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  1. #1
    Senior Member twentybelow's Avatar
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    Tahoe Rim Trail thru hike – 170 miles Aug 20-Sept 3, 2019 : PART 1

    As the name implies, the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) traverses the mountainous terrain that surrounds Lake Tahoe. It is a loop trail with several access points so it can be hiked in sections or in its entirety. My wife and I decided to attempt all 170 miles in one shot since this region of the US is 2000 miles from our home in southern Missouri and traveling that distance entails considerable time and expense just to get there. Plus, we hadn't taken a real vacation in years, we're both getting on in age (mid 60's), and as the saying goes: we may never pass this way again.

    Some interesting facts about Lake Tahoe: The lake itself straddles the California – Nevada border. It is the largest alpine lake in North America, and in terms of volume it ranks sixth after the five Great Lakes. At 1645 feet deep it is the second deepest lake in the US; only Crater Lake in Oregon is deeper. The elevation at lake level is 6225 feet. There are 63 streams which drain into the lake and one outlet, the Truckee River. A dam in Tahoe City regulates the outflow and thereby maintains the level of the lake fairly constant.

    Some interesting facts about the trail: Roughly two-thirds of the 170 miles which comprise the TRT loop are in California's famed Sierra Nevada mountain range, with the remaining eastern third residing in Nevada's Carson Range, which is considered a spur of the Sierras. The TRT also shares about 50 miles with the much longer Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) as the merged routes pass through the rugged Desolation Wilderness. First proposed in 1978, the trail was completed in 2001. The elevation of the trail ranges from 6240 feet at the bridge crossing of the Truckee River, to 10,338 feet on Relay Peak. There are also short spur trails which ascend Mt. Rose (10,785 feet), Freel Peak (10,891 feet), and several other mountains in the 9-10k range.

    The climate in the region is very pleasant with warm, dry summers and low humidity. Most of the area's precipitation falls as snow during the winter months, and several nearby ski resorts make the area an attractive tourist destination year-round. The average high temperature in August is 79 degrees, with the average low around 50F. According to what I've read, the best time to hike the TRT is from mid-July through September. By that time the trail is usually clear of snow and the stream crossings manageable.

    The nearest major airport access is in Reno, Nevada, and there are shuttles that can get you from there to Tahoe City for about a hundred bucks per person. After careful consideration, my wife and I opted to drive out instead of fly. That way we avoided the ridiculous TSA restrictions AND had the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful scenery along the way. Besides, you're never too old to enjoy a Great American Road Trip! We allowed three days out and three days back which added almost a full week to our master plan. This worked out very well as you will see in the descriptions below.

    Although we didn't actually start hiking until August 20th, our adventure really began on August 17th when we hit the road. We are both confirmed penny-pinchers, so neither of us had a problem trying to minimize expenses on this journey. As part of the planning process, my wife extensively researched free and nearly-free places to camp as we made our way west. Our vehicle is a mid-sized sedan, so boondocking in Wal-mart parking lots was not a viable option. As it turns out, there are a plethora of places to camp for free, especially in the western half of the country.

    At the end of the first day of traveling we found ourselves at exit 222 on Interstate 80 and the small town of Cozad, Nebraska. Adjacent to the highway was “Cozad Lake” which is part of a Wildlife Management Area. Free overnight camping is permitted at sites around the perimeter of the lake. We scoped it out and determined that it looked safe, found a site with a few appropriately-spaced trees, then skedaddled into town for dinner at “El Paraiso”, a small Mexican food establishment. We returned just before dark to set up our hammocks. There were two or three other occupied sites by this time, but our preferred site was still available. Since the lake is literally right next to the freeway we could hear the traffic noise, but hey... you can't have everything. Or can you? Read on! Actually, the noise wasn't a problem at all and served to lull us both to sleep quickly.

