Rating the Tahoe Rim Trail...

A Critical Review

01 TRTA Thru Hike - click to enlarge

Each year I look for a hiking challenge. For 2007 it was to be The Tahoe Rim Trail, which has been on my list since it opened in 2001. It's a high rugged 168 miles, broken by eight trail-heads at the passes into the Tahoe basin. The sections range from 13 to 31 miles with one to three thousand foot climbs and drops. Most sections are a good work-out even for experienced hikers. I'd hiked a bit when I'd been near one of the trail-heads, but never a whole section. Now I wanted to do the WHOLE thing at one time.

So, what does "at one time" mean? Even the fastest humans can't hike 168 miles in a day. The Tahoe Rim Trail DOES have organized 100 mile hikes where the fastest runner takes well over twenty hours to do a part of it. So if it takes more than a day, then how many? It's all a matter of how you want to manage resources, rest and recovery - or not.

Many tourist are forced by time constraints to play mule with a heavy pack and do it as a through hike in less than a couple of weeks. The above map for the TRTA Thru Hike is a good example.

But most people don't have the time or training to complete the whole thing. And if NOT the whole thing, which part? THAT is the point of this post. The official website presents it ALL as one grand experience, but it's not. Like most things, some parts are better than others. I'll give you my opinion and why.

02 The Critic

The Plan

Neither making it in one hard run, nor playing mule is my idea of a good time. I like to travel light and fast, but still slow enough to take some pictures and enjoy the views and experience.

I'm also fortunate enough to live in Reno so I didn't have to do it in a single vacation or even a single month. But I DID want to complete it in a single season, mostly for the personal challenge. I decided to break it up over a period of weeks so I could choose my weather and also work it into my schedule.

It's handy living close to the objective. You can look out the window and decide if it's a good day to hike. Last year I crossed the Grand Canyon in a single day, but the schedule was touch and go with the weather, timing and the driving. This year I was glad I didn't have to drive a thousand miles then take a chance of getting snowed out.

As it turned out, I was wrong on both points. We drove almost TWICE that far by the time it was done, and there WAS a chance of getting snowed out. All the extra driving was because there's no effective public shuttle for each section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. This means we needed TWO cars driving the loop distance around each section from Reno and back. You do the math; I'll just guess. I figured about 100 miles per loop, times nine sections, times two cars which equals about 1800 miles. Fortunately An wanted to do this hike too, so I had the extra driver I needed. Plus we had other hikers on some sections.

03 An

The other planning challenge was deciding which sections to do when, and in what direction. We started with the lower altitude and the east side because it gets less snow. We'd do the west side and the high ground after the snow melted. This is why the sections as described below are out of clockwise order starting from Tahoe City as defined in the book below. And since I perfer downhills, we hiked some of them in the reverse direction which may be a little confusing if you're comparing my descriptions to those in the book.


Tahoe Rim Trail Book

I bought a copy of "The Tahoe Rim Trail" by Tim Hauserman and read it just before we started. It's probably the best source of information on the details of the trail and I recommend it, but it IS missing consistent stats on each hike. Tim did a good job on the overall distance, but was hit and miss with altitude and way-point information.

If you're interested, please click through.

Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Looking for better stats, I Googled the topic and found almost nothing consistent over the whole course. Sure, there's the official Tahoe Rim Trail site with its PDF maps, but nowhere does their site allow me to copy and paste trail-head directions or planning stats into my Treo. I should note there's some good on-line information on the race courses, but that's only a small part of the whole course.

The best data came from the maps they leave at the trail-heads, but of course you can't get at them until you're on the trail so they are useless for planning. My favorite map for the area is the "Lake Tahoe Trail Map" from Adventure Maps. It's an excellent color topo map on durable coated paper with lots of information about the area.

Lake Tahoe Trail Map

From these sources (and my pedometer), I've collected my own Tahoe Rim Trail statistics and provide them at the beginning of each section description below. Copy and Paste as you like.

