Monday, August 5, 2013

A Night in the Backcountry

View of Lake Tahoe as I'm ascending Castle Rock.
The next section of the Tahoe Rim Trail, from Kingsbury Grade to Big Meadow, was about 30 miles in length. The map of the section says its 23.2 miles, which doesn't sound so bad, but for me, it's actually closer to 30 because this map assumes I'd be starting from the Kingsbury South trailhead when, in fact, I'd have to start from Kingsbury North trailhead. The two trailheads are separated by about six or seven miles! Thus, I'd have to hike 6 or 7 miles to the Kingsbury South trailhead, or 30 miles to get to Big Meadow with the next major road crossing. Kingsbury South was too short for a day hike, but Big Meadow was too far for a day hike.

So Amanda and I decided to split up. I'd backpack this section over two days--about 15 miles per day--and Amanda would drive off to sightsee and explore the Lake Tahoe area, probably including a drive around the lake.

So she dropped me off at the Kingsbury North trailhead at about 10:00 that morning with my full arsenal of backpacking gear. No slackpacking it today! And I started down the trail.

Almost immediately, I took a side path that led to Castle Rock. Having only to do 15 miles today, I figured I had time to take short trails to scenic viewpoints. I didn't want to carry my full pack to the top of the hill, though, so I left it near the trail intersection. I was a little leery about doing this since I didn't have a bear canister to protect my food from the animals, but I also didn't plan to be gone for very long AND I wasn't leaving my pack in a common place for people to camp or stop so I figured the animals around there probably weren't too familiar with human food. I hoped.....

Those tall buildings on the left are the casinos in Stateline.
(There's a Straw Hat in Harveys!) And just behind those
buildings is the California/Nevada state line and the city
of South Lake Tahoe is on the California side of the border.
So I pushed up to Castle Rock, with amazing views, and I snapped a couple of quick pictures, but didn't linger. Nope, I wanted to get back to my pack before any animals discovered it and the treasure trove of food that was in it! (It's not just bears I worry about when leaving food unattended, but even smaller animals like mice and squirrels. They'll all be plenty happy to take your food if they can get it!)

Fortunately, my pack was safe and sound. I picked it up and continued the hike.

The trail wound its way through the Heavenly ski area, and became much drier. The west side of Lake Tahoe gets a lot more rain and snow on the east side due to the rain shadow effect, and you could definitely see the difference in this section of the trail. It also opened up to incredible views eastward towards the Carson Valley. It was an interesting sensation, to look west and see that giant puddle of water known as Lake Tahoe surrounded by green mountains, then walk over to the other side of the rim and look westward to a complete lack of water and trees as far as the eye could see. Which might not sound pretty, but it held a certain kind of beauty in its own special way.

I saw all of about 5 people on the trail today, none of which appeared to be backpacking, and all of which were near trailheads.

There's a side trail that leads to Castle Rock, which is what I took
a photo of in this photo. That's Castle Rock in the background.
My goal for the day was to reach, at a minimum, Star Lake, which would be the approximate halfway point for the trail and the only reliable source of water I knew about. I arrived late in the afternoon, a little after 6:00, but being the height of summer, I figured I still had a couple of hours of daylight left.

I said I'd meet Amanda at around noon the next day, and doing the math in my head, it would be a difficult point to reach by noon if I actually stopped at Star Lake for the night, so I filled up with water and pushed onward. My map showed a Willow Creek a mile or two up ahead where the steep contour lines of my topo map spread out suggesting a relatively flat area. I could probably find somewhere to camp there and maybe the creek even had water. If it didn't, that was fine, I would carry enough from Star Lake. I hoped there would be water, however, so I didn't have to worry about conserving it in camp.

