

Trail company: 1 coyote, 1 backpacker, 0 bikes, lots of day hikers, and 1 fighter jet.
Lessons learned: It takes two days and 31.6 miles of hiking for me to start fantasizing about hamburgers. My Ziploc brand quart freezer bags have some sort of micro-holes in them that ooze precious buttery fluids when I add boiling water to my dinners (frowny face). And camping 2000′ feet higher than the previous night means it’s gonna be colder!

  • August 21, 2018
  • 16.3 miles / ~3,700′ ascent,  1,700′ descent
  • Mile 15.3 to Mile 31.6, camped on a ridge

Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 1

Let’s do this thing!

I check out of my motel in Tahoe City and am parked in the 64 Acres lot (Guthook Mile 170.6, a.k.a. Mile -0.4) by 7AM—where I promptly begin my hike with some bonus miles by cheerily going the wrong way on the bike path detour. Whoops. Back on track, I get shade from a construction worker before even leaving Tahoe City—walking past a gas station with my fully-loaded pack I hear “That looks heavy!” and silently grumble back, “Yeah, dude. Five days of food and five liters of water. Mind yer own business.”

But unsolicited commentary isn’t going to get me down: I’m starting my hike! I’m charging uphill! I can see the lake! I’m going to walk all the way around it!!

I’m back in hiking mode: Snack. Water. Pee break. How are my feet feeling? Looking at tiny areas of bare ground thinking, I could sleep there if I had to.

I play leapfrog with another solo female hiker for a few miles and then stop to chat. This is her first big hike, inspired by a friend who just completed the Pacific Crest Trail. She also just started from Tahoe City but has a longer itinerary planned, so we probably won’t see each other again after this first day. But it’s nice to feel some immediate solidarity.

The trail climbs, looping up towards the ridgelines around the lake. At 11AM I’ve already hiked 8 miles—about as far as I had scheduled for my entire first day, thinking I’d ease into the hike. So much for that. I stop for lunch with a view of the lake as day hikers and mountain bikers pass by. One biker stops to chat—he’s got an electric-assist bike and is retired. Every morning he starts his day at 6:30AM with three hours of waterskiing on Lake Tahoe and then three hours of mountain biking. Retirement sounds great.

The views continue to dazzle, both looking out at the mountains to the west and with glimpses of the lake to the east.

I continue towards Watson Lake, which has car-accessible designated campsites. There’s a four-mile No Camping zone around the lake, so my choices are either to stay at the campground (plusses: water, flat tent spots; possible minuses: loud people, bugs) or to hike past Mile 15 to legal camping (plusses: solitude, possible views; minuses: hunting for a spot, carrying water to dry camp). Reaching Watson Lake at 2:30PM, I fill up on water, snack, and try to get iPhone-through-monocular shots of a noisy, sociable woodpecker.

It still feels too early to stop for the day, so I keep walking, committing to making it past Mile 15 before camping. I take a side trail at Mile 14.7 to a creek that runs under Forest Service roads so I can fill up for the night—and the next 16+ miles. The northern and eastern sides of the lake are definitely dry. The trail is in the woods right now, but looking at the topo map I can tell there are views, most likely of Lake Tahoe, just a tiny bit off-trail. So, once I’ve passed the No Camping mark, I head into the trees towards what I hope will be stunning cliffside views. I am not disappointed.

Trail company: 12 hikers, 13 bikers, 1 fighter jet.
Lessons learned: I’m missing some of the “luxury” items I left out of my pack, like a foam sit pad and camp shoes. I also miss my nerdtastic Digital Dangler, which has both a clock and a thermometer—I chose not to wear a watch but haven’t liked having to pull my phone out every time I want to check the time. One thing I am loving, however, is hiking with a hip (butt/fanny/whatevs) pack instead of my backpack’s hip belt pockets! I got a cheap Dakine hip pack and am hanging it over my pack’s hip belt in front to hold phone, snacks, chapstick, etc. Five stars.

  • August 20, 2018
  • 15.7 miles / ~2,800′ ascent, 1,670′ descent
  • Tahoe City/64 Acres Park to Mile 15.3, just past the No Camping Zone

Tahoe Rim Trail Thru-hike: Planning and Logistics

The Tahoe Rim Trail circles Lake Tahoe for 171 miles, passing through two states, three wilderness areas, and overlapping with 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.  The TRT is a National Recreation Trail open to hikers, equestrians, and (in some places) mountain bikers.

Since thru-hiking the PCT in 2015 I’ve been itching to get out on another long trail—I’ve considered the Colorado Trail, but that would require a five-week, 500ish-mile commitment with a lot of logistics. The Tahoe Rim Trail was a perfect solution: it’s close to the Bay Area where I live and do-able in under two weeks—but still provides the satisfaction of a thru-hike. It’s also gorgeous.