This blog post is in no way an attempt to create a condensed version of Tim's objective book. In contrast, I've tried to provide a short, simple yet SUBJECTIVE rating of my experience on each hike. I hope you find it useful.

Hike 1, Section 1 - Brockway Summit to Tahoe City

Brockway Summit - Take Highway 267 from Highway 28 on the north shore to the paved parking area on the left one mile south of Brockway Summit and at Forest Service Rd 16N56).

Tahoe City - From the junction of Highway 28, take Highway 89 toward Truckee and turn right on Fairway Drive. Go 0.2 miles to the Community Center and trail-head.

Distance = 19.2 miles
Net climb = 800 feet
Net decent = 1500 feet

Elev Miles Location
7000 0.0 Brockway Summit
7760 6.7 Watson Lake
7754 12.2 Painted Rock
7550 15.1 Cinder Cone
6300 19.2 Tahoe City

Since the first section in the book is also the lowest and mostly snow-free, we'd hike it first, but in the reverse direction to enjoy the drop in altitude. At least that was the theory. We started at Brockway summit at about 8:00 A.M., June 3, 2007.

The day started with some high clouds which made for a pleasant hike. We'd got more sun in the afternoon but overall had good weather.

Soon we encountered our first mountain biker and would see many more during the day. The "Fiberboard Freeway" (named for the logging company that created it) parallels and crosses the trail. This makes it easy for the bikers to ride up the road and down the trail, and I have to agree, there were some very nice long down-hill stretches for bikes so watch your back going this direction.

There was actually a fair amount of bike traffic going both directions in spite of the technical ground. One couple on bikes passed us but were so slow on the rocks we passed them again. We then traded the lead several times over the next couple of miles. The ground was THAT bad. They finally took off once we dropped down the hill a bit and the trail got fast.

04 Snow Plant

The nicest part of the hike, were all the snow flowers - we had perfect timing being just below the melt-line. I've only included a couple photos, but if snow flowers are on your list, this section in early June is the place to be.

05 Snow Plant

One description of this section says, "Panoramic views of the High Sierra, the Truckee River Canyon and Lake Tahoe can be seen from this trail.". And it's technically true, but it's also an example of over-selling. These views are all at a very FEW specific points and there's little but trees in between.

As an example, there's a view of Mt. Pluto looking north near the high point of the hike, but only for about 22 feet of the trail. Watch carefully or you'll miss it. On this hike, every view counts. The rest of the time you're looking at trees and trail. There are also surprisingly few granite boulders or other distraction for this long of a distance around Tahoe. OK, there WAS Lake Watson and a few big rocks after that which were all very nice.

And we did find one outcropping with a view for our morning break, but delayed lunch over an hour looking for another. Finally, we gave up and ate in the trees watching the bikes go by. We could have been in just about any forest anywhere. Section one was not what I expected of a "rim" trail in terms of entertainment.

And it wasn't just because it was short on good views. This hike goes to the bottom of my list because it spends most of its time in the gaining and losing altitude a couple of hundred feet at a time... over and over and over and over. You never seem to get anywhere in elevation. The 800 foot gain and 1500 foot drop is deceptive, it's more like 3000 feet in minor ups and downs.

The trail-bed was the other problem. If you're a casual hiker, you might think I'm being a bit sensitive here, but it can be an important factor. Anyone can hike a couple of miles on virtually any ground. But if your objective is to average 20 miles a day, and do it fast, the ground can make a huge difference. Plus if you have to constantly watch your feet, you visually miss most of the hike. That's why I include a trail rating in each summary.

Even though the first few miles of this section were on fairly nice ground, most of the rest was poor to bad. And the last few miles were VERY rocky and a challenge for each step. The granite ground required us to keep our heads down watching foot placement to avoid ankle injury. This was some of the worst trail-bed of the entire basin - especially the last couple of miles. The rock was sharp enough to slice tires and shoes. We encountered no bikes on this part. It was too nasty even for technical riding.

