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