I’m hiking by 6:35AM, which is an accomplishment since I feel impossibly slow packing up camp in the mornings. The trail wanders up and down a ridgeline and then switchbacks up to increasingly jaw-dropping views. More and more of Lake Tahoe becomes visible to the south as the trail rises above the basin’s rim and then over Relay Peak and the highest point on the TRT, at 10,290′.
The views are truly spectacular, in all directions—hills leading to the Central Valley to the east, hazy Nevada to the west, and landmarks to the north including Donner Lake and even the Sierra Buttes off in the distance. I take the new(ish) hiker-only route, which avoids a gravel road and makes a lovely loop around the northern side of Tamarack Peak, past Galena Falls, and eventually down to the Mount Rose Trailhead.
I have the views and the trail entirely to myself until I start down towards the highway. And then there are day hikers. Lots and lots and lots of day hikers, in an endless stream of groups and couples and dogs and children and trail runners and maybe four backpackers and people wearing flip-flops and jeans. Some stop to chat, many have terrible trail etiquette, and a few look like they’re regretting all the life decisions that brought them to this moment of huffing and puffing up a thousand feet of mountain. For once, I’m relieved not to be wearing my PCT hat—too much danger of having to stop for questions, when all I want to do is bomb down the trail to the Mount Rose campground where there are bathrooms, trash cans, and—most enticingly—water spigots.
After a dash across Highway 431 and a nice long break at the campground to drink a few liters of water and sponge away a layer of dust, I’m off on a sunny meadow walk below the highway. This 8.8-mile section of TRT from the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead to Tunnel Creek Road is off-limits to mountain bikes on odd days, but since this is an even day I see maybe a dozen bikers—all of whom are friendly and courteous. I stop for lunch in the woods and mix water into a little baggy of PB2 powder to spread on my tortilla, but NOPE it is not an improvement over carrying packets of peanut butter.
This section of trail feels like a Yosemite landscape. As the TRT turns around the northeast corner of Lake Tahoe, the mountains have changed from soft dirt and thickly forested to granite and pale gravelly hillsides.
I stop at a small creek at Mile 44 to fill up for another night of dry camping and to decide what my next water source will be. Water is definitely still a concern in this section of the TRT: the next reliable water source is a pump at Marlette Peak Campground, 10.4 miles from the creek I’m sitting at, BUT the pump is currently broken, with no word on when it will be repaired. The next water after that is off-trail at Spooner Lake, over 20 miles away. Twin Lakes are only 6.3 miles from where I am, but Guthook’s description has dire warnings about how early they can go dry and to not depend on them for water. This year there’s a debate in the Guthook comments about how plentiful and how drinkable the water in Twin Lakes is (“plenty of water” vs “just grassy puddles” vs “No idea what guy below is talking about. Largest of twin lakes is FULL of water!”)… and so I decide to risk it. I figure I’d rather squish through mud for brown water than carry 6 liters.
Another logistical challenge is the 16-mile no camping zone on either side of Marlette Peak and North Canyon campgrounds. Marlette doesn’t have water because of the broken pump, and North Canyon is 1.5 miles (and 700 feet down) off-trail, so my plan is to camp as close to the no camping zone as possible on both the near side and the far side, committing to a 16+ mile day tomorrow.
By 4:30PM I’m exhausted, kinda sunburned, dehydrated, nursing two blisters on my left foot, and I’ve been passing up camping spots in hopes of finding something right outside the no camping zone. The trail is following the top of a pretty narrow ridge with through-the-trees views of Washoe Valley to the east and Lake Tahoe to the west, so my options are limited. I end up on top of the ridge between granite boulders, make dinner, and after watching a neon orange sunset over the lake, I call it a night.
Trail company: About a dozen bikes, one ailing chipmunk 🙁 and all the day hikers who have ever lived.
Lesson learned: My “I only got one blister on the PCT” hubris (mis)led me to bring blister prevention supplies but no real blister treatments… now that the edge of my insole has rubbed blisters onto both sides of my left heel, I’m regretting that choice. My four-year-old Bushnell SolarWrap Mini charger is underperforming and should have been left at home—the Anker PowerCore 10000 battery pack I’m also carrying would have been enough. Also: I should put more freeze-dried meat in my meals!
- August 22, 2018
- 16.3 miles / ~ 2,000′ ascent, 3,100′ descent
- Mile 31.6 to Mile 47.9, just before No Camping Zone