- The Magazine
- Current Issue
- Events & Shows
- Web Extras
- Yellow Pages
See Lake Tahoe at its finest during the Tahoe Rim Trail Association's guided 165-mile hike.
Photo: Courtesy of Tahoe Rim Trail Association (all)
Lake Tahoe is a jewel that straddles Nevada and California, is rich in views from lakeside to mountaintop, and more than 1,600 feet at its deepest. This depth produces the stunning blue waters that can be seen from afar. That and the clarity of the lake are something that all visitors come to see and remember.
The Tahoe Rim Trail goes around the entire lake up and down through the surrounding mountain ranges and was started in 1984 and finished in 2001. Every year the Tahoe Rim Trail Association takes two groups around the 165 miles of trail. I had heard about this trip in 2008, and it sounded like what I was looking for because of the resupply system that I could not do on my own and guides, who knew the trail and environment, so I signed up.
In addition, my experience in overnight hiking in this area was limited to the Desolation Wilderness on the southwest side of the Lake. I wanted to see the whole lake from different viewpoints, and this read like the trip to do that. And it did! So, out-of-state, in-state, adventurers, and wannabes, pay attention! This could be the trip for you.
TRTA sends you lots of pre-trip information, and you weed through it to see what your needs are and how you would like to setup your own backpack and resupply bag. The group supplies breakfasts and dinners for you to pickup at the resupply points; however, you provide your own lunches and have to plan accordingly.
But let’s cut through to the trail and our three experienced guides: Tim, quiet, very knowledgeable, and in the lead most of the time, always willing to share his extensive knowledge on places, trees and plants. His pace at first is seemingly too fast, but it readily becomes apparent that his purpose is to get you moving and yet show you everything; Ellen, experienced also and with a ready smile and pleasing manner that would make you a million dollars easy if you could bottle it, always enthusiastic and supportive; and Brett, a strong, supportive younger guy, who also has a great sense of humor coupled with a dry wit. He can carry a heavy pack and jump from stone to stone, uphill on the trail, no small feat.
Our group was the first of two. We departed on Saturday; the next one left on Sunday. We were in ages from 29 to 70. From an accountant to schoolteacher to former military, we were a variety, yet bonded pretty well after only a couple of days.
At the start of the trip on the northeast side of Lake Tahoe near Incline Village, the guides were looking over their equipment and willing to answer questions about ours. I had used walking poles once but did not have much regard for them. I asked Tim what he thought. Never long on words, he said, “I use them.” I decided to take mine, and his wise counsel proved itself on the trail. Particularly after two of our group, several days into the hike, showed me the best way to use them.
After you get about one-third of the way around the lake, you can easily look back and see the mountain ranges you have been through. It’s amazing to see our progress, but hard to believe that we have done all that. Tim points this out at regular intervals, and it’s a great motivator for me personally.
The tranquility and beauty of the lake and its surroundings are apparent at so many places: Star Lake, where we take a welcome swim and enjoy the sunset fading into the mountainside; Showers Lake, again we take a swim and enjoy a meal brought in by horseback, one of the pleasant surprises the TRTA arranges; a boat ride across Upper and Lower Echo Lakes, a wonderful break in our hiking with cooling winds; the campsite at Aloha Lake, set starkly against the backdrop of Mt. Price; seeing some of the runs and lifts of Heavenly and Squaw Valley and other ski resorts in a summertime perspective; and the early morning mist rising off Gray Lake. These scenes are Lake Tahoe at its finest.
All of us were in pretty good shape physically. You have to be to start and you will be when you are done, at least for hiking. This is not a trip for the faint of heart. And yes, one of our group did make the decision and quit about four days out, and the other group had losses as well. If you fall behind because of blisters or exhaustion, you will get all the support you could ever want from the guides.
The one thing you have to supply for yourself is the determination and will. At one point about three days into the hike, I was running out of these, exhausted to the point that my pack became a lead weight. I was well behind the main group because Brett and I had just rebinded the two blisters on my heels. We came up on the group at a spring, where they had stopped to soak hats and bandanas in the cool water. Everyone told me to soak my hat in the cool water, but I knew if I bent over with my pack I would have great trouble standing up again and so did not. One of the younger women in our group looked at me, asked for my hat, soaked it entirely, and handed it back. It was a revival of my spirits and will, feeling the ice cold water. I will forever be in debt to her for that simple act.
But when you stumble into camp, feet blistered or sore, shoulders aching, back crying out, there’s a quick handshake from Brett with congrats on making it today. And you’ll get a quick smile and positive comment from Ellen. Tim, surveying his brood, will nod his approval. That will carry you through the next day and more.
The scenery starts off exciting and with every step gets better. There are so many spectacular views that it becomes hard to pick the best. I found myself continually awed by the beauty at different viewpoints. Lake Tahoe is a jewel with many facets that can be seen from the Tahoe Rim Trail only. Vertical ascent and descent add up to about 27,000 feet. So you see different terrain from sheer rocks to lush vegetation to deep forests. And critters, from marmots to frogs to little squirrels. Deer and bear also, although we didn’t see any bear. But we did carry bear canisters, so we didn’t have to fight them over food.
But don’t think this hike is all work and no play. At one camping spot near a hotel resort, about 11 days into the hike, Ellen and Tim returned with bath towels. In hushed tones we heard the words “permission to use the showers and pool!” You can only have been there to know what that did for our tired bodies and blistered feet!
And one in our group usually had “pain medication” of the liquid variety. So although we might be tired, sore, cold, or hot, we shared common miseries and made fun of them, and laughter was usually heard throughout the group on the trail and in campsites.
The weather was very cooperative for the most part. But don’t be fooled by Mother Nature, particularly in this part of the world. Although warm for most of the days and nights, the last two nights were a sudden cold snap, and down came fluffy little white stuff mixed with rain. We were pretty cold, and gloves and beanie caps came out quickly.
There were great times of much laughter and joking at each other. And on the trail, after many days, it was funny to pass day hikers. They certainly could smell us, and we advised them to talk to us from the upwind side. But on the other hand, you could smell them and the soap from their shower that morning!
At the end of our 15 days we were finishing the last miles from Relay Peak (10,338 feet) when other day hikers and overnighters passed us. They invariably asked how far we had come. Some understood and cheered us on. Others simply stared or did not believe. And some shook hands and congratulated us. At times, for me, it was emotional.
At the end, the TRTA put out a yellow finish line ribbon for us to pass through. Rather than the first of our party going through, we all waited, joined arms, and went through at the same time.
On the entirety of the Tahoe Rim Trail, they have three-sided emblems marking the path. They are blue-edged with an outline of the Lake in the center. I had looked at them for 165 miles. When afterwards we arrived in the TRTA offices to say our final farewells, where they have a small souvenir shop, I bought a hat which has that emblem on the front and “165 Mile Club” on the back. I will wear it proudly. I own a piece of that trail now.
About the author: Jim Mrazek is a former Air Force pilot. He has published several articles in his career and is co-author of a book on Ultralights. He resides in El Dorado Hills, California.