Obviously, I wasn't impressed with this hike. By the end of the day I was even having doubts about the entire project. Was this section typical? Fortunately, no. It was the worst. Or maybe I was having a bad day. Let me know what you think.

We made it to Tahoe City at 3:20 in the afternoon for an average speed of 3.22 MPH figuring an hour for lunch and breaks. It was a good workout, but not a great hike. If you can only do one segment of the Tahoe Rim Trail, don't make it this one.

Unless you're on a bike.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 2
Views - 3
Experience - 2
Overall - 3

Hike 2, Section 3 - Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit

Tahoe Meadows - Take Highway 431 from Incline Village to one half mile below the summit and the paved parking area on the right.

Spooner Summit - Go east from Stateline to the summit on Highway 50.

Distance = 23.1 miles
Net climb = 400 feet
Net decent = 2000 feet

Elev Miles Location
8800 0.0 Tahoe Meadows
7760 9.2 Tunnel Creek Road
8680 13.2 Christopher's Loop Lookout
8200 16.2 Hobart Road
9214 17.1 Snow Valley Peak
7150 25.5 Spooner Summit

Since section 2 was still under snow, we next hiked section three. After the last hike, I was ready to be impressed. And I was. This section turned out to be the very opposite of the first.

The trail bed was excellent; the views, fantastic; the grade entertaining. I remember thinking as I hiked along, this will be my favorite, which was crazy considering it was only my second hike out of nine. But that's how much contrast there is between the 1st and 3rd sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Besides, I was right. It WAS the best!

Since it was a longer hike, we got started at 7:30 A.M. on June 9, 2007. The weather was much like the first hike, except the high layer of clouds came over in the afternoon instead of the morning.

The hike started off fairly average with very small descents and climbs. There was a nice little creek at about 2.9 miles but we packed our water so didn't stop.

06 Washoe Lake

The trail soon turned level to slightly down along a ridge that provided views into Nevada on the left, dramatically overlooking Washoe Lake. This was followed by views off to the right of Lake Tahoe and Incline Village. The trail-bed was soft and fast. The trail and views continued like this for miles, except sometimes the views were on both sides at once. Now THIS was my idea of a rim trail - great weather, fast trail, fantastic views and a slow decent.

07 Ski Lift

At six miles we passed the top of a ski lift coming up from Incline Village. But the season was over. It was so quiet we could sometimes hear the highway from town even though it was 2500 feet below and at least a mile away.

This part of the Tahoe Rim Trail is only supposed to have bike traffic on even days but there were plenty of bikes anyway. As a matter of fact, there were far more bikes than hikers on both sections so far.

08 Twin Lakes

I suppose I would have gotten bored if these conditions had gone on for the entire hike, but soon it changed. At 9 miles we drop down to Twin Lakes which was really one small lake and one adjoining mud hole. Since this was the wettest part of the year, I couldn't imagine any water being left by late fall. The Twins are definitely over-rated as lakes.

Next came a dramatic and steep switchback climb of about 700 feet in just a couple of miles. Now this was my kind of hill. When you climb, you get somewhere! Here is where we met five runners practicing for the Rim Trail Ultra Marathon, and of course, LOTS more bikes but no back packers or day hikers like us.

At the top of the hill was the turn-off for Christopher's Loop trail which is an extra 1.2 miles round trip. Now after a steep climb you might not be in the mood to add another mile to the trip, but the book said not to miss it. And the book is right.

09 Sand Harbor

For some reason I love vertical views. I think that's why I enjoy Zion so much. Maybe it's that edge of danger. Christopher's Loop is almost that kind of view. It goes out to the the edge of steep granite drop away, dramatically over-looking Sand Harbor about 3000 feet below. It's one of the most beautiful settings I've ever seen on ANY hike. With the clear water, sandy hook anchored with huge granite rocks, and the whole thing framed by the rest of Tahoe, it's worth the walk. It was definitely the high point of the day. It's also a great place to stop for lunch, so we did.