My plan was to squeeze a solo hike into 11 days in August between PCTA trail crew work and Labor Day weekend with friends at a USFS lookout tower. Unfortunately, the trail work was postponed after the Donnell Fire closed the PCT section where we would have been working. I considered adding some days to the start of my hike, but since I already had motel reservations I figured I’d just stick with the original schedule.

  • Planning: I googled for trip reports, read through the TRTA’s website, purchased Tim Hauserman’s TRT guidebook, and of course bought the TRT guide in Guthook’s app. After my PCT hike I feel confident in my ability to create a solid daily plan via spreadsheet and then adapt once I’m actually on the trail.
  • Permits: Two permits are required (one if you’re going stoveless): a California Campfire Permit for operating a stove (available online), and a thru-hiker permit for the Desolation Wilderness (which you can get for $20 by calling 530-543-2694 within 14 calendar days of the day you’ll enter Desolation—it’s either mailed to you or you can pick it up in person in South Lake Tahoe).
  • Starting/ending point: clockwise from Tahoe City, California. I chose this for several reasons. Tahoe City has motel and restaurant options, trailhead parking, and splits the trail fairly evenly with the Kingsbury Grade—a good option for a halfway resupply and rest stop. I also liked the idea of saving the Desolation Wilderness and all its beautiful lakes—along with my PCT mini-victory-lap—for the end of my hike. And, I’ll be honest, the precise and ceremonious parts of me liked starting from (close to) Mile 0 in Guthook’s guide.
  • Parking: 64 Acres Park, Tahoe City. Since I would be hiking in between two car-required activities, I needed a place to leave my car for eleven days. It’s surprisingly hard to find clear info on longterm parking for a TRT hike.  The Tahoe Rim Trail Association parking page has a map showing trailheads with parking, but nothing makes it clear where overnight parking is allowed or recommended. I called a few different offices in Tahoe City and got conflicting information, but I settled on parking my car at the 64 Acres trailhead lot, Guthook Mile 170.6. (Spoiler alert: success! My car was un-towed, un-ticketed, and un-broken-into when I returned.)
  • Schedule: 11 days total, with 10 days hiking and one full rest day. The full “zero day” in Stateline (two nights in an Airbnb) ended up feeling a bit unnecessary—I could have done two “neroes” (“near-zero” days) instead and chipped some daily mileage off the second half of the trip. But it sure was nice to have a whole day off. No regrets.
  • Food: As on the PCT, I ate tortilla-based lunches, home-constructed dinners (a just-add-boiling-water carbohydrate base with freeze-dried veggies, meat, and lots of butter powder), and a ton of snacks. I aimed for 3000+ calories a day but wasn’t too strict about it since it’s a relatively short hike. Being unwilling to wean myself off caffeine like I did for the PCT, I carried Starbucks Via packets (meh) and heated water in the mornings for my caffeine fix. I prepared 95% of my food ahead of time and then bought essentials like Doritos and a block of cheddar cheese right before and during my hike.
  • Resupply: Stateline, Nevada. I broke my hike into two five-day segments, starting at Tahoe City with my first five days of food and pausing at the Kingsbury Grade (Highway 207, Guthook Mile 78.1) to pick up my resupply for the next five days in Stateline, Nevada. My Airbnb host graciously agreed to receive/hold both my resupply box and my Desolation Wilderness permit for me.
  • Gear merits its own post, but the short version is: Nemo 2P Hornet Elite tent, Zpacks quilt, NeoAir XLite mattress, Zpacks Arc Blast backpack, Gossamer Gear hiking poles, Hoka One One running shoes, and Ursack + Opsaks for food protection. I carried an inline Sawyer water filter fitted to my Platypus water bladder and had the capacity to carry 6 liters of water—which was necessary for some long water carries and dry camping on the eastern side of the lake. I didn’t cache water anywhere along the trail ahead of time, though many people do.

My carefully calculated mileage plan didn’t even last through the first day, so I just tried to hit my mileage goal for each day—15.6 miles/day for the first five days and 18.6 miles/day for the last five days.

Everything went pretty much to plan, and there’s not much I would change other than a few minor gear tweaks, some preplanned water caches to reduce the amount of water I had to carry in the first half of the hike, and an extra day in the second half to bring my daily mileage down.

The Tahoe Rim Trail is exquisitely maintained, extremely well-signed, and deservedly popular—it’s a truly beautiful hike with spectacular views, accessible to all types of hiking and riding. I thoroughly enjoyed it! My day-by-day trip report with photos is coming soon.

PCTA Trail Crew: Sierra Buttes

In mid-July I drove out to Sierra City, a town just down the road from PCT Mile 1195, for a few days of volunteer work with a PCTA trail crew. The project I was on is a multi-year, ongoing project to construct new trail and incorporate existing trail into six new PCT miles in the Sierra Buttes.