    Cozad WMA

    Just after daybreak we packed up and continued westbound on I-80. An hour or two down the road we stopped at a rest area near Sidney, Nebraska for breakfast. Knowing we wouldn't return for at least three weeks when we left home the previous day, we had emptied the fridge of all perishable food and brought it with us in a cooler. We also brought our small car-camping butane stove with us and a cast iron skillet. Omelettes hit the spot and saved us a few bucks as well. This particular rest area was one of the nicest I have ever seen with lush lawns, sweeping views, well-maintained picnic tables, and impeccable landscaping. I couldn't imagine a nicer place to have a meal at any price, let alone for free! Later in the day, lunch was fruit while underway as the miles ticked by.

    Sidney, Nebraska Rest Area, 5 stars

    One nice thing about driving out west (besides the dramatic scenery) is the higher speed limits. Besides the 80 MPH signs on some of the interstate highways, we also encountered some two-lane secondary roads with a 70 MPH limit. This was particularly amusing to me on US 95 in Nevada because the only vehicles traveling less than 80 were large RVs and those towing trailers. Everyone else was passing these slowpokes and cruising at 90+ when unimpeded. And why not when you can see for 10 miles in all directions on the flat, barren landscape? Enforcement was zero, by the way. Which is not so surprising given that not long ago some western states had no set speed limits during daylight hours. The signs used to say “reasonable and prudent”. Some of you older folks may remember those days.

    That's more like it

    At the end of the second travel day we were near the Utah/Nevada border. Many of you have probably heard of the Bonneville Salt Flats. It's where people go when attempting to set land speed records in various types of vehicles. Each summer they have “speed week” at the flats, and as it turned out this event had concluded just a few days prior to our arrival in the area so the crowds were gone. To describe this area as desolate would be an understatement. Does that make it safer or less-safe for overnight camping? We were definitely out of our “southern comfort zone” in this harsh environment, but decided to give it a go. But first we had to find dinner. About 5 miles away was the border town of West Wendover, Nevada. In small-town casinos you can sometimes find good food at a bargain price and we hit paydirt at the “Red Garter Casino”. Inside, past the array of one-armed bandits, was “The Italia Ristorante”. A full course salmon dinner with large garden salad and bread in a tourist town for twelve bucks? You betcha!

    With our appetites sated, we headed back to the edge of the salt flats. As you might imagine, the salt flats (and its environs) are devoid of trees. So how does one hang a hammock in such a place? As they say, where there's a will there's a way. We found a large sign with two sturdy posts in an otherwise-empty area, literally the middle of nowhere. That served as one anchor point, and the doorjamb of our little car served as the other. Perfect! We were several miles off the highway so there was no traffic noise at all, and with the waning gibbous moon not scheduled to rise until later, the stargazing at bedtime was amazing. My phone's camera doesn't perform well in low light conditions, so you'll have to trust me on that one.

    No Trees? No Problem!

    The next morning we reluctantly moved on after agreeing that we must re-visit this place in the future when we had more time to explore. Breakfast was again at a rest area along the way where we finished off the last of the eggs and veggies. This one was near exit 373 on I-80 in Eastern Nevada.

    Pequot Rest Area near Wells, Nevada

    By lunchtime we had made it to Lake Tahoe, specifically the hamlet of Incline Village. Before departure from home we had packed up four re-supply boxes with food and other sundry items that we would need to retrieve at various points along the trail. The first planned re-supply point was the Incline Village Post Office, so we stopped in there and mailed a box to ourselves, via general delivery. The cost was $12.30. A little steep for a package that didn't even need to leave the building, but this was the only re-supply that we would have to pay for. Conveniently located next to the post office was Big Foot Deli which had a nice lunch menu. After lunch we headed south along the eastern shore to the Spooner North Trailhead on US 50. The eastern side of Lake Tahoe is notoriously dry, receiving only half the annual precipitation as the western side. This makes for some long stretches of trail between water sources, sometimes in excess of 20 miles. In order to later avoid a 2-mile round-trip off-trail slog to Spooner Lake, we decided to cache water near this trailhead, two full gallons of the stuff. Next we continued south to South Lake Tahoe (SLT) where we planned to spend this night, as well as two more nights when we came off the trail in the coming days to re-supply. First we dropped re-supply box #3 at an AirBnB hosted by “Randy” (more about him later). He graciously accepted the box and held it for over a week while we hiked the trail. The next stop was the USFS office in South Lake Tahoe to obtain our permits for entering the Desolation Wilderness eight days later. Normally there is a quota system that limits access to this area, however the quota doesn't apply to TRT thru-hikers, with the stipulation that they stay within 300 feet of the trail (no side excursions). We picked our expected dates to enter and exit the area, held our noses while paying the $26 fee, and headed for our final destination for the night... AirBnB #1 in SLT. After checking in, showering, and packing our backpacks for the following day, we walked around the corner to a small Mexican eatery for dinner. This AirBnB was also going to be our overnight accommodation six days later, as well as our second re-supply point, so we finished packing re-supply box #2 and gave it to the property owner for safe-keeping.