10 Marlette and Tahoe

Back on the main trail we did another scenic alternate above Marlette Lake. It wasn't much farther and definitely worth it. It seemed as if this ridge (and certainly the trail) were put there to present the lake. Near the dam, Marlette almost produces the infinity pool effect with Tahoe below. More WOW moments for sure.

11 Marlette and Tahoe

From there we dropped down to Hobart road then climbed up to the top of Snow Valley Peak. It was the second good workout of the day and provided an even more panoramic view of the whole area including most of Lake Tahoe.

12 Snow Valley Peak

This was the highest altitude of the hike at over 9000 feet and also where we got passed by another guy training for the Ultra Marathon. His dog was packing his supplies. We stopped and talked a bit. He was waiting for his friend to catch up. Soon he went on but we stopped for an afternoon snack. Not long after, his friend passed us at a slower pace. You have to admire these guys. They were on their third section for the day. We had only done part of one and were now getting tired. This is where this hike really won my heart. The rest of it was down hill. From here the trail dropped into the woods for a steady decent down to Spooner Summit.

We finished at 5:20 PM and my pedometer had logged 25.5 miles with our side trips. We had averaged only 2.5 MPH but I think it was because we spent so much time with our mouths hanging open.

I should point out, this is no modest hike for most people. It's almost a marathon. And if you check the profile, you'll see it has well over 2000 feet of climb - but you get somewhere in the process. Yep. This is my favorite hike of The Tahoe Rim Trail. It's where the concept lives up to it's name.

But there IS a close second.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 10
Views - 10
Experience - 10
Overall - 10

13 An, Trav and Ry

HIke 3, Section 4 - Kingsbury North to Spooner Summit

Kingsbury North - Take Highway 207 from Stateline to just short of the summit and turn north onto North Benjamin Drive then onto Andria Drive and go two miles to the trail-head at the end of the road.

Spooner Summit - Go east from Stateline to the summit on Highway 50.

Distance = 12.2 miles
Net climb = 1000 feet
Net decent = 1600 feet

Elev Miles Location
7780 0.0 Kingsbury North
8500 5.2 Genoa Peak Junction
8800 7.3 South Camp Bench
7150 12.2 Spooner Summit

June 17th was Father's day so I got to pick the event. Two of my sons, Travis and Ryan actually LIKE to hike so of course my choice was another section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I decided to give them a break by selecting the shortest at 12 miles. I also decided to hike it in the counter-clockwise direction again to get more down hiking than up.

We left home at 7:30 and got the cars shuttled by 9:00 A.M. Since this is the shortest hike, an early start didn't matter.

14 Emerald Bay and Desolation Peaks

The section starts with a nice view of Stateline and the south shore of Lake Tahoe framed by the Desolation Wilderness peaks behind. Later, about half the lake comes into view at one turn or another, but mostly behind your back.

This view continues on and off through the trees for the first few miles as the trail climbs about 1000 feet to South Camp. The trail bed was average to good and the climb steady. But the ground was not very dramatic or entertaining.

About a mile before the top, Genoa Peak becomes obvious with it's rocky top and the usual collection of equipment shelters and antennas. There's a side road for those who wanted to climb it but my youngest had already vetoed any significant side trips, so we pushed on.

The breakout to a long exposed ridge happens fast. The view is panoramic and vivid, now presenting most of the lake. A little farther takes you to a nice log bench and a great place for lunch at about half way. It was only 11:40 but we ate anyway.

15 Bench

The second half was steeper downhill but that was the only advantage. It was mostly in the trees with just an OK trail bed, but still not a problem. There were few views and not much else to distract you from the path anyway.

16 Travis

The boys did a great job with Travis leading the finish at 1:46 PM. No one was very tired. My pedometer showed 12.8 miles for 3.2 MPH excluding lunch. Perhaps I should have chosen a longer Section - maybe next Father's Day.

This section might actually be more fun in the clockwise direction so you could really enjoys the views of the second half and a more gentle down-hill finish. Plan accordingly.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 7
Views - 5
Experience - 8
Overall - 6

17 Relay Peak

Hike 4, Section 2 - Tahoe Meadows to Brockway Summit

Tahoe Meadows - Take Highway 431 from Incline Village to one half mile below the summit and the paved parking area on the right.