This was my first trail crew experience, and I think I lucked into a truly great one: building brand new trail with an awesome group of crew and volunteers, surrounded by gorgeous Sierra scenery.

I got to dig out roots, break up boulders, and build a rock retaining wall that will (theoretically?) last decades. I learned the names of tools—single jack, double jack, rock bar, cutter mattock, pick mattock, Pulaski, McLeod—and how to use them. I dug holes, wrestled rocks into place, jumped on them to make sure they were stable… I ended up with sore muscles that I didn’t even know I had (forearms?!) and bruised my shins from kneeling in the dirt working.

The people were great—a mix of PCTA staff, American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew, and volunteers who ranged from semi-retired Bay Area tech folks to college kids road-tripping from Oklahoma. We were on our way to the work site at 7AM every morning and ended every day with a trip to the river for swimming—which was desperately needed because we were DIRTY. I even managed to make time to drive a few thru-hikers from town out to the trail.

It was a hugely satisfying experience to be out there for such a short time and yet be able to walk away having made such a visible difference in the creation of the trail—even if the last step in rock wall construction was covering it up with dirt and branches to make it disappear.

Being near the PCT and around thru-hikers again also just felt good. It made me remember that feeling of forward progress. Of walking all day and finding a new place to sleep every night. Of how much beautiful land there is to see. People even called me Bucket again.

Perhaps my proudest moment, however, came right before I headed home. I was outside the Sierra City general store, a major resupply point where there’s always a crowd of hikers lining the porch, and a guy came up to me and asked if I’d started my hike at Scout and Frodo’s (trail angels in San Diego who host hundreds of thrus every year). I said yes—I had dinner there the night before starting the trail—but, uh, that was last year. He blinked at me, and I realized he thought I was a current thru-hiker. I laughed and asked if that meant I really looked that dirty. Which I suppose I did—huddled on the steps of the general store with a Gatorade and an ice cream sandwich, poaching the wifi, grubby fingers jabbing at my iPhone.

Once hiker trash, always hiker trash.

And learn more about volunteering with the PCTA on their website!

(More photos on Flickr!)

PCT Day 173: Canada!

This is the way the trail ends
This is the way the trail ends
This is the way the trail ends
Not with a bang…

Canadacanadacanadacanada. Taking down the tarp, shoving everything into my backpack, picking up my trekking poles—one last time. It’s cold—there’s snow and frost covering the ground. It’s early—the dudes camped next to us are sleeping in.

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This is the way the trail ends. As we’ve approached these last miles to Canada, we’ve seen familiar hikers headed back south to Harts Pass, the last road access to the trail. Any hiker who doesn’t get—or is denied—the necessary paperwork to enter Canada by trail has to turn around at the border and hike 30 miles back south. Poor bastards.

This is the way the trail ends. We walk through trees, over one last pass. The air is cold, crisp. I can see peaks ahead, bathed in early morning light. Is that Canada? Looking up at those mountains, at the rocky saddle between peaks that I know has a view of everything northward… part of me wants to keep walking. Just keep walking, through all this beauty, without any deadlines other than when the food in my backpack runs out.

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The rest of me is ready to finish. I see the arrow-straight clearcut line that marks the border, and that’s where I’m going. This is the way the trail ends. 

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And then, suddenly—”suddenly” somehow encompassing both the last six miles this morning and the last six months of my life—there’s the monument. Turn a corner, hike down a small hill, and there are the pillars, the little flags, the line through the forest.

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We take pictures, write in the log book. Take more pictures. (Canada!) A helicopter passes overhead, patrolling the border.

There are two day hikers there, waiting to meet thru-hiker friends. It’s slightly awkward—they aren’t part of our celebration, they’re talking about workout clothes and brunch. They walked 8 miles from their cars; we walked 2,650.1 miles from freaking Mexico. But it’s ok—we’re almost back in the world where we’re not thru-hikers anymore, where you have to replace your clothes before they’re full of holes and hopelessly discolored with sweat. Where brunch is just overpriced breakfast rather than eating all the things.

Walking last eight miles to Manning Park, the first Canadians we meet are a couple out for a morning hike; they force a fifty dollar bill (Canadian!) on us after hearing what we just did. My parents, who have flown to Vancouver to meet us, are there on the trail when we round a corner.  At the road, there’s a crowd waiting for sleeping-in dudes with signs and balloons. Food, car ride, showers, more food… and most of all the strange knowledge that we don’t have to keep walking tomorrow.

There are no more PCT miles to hike—we’ve hiked them all.

Thank you, Pacific Crest Trail. Thank you hiker trash, thank you trail angels, thank you mountains, thank you desert, thank you forests, thank you feet—thank you thank you thank you.

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Day 173 / Sept 27, 2015
Hopkins Lake to Manning Park, Canada
15.2 miles, PCT Mile 2643.7 to 2658.9