    We woke up early the next morning anxious to begin our long-anticipated backpacking trip. After driving around the western side of the lake, we arrived in Tahoe City (our fourth and final resupply point) around 8am. We stopped at Rosie's Cafe for breakfast. While their food was decent, the prices were outrageous, even for a tourist town. Nothing about the food, service, or location justified the price, but unfortunately they were the only game in town that we could find which was open before 10am. After breakfast we dropped off the aforementioned 4th re-supply box at Alpenglow Sports. This is a good place to pick up any last minute backpacking gear or clothing you might need, and they hold hiker boxes for free. Finally, we drove another 12 miles to the Brockway Trailhead on CA 267 north of Kings Beach and parked.

    Day 1: We hit the trail at 11:15am. The TRT route I downloaded into the navigation app on my smartphone had mile markers on it, all 171 of them, which made it easier to determine at a glance how many miles we had ahead and behind us at any point on the trail. The arbitrary trail terminus (MM 0) was the river crossing in Tahoe City, but as I said, we were beginning our journey at Brockway which was at MM 20 on my map. The mile markers assume a clockwise direction of travel, and conveniently that was our intent for this trip.

    With a late start, we planned a short day of only 7.5 miles. This would allow us to slowly acclimate to the higher elevation while letting us gradually acquire our trail legs. My wife had done some day hikes around home in the days and weeks before departure to train for this trip, but I jumped in without any physical preparation whatsoever. Who wants to exert themselves when it is 95 degrees outside with 95% humidity? Not this guy! Another factor from the get-go was we were entering the driest portion of the trail first which usually required carrying four quarts of water each, and we were planning on dry camping the first night on a high ridge. For those who may not know how much a gallon of water weighs, an easy way to remember it is with the little rhyme “a pint's a pound the world around”. Eight pints to a gallon is roughly eight pounds. Plus food. The general rule of thumb there is 1.5 to 2 pounds of food per person, per day. I was pretty close to the higher number, while my wife was somewhere below the lower end of that range. So in my case I had 12 pounds just for food and water to start with. What was my base weight you might be wondering? Well as much as I'd like to throw a ridiculously low number at you, the fact is I can't afford much of the ultra-light gear. I'm moving in that direction one piece of kit at a time, but it's a slow process. Also, overnight low temps in this region can easily dip below freezing even in August so we had to be prepared for that. In fact, the predicted low temp at lake level for this first night was 41-degrees. And it's colder the higher up you go, right? Well, as I discovered on this trip, not necessarily. But who wants to risk a cold, miserable night to save a few ounces? I own two sets of quilts, a zero set and a 40F set. If I owned a 20-degree set, that's what I would have used. I ended up choosing the zero top quilt and the 40-degree bottom quilt as a compromise, which worked out just about right given the actual temperatures we encountered. Yet another huge factor in our pack weights was the presence of problem bears in this area. I normally carry a bear bag kit (throw sack, mini-carabiner, and 50' of line) which weighs all of three ounces and has never failed to protect my food from animals. But our research prior to departure made us aware that even people with Ursacks and good hanging technique were having problems, so although canisters are not required (yet) by the powers that be in this area, we opted to carry them anyway to avoid any potential incidents. FYI, a BV-500 weighs 41 ounces... more than 2.5 pounds! Yes, it all adds up. So with a full load of water and food my pack was in the 30-35 pound range. Fortunately, this total weight dropped quickly as the water was consumed. Just before a re-supply our total pack weight was somewhere close to 20 pounds each. If curious, you can view a list of each item I carried and their individual weights here:

    Anyway... back to the trail. It was mostly uphill for the first hour as we climbed the switchbacks from the trailhead. It wasn't long before we got our first awesome views which made hauling all that water weight worth it. The trail itself was comprised of finely pulverized forest duff with very few rocks or roots. I was wondering how in the world this type of trail surface didn't wash away each time it rained, but apparently it doesn't. The result is the trail is extremely dusty. This powder will coat your lower legs, infiltrate your shoes and socks, and you will inhale a good bit of it as well. This is NOT a complaint, just an observation. It was actually a very pleasant surface to walk on, and very easy on the feet. Just plan on giving the hiker in front of you some space. If you follow too closely, you will literally eat their dust.

    We weren't expecting it, but there was a huge butterfly migration in progress in this area. As we hiked along, hundreds of butterflies streamed across our path, all headed in the same general direction, obviously on a mission. This behavior seemed odd to me until other hikers started asking if we had seen any butterflies up on the ridge and told us about the phenomenon.

    We had a leisurely lunch mid-afternoon and made it to Mount Baldy at MM 27.5 in plenty of time to set up camp and cook dinner. The views from this spot were fantastic. If you ever get the chance to hike the TRT, try to spend a night here. Total mileage for the day was 7.5. The elevation at camp was 9020' and the low temperature overnight was 49 degrees. There were plenty of trees for hammocks and flat ground for tent dwellers. I'd rate this campsite 10/10.

    View from camp 1 at Mt. Baldy

    Camp 1 on Mt. Baldy

    Sunset at Camp 1

    Day 2: We broke camp at 8:00am and stopped for breakfast within a mile at another spot with long-range views. Our plan was for another easy, short day of 7 miles which would put us at the top of Relay Peak for the night. There was water at a spring a couple of miles before the peak, so this dry camp wouldn't cost as much energy as the previous night's lofty destination. It would also place us on the highest point along the entire trail. But would there be trees above 10,000 feet? It turned out there were a few scrub trees at the top, but nothing good to hang from. We could have backtracked slightly and found something, or perhaps chose to cowboy-camp this night, but it was only mid-afternoon when we got there and the wind was blowing quite strong, so we decided to keep going. In another couple of miles we came to a decent area, and while pitching our rigs we met a young couple hiking in the opposite direction who told us that they lost all their food (which was stored in an Ursack) to a bear the previous night. The choice to carry the extra weight of bear canisters was sounding more and more like a wise decision! This couple had purchased new food and were also planning on camping on Relay Peak this night, but after hearing our report of high winds, they ended up camping near us at MM 36.5. Total mileage for the day was 9.0. The elevation at this point was 9365' and the low temp was 48 degrees. I'd rate this spot 6.5/10.

    Day 3: Broke camp at 8:25am after breakfast. Galena Falls at MM 37.7 was very impressive. If we had gone a little farther the previous day we would have had better views from our campsite, but it also might have been more buggy. In any case, the falls was a good place to replenish our water with some ice-cold snowmelt! Yes, we encountered snow at several places along the trail. I had heard that all the snow is usually gone by August but last winter was a record-breaking snow season so this summer there was still a lot of the white stuff around.

    Beautiful Galena Falls

    How to start a snowball fight in August

    We arrived at our first major road crossing, Mt. Rose Highway (aka NV 431) around 10:30am. The plan was to hitch a ride down to Incline Village for lunch, retrieve our re-supply box from the Post Office, hitch back to the trail, and then hike another 4 miles or so. I used to thumb rides all the time as a teenager, but it's been decades since I hitchhiked and my wife never has. Have times changed? Would drivers stop to pick up old, scruffy-looking strangers? We got our answer quickly because we got a ride within three minutes and the driver took us all the way to the PO, arriving there before 11:00. We replenished the food in our bear canisters, filled our water bottles, decided it was too early for lunch, and headed back toward the Mt. Rose Trailhead wondering if we'd be as lucky on the return trip. Since the Post Office was located on one of the smaller streets in town, we had to walk almost a mile back to where the highway began. Once there, we had another ride within 5 minutes and this gentleman also brought us exactly where we needed to go, which was actually beyond his own destination. Nice folks!