Brockway Summit - Take Highway 267 from Highway 28 on the north shore to the paved parking area on the left one mile south of Brockway Summit and at Forest Service Rd 16N56).

Distance = 18.9 miles
Net climb = 1600 feet
Net decent = 3400 feet

Elev Miles Location
8800 0.0 Tahoe Meadows
9400 2.5 Mt Rose Junction
10388 4.3 Relay Peak
9420 7.7 Mud Lake
9340 9.1 Rose Knob
8400 14.6 Martis Peak Junction
7000 18.9 Brockway Summit

We got started at 8:30 on June 23, 2007. Travis joined us for this section as well; Ryan declined. This one would be more of a workout and he wasn't ready.

We hiked the road to relay peak and got there by 10:00. It was a fast start and fast climb. We enjoyed our morning break with the highest views of the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. There was a southwest breeze and the air was clear. You could see tens of miles in every direction. The only thing above us was Mt. Rose. But not by much.

18 Incline Village

19 Most of Tahoe

20 Crystal Bay

By Mud lake we had gone back south far enough that we could see the car again. It was a big spiral climb and seemed like we hadn't gotten far in all those miles. From here we worked our way down the ridge to the west on rock and D.G. (Decomposed Granite) with only a few small trees now and then. As we dropped down, the wind picked up.

21 Outcrop

22 Travis

23 Mule Ears

When we turned west, most of the trail is exposed to the south, and the wind blew hard. I started looking for a more protected spot for lunch. It took a while, but we found a spot on the lee of an outcrop about a mile past Rose Knob.

The wind was howling above our heads as we watched another group of day hikers come up out of Incline. This was a rare event. We went for miles without seeing anyone else. At least until we got near the end. Bikes were not allowed in the Mt. Rose Wilderness.

24 Angora Fire Starting

Not long after lunch we dropped into the trees with occasional views. The wind was up to about 40 MPH. At 2:40 I noticed smoke at south shore - not a good sign. It started from a campsite and turned into the Angora fire, the biggest Tahoe had seen in years. It destroyed 325 structures including 254 homes, and burned 3100 acres. It took a week to control. We got to watch it blossom into a huge cloud of smoke 25 miles away.

Travis lead the finished this time too. He got to the car at just after three o'clock for 3.1 MPH not including lunch. This section starts with a good workout and finishes with a lot of downhill. I think we picked the right direction. Like other sections, it starts with panoramic views and ends with a walk in the trees.

Except for the wind, it was a great hike.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 6
Views - 10
Experience - 7
Overall - 8

25 Barker Pass Trail-Head

Hike 5 - Section 8 - Barker Pass to Tahoe City

Barker Pass - Go south from Tahoe City on Highway 89 for 4.25 miles and turn right onto Blackwood Canyon Road (Forest Service Rd 15N38). Go west up the hill to the summit and trail-head at 7.2 miles. Actually the trail starts just south of the river, but if you want to do "the whole thing" park at the same trail head used for hike 1 and walk over.

Tahoe City - From the junction of Highway 28, take Highway 89 toward Truckee and turn right on Fairway Drive. Go 0.2 miles to the Community Center and trail-head.

Distance = 16.7 miles
Net climb = 800 feet
Net decent = 2200 feet

Elev Miles Location
7650 0.0 Barker Pass
8500 4.8 TRT Turnoff
6530 11.5 Ward Creek Blvd
6300 16.7 Tahoe City

With lots of fire, smoke and traffic on the south end of the lake, I decided to do the last in the book and a northern section the following weekend.

Travis joined us again. The three of us got started under good weather (well, except for the smoke) at about 9:00 A.M. on June 30, 2007.

26 Typical Path

27 Steep View

This hike too started high and ended low. The first half had a vivid setting with big trees and steep rock formations, along with views of the Granite Chief Wilderness, but only a couple of Lake Tahoe.