At about 7:00, I reached Willow Creek, a small but energetic stream next to a wide-open field perfect for camping. It wasn't a meadow--there wasn't enough vegetation to call anything out here a meadow. The ground was kind of "sandy"--a term I use loosely since it did have the kind of give like a beach had (two steps forward, one step back), but the grains of sand were about a centimeter in diameter. It's actually a very nice surface to camp on for rock--especially if you're like me and not using a ground pad to sleep on. =)

Crossing Kingsbury Grade. Watch out for traffic!
I quickly set up camp and dumped out the water I carried from Star Lake replacing it with the water in Willow Creek. I figured people probably liked to swim in Star Lake, and probably camped around it more often making that water more likely to be polluted. The Willow Creek water looked fresh from the mountain snow with less opportunity to have been polluted. Which is even more important to me since I don't filter my water. I'd have used the Star Lake water, and it would probably be fine, but if you can replace one water source with a better one, you'd be a fool not to. Even if you had a filter!

Later that night, I was reading the "educational materials" with my map and only then realized it actually told us where reliable water sources on the trail were located, and Willow Creek was one of them. Well, shoot! I wish I noticed that earlier--then I wouldn't have bothered to carry 4 liters of water from Star Lake to Willow Creek. It wasn't the end of the world, but 4 liters of water isn't light! At least I won't make that mistake a second time....

I went to sleep under beautiful, clear skies. The nearly-full moon drowned out all but the brightest stars, at least until it set far after midnight. Once the moon set, though, the stars lit up like diamonds, twinkling and dancing until dawn.

In completely unrelated news.... August is once again here, which means it's time for the annual Hike-a-Thon drive! Amanda and I are trying to raise money for the Washington Trails Association which does some great work building and maintaining trails in Washington state, and please, if you can help us out, even if it's just $5 or something, please do so! Sponsor us now!

This year, I've decided that anyone who sponsors me will be in the running to win an autographed copy of my book, A Tale of Two Trails about my exciting adventures on the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail. For anyone that donates at least $40 to the cause, I'll send you a free autographed copy! The catch is.... you have to sponsor my page. Yeah, Amanda and I are a team, and everyone likes her more, but we also have separate accounts and I'll only be looking at those who donate under my account. So if you donate $40+, I'll mail you a free copy of my book. If you donate less than $40, I'll put all of your names into the proverbial hat and choose one at random who will get a free book. =)

That $40 also can give you a membership to the WTA which includes a subscription to the Washington Trails magazine. A book, a magazine subscription and all for a good cause--just $40! =)

Passing through the Heavenly ski resort area.

Looking eastwards towards the Carson Valley is much drier and has a lot fewer trees.

Another eastward-facing view away from Lake Tahoe. It really is pretty, but
in a very different way than those westward-facing views!

Star Lake is just under one of those mountaintops ahead... but which one?!

Although this area wasn't thick with trees, many of the trees that were there
were absolutely huge! I wish I had someone standing in this photo so you could
really appreciate how large some of these trees are, but take my word for it--
some of the trees on this section are the largest you'll see on the TRT!

Star Lake

Willow Creek

Home, sweet, home. Yeah, I think I can make myself a comfortable
campsite here tonight!


Anonymous said...

I know you don't filter your water but do you use purification tablets?

Don't Panic!

Ryan said...

Nope, no purification tablets either. I like my water pure! =)

-- Ryan

Anonymous said...

Brave Ryan likes his water pure

No Chlorine, filters, iodine,

No need these noxious pills to stir,

And Boy Scout wisdom he'll decline.

He risks infection, Oh so foul:

Amoebic liver cysts cause pain,

Ghiardia attacks his bowel,

Echinococcus rots his brain,

E. Coli may the runs produce

Cryptosporidiosis may

A bloody, liquid stool produce

And ruin a peaceful hiking day.

Grumpy (MD)

Anonymous said...

A, the pressure t publish or perish...The second to last line should read, "A bloody, liquid stool induce"


Karolina said...

Beautiful views!

Mary said...

The giant tree could be a bristlecone pine. It doesn't look gnarly enough but it could be young - only hundreds of years old.