    We were back on-trail by 12:30. There was a stream crossing not far from the road, Ophir Creek, where we stopped for lunch. Since the hitch went so well, we were now ahead of schedule. After eating we took an hour or so to do some laundry. It turns out that bear canisters are good for more than just holding food. We emptied one of them and used it as a mini washing machine. Of course we did this a good distance from the creek so as not to pollute the water. A couple of rinse cycles later and we were good to go. It's amazing how fast clothes air dry when the humidity is around 25%.

    As part of our research of the area, I had read several trip reports written by previous thru-hikers. One of these reports gave the locations of all their campsites and rated them on a scale, which I found particularly helpful and have decided to duplicate here. This person did the entire loop in 10 days and we were planning on taking at least 14, so only a few of their campsites would be potential targets for us, but it was good intel just the same. One of these spots was described as “nook with a view” which sounded intriguing and was within range for tonight's camp. It took a little wandering around to locate the exact spot, but this ended up being the best campsite of the entire trip. Hidden from the TRT among a large pile of boulders, it was very private, had an incredible view of Lake Tahoe, and had three perfectly-spaced trees to boot! After pitching the rigs, there was enough daylight left to sunbathe on the rocks before dinner. We stumbled upon a hidden geocache and were entertained by the contents and the notes left by previous visitors. We cooked and ate, then watched the sun dip below the horizon and the stars come out. We lingered on the open ledge long after dark, enjoying the moment. Does life get any better than this?

    Total mileage for the day was 9.1 including about a mile of road walking in town. The elevation of this camp was 8840'. The low temp was 51 degrees with a light breeze wafting through the pines all night. This site was easily 10/10++.

    Camp 2 - “Nook with a View”

    Sunset from “The Nook”

    Day 4: Woke up at 7:30 and broke camp at 9:40. There were many views both east and west on this section of trail. The water sources we hoped were still flowing were not, and we walked all day without coming upon any streams. Our destination for the evening was Marlette Campground, one of only a few developed campgrounds along the whole trail. We arrived there in the late afternoon with barely a half liter of water apiece, but there was supposed to be a hydrant here. The hydrant turned out to be broken, and we later heard it has not worked for at least two years, even though signage in the area still proclaims that water is available from it. I followed a dry streambed downhill for quite a distance hoping to find a trickle, but this was a waste of time and energy. Marlette Lake was about 2 miles away on a side trail, so after pitching the hammocks we set off toward it with all our empty containers. About 1.4 miles downslope we heard some water flowing so our unscheduled water run added about 3 miles to the day's journey.

    Total mileage for the day was 12.8 including the successful water run. The elevation at camp was approximately 8280'. The low temp was 56 degrees. I'd rate this campsite 7/10. On the negative side there are no views and no water to be had without a significant walk off-trail. On the positive side there are fire rings, bear lockers, pit toilets, and picnic tables. It's also right on the trail and free for TRT hikers. We met the guy camping at the site next to ours and had some good conversation around a shared campfire which made for a very enjoyable evening.

    View of Washoe Lake to the East


    To be continued in part 2.
    Last edited by twentybelow; 09-10-2019 at 12:47.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Cabmanhang's Avatar
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    This is a great detailed writeup of what looks to be a wonderful trip. Looking forward to part 2.

  3. #3
    Senior Member BillyBob58's Avatar
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    I loved this write up, looking forward to the rest!

  4. #4
    Recalc's Avatar
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    Really enjoyed this trip write up Twentybelow. Your narrative gave me a nice mental visualization of what the trail might be like. Sounds like a really nice experience. I am anticipating chapter 2.

  5. #5
    Member NOBOZax's Avatar
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    Easily a 10/10++ trip report Definitely on the lookout for part 2....Thanks for the good read!

    Sent from my LM-V405 using Tapatalk

  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    That view from the first night campsite looks great, a good start to a trip

  7. #7

    Join Date
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    Wow, what a great trip report! Can't wait to read part two...

    You are a great writer and provided a great narrative of the trail...I felt like I was there with you as I was reading along!

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