In the middle of July I completed my circuit of the Tahoe Rim Trail, going from Big Meadow trailhead to Tahoe City along the west side of Lake Tahoe. My earlier trip had been from Tahoe City to Big Meadow trailhead on the east side of Lake Tahoe. This brings the number of complete trips to seven, I think, though I’ve never kept a very accurate count. I’ve decided that in the future, I’ll only count completions if I do them in a single year, so I only have to keep track of that year and not segments completed in other years. At that rate, I’ll never catch up with Ellen who leads a through hike every year. Oh well.
After taking the Amtrak bus to the south Tahoe Y, I walked up to the campground below Big Meadow. It is a long walk to even get to the trail, about 11 miles, but over the years I’ve found some back ways that stay off the main roads, and the parts along the Upper Truckee River are quite nice.
Two highlights of the Big Meadow to Echo Summit segment are Showers Lake and the flower meadow just beyond it. Though this year the flowers are fewer in number, variety and size, there are still areas with wonderful blooms. A flower that I’d seen on the earlier trip, but which was very common in the drying part of Meiss Meadow, is at right, and I can’t identify it. At first glance it looks like a pedicularis, however the regular corolla is clearly unrelated. I’m combed every flower book I have. Does anyone out there know? I continued past Echo Summit and camped on the ridge before Echo Lake. This section from Echo Summit to Echo Lakes is new since I first completed the trail in 2005, and it avoids the summer home area.
The next day I headed north into the Desolation Wilderness. The wilderness is more classic Sierran scenery than anything else on the Tahoe Rim Trail, and so it gets the classic crowds of people looking for that classic scenery of bare granite and alpine lakes. Fortunately I was past Aloha Lake early enough in the day that I missed the major crowds. There are still a few PCT through-hikers heading north, though I have no idea why they are so late in this year when the season started so early. More people were on overnight backpacks, with a scattering of day hikers. Though I seem to be moving more slowly this year than last, I still cruised over Dicks Pass and down to Fontanillis Lake. Though Fontanillis is my favorite lake on the TRT, I’ve camped there only once before and was looking forward to spending more time.
The outlet creek from Fontanillis cascades down over granite benches to Upper Velma Lakes, on to Lower Velma Lake, and then to Eagle Falls and Lake Tahoe at Emerald Bay. I explored around, hung out by the cascades most of the afternoon and evening, and just relaxed into the place. The night was full of mosquitos, and I was glad to have brought my inner tent – the mosquito netting part. I think these mosquitos travel up from Velma lakes, as Fontanillis doesn’t seem the environment to generate dense clouds of them. The lake reflection was nearly perfect at sunset and again at sunrise.
From Fontanillis I continued north past my favorite juniper that overlooks the Rubicon River basin, out of the Desolation Wilderness, past Richardson Lake and Miller Creek, up to Barker Pass, and north to just short of the TRT/PCT trail junction. It’s a dry campsite, so I have to haul up water, but the view west into the Granite Chief Wilderness is worth every effort. The rocky ridge just south of the campsite is filled with flowers that are rare other places, and I spent a lot of time taking photos.
The last day I hiked rather uneventfully out to Tahoe City to complete the circuit. That evening I spent with friends Bill and Jennifer in Incline Village, and then Saturday co-lead the Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA) segment day hike from Barker Pass to Tahoe City with Cindy and Bill. That evening, back into the backcountry, the Granite Chief Wilderness.
The condition of the TRT segment from Barker Pass to Tahoe City is in better condition than I have ever seen it in the last ten years. It has been brushed, logged out, tread has been maintained and improved, particularly the section just past North Fork Blackwood Creek that was always narrow. Even the mistaken trail work of last year has been repaired.
In contrast, it seems as though the section through the Desolation Wilderness, which is the responsibility of the Forest Service rather than TRTA, has ceased being maintained. There were over 100 trees down between Aloha Lake and the northern wilderness boundary. The tread is eroded in many places, and the water structures are not being cleaned so the erosion will get worse and worse. The campsites and trail were trashy. The advertised purpose of the wilderness permit fee was to raise funds to be used to manage the wilderness and maintain the trails. For a few years, that seemed to be the case. I wonder where the permit money is going now, though. It clearly is not being spent on trails.
photos on PicasaWeb