28 Blue Grouse (click to enlarge)

The first five miles were also the Pacific Crest Trail and stayed mostly high and dramatic. Then the Tahoe Rim Trail branched right and headed down a set of steep granite switchbacks to Ward Creek where it went into forest. That's where we saw what I'm told was a Blue Grouse just before we stopped for lunch.

29 Life and Death

The rest of the hike was along this creek or in the trees and it started getting warm. It turned out to be the hottest hike of the entire project but only in the 80s. The shade improved but with rolling climbs and decents through the forest. And it kept getting warmer. It was nice to get to the Truckee River and watch the rafters go by as we finished up at Tahoe City.

30 Truckee River

The first half of this last section is a beautiful hike with classic Sierra granite steps and trees. The second half is creek-bed and shaded forest. In sum, it was a just above average for the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 6
Views - 6
Experience - 5
Overall - 6

Hike 6 - Section 6 - Big Meadow to Echo Summit

Big Meadow - From Highway 50 at Myers, go south on Highway 89 5.3 miles to Big Meadow camp ground and trail-head on the left.

Echo Summit - Go west from Myers to the summit on Highway 50.

Distance = 15.3 miles
Net climb = 1700 feet
Net decent = 1600 feet

Elev Miles Location
7300 0.0 Big Meadow
8420 2.6 Round Lake
8380 4.9 PCT Junction
8650 7.0 Showers Lake
9000 8.9 Little Round Top Jct
7380 16.7 Echo Summit

The weather was getting hot, plus I got distracted. We had done over half the project in only a month. I figured we had plenty of time. As it turned out, I was nearly wrong. During July and half of August I was busy with Burning Man projects and didn't do any hikes.

In mid-August, An mentioned the Sierra Club scheduled one of the sections we hadn't completed. A friend of An's named Bill was also going. This would make the car shuffle easier and we'd meet some new people. She signed us up.

31 Sierra Club

We met in Reno at 6:00 A.M. on August 18, 2007 and car-pooled up to Big Meadow by 8:15. There were nine of us total. Normally, I'm not into large groups. If someone's slow, it can drag the whole experience down. Fortunately, this was only 15 miles and everyone was experienced. We had a great time.

32 Cliffs

33 UN-Round Lake

34 Conglomerate

As for valid names, we quickly learned the Meadow was indeed Big, but the first Lake wasn't Round at all. The trail was nice and there were HUGE chunks of conglomerate in the forest - very interesting. There were also cliffs above us to the east which appeared to be made of the same stuff. This section had more hikers and campers than any other section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I think it was because of the lakes being close to the trail-heads. The lakes are where everyone was camped.

35 House and Barn at Meiss Meadows

Not far past Round Lake we joined the PCT at Meiss Meadows, which I guess is why we didn't see any bikes on this section. At the junction was a rare house and barn with some horses and dogs at home.

36 Showers Lake

We continued on to Showers Lake where some in the group filtered water. An, I and Bill had lunch. The rest of the group went to the top of the hill for lunch. We caught up after Bill had a swim. The weather was beautiful.

37 Hoo Doos

Above Showers Lake the views became panoramic alpine with lots of wide open areas. We caught up with the rest of the group at the top of the hill where we all headed into forest and the rock changed to granite.

There were a couple of fences to cross in this section but the trail was nice until we began a steep decent where it became very rugged and dramatic granite steps.

38 Tahoe Airport

There was one EXCELLENT view-point on a granite slab the size of a barn. It over-looked the Little Truckee and the south end of Lake Tahoe. This was one of the best views of the summer.

The rest of the hike was pretty quick and mostly forested ending a nice day in the Sierras. We got done about 4:30 for just under 2 MPH, but with lots of breaks and a long lunch.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 7
Views - 7
Experience - 7
Overall - 7

39 Kingbury

Hike 7, Section 5 - Kingsbury South to Big Meadow

Kingsbury South - From just west of Kingsbury Summit go south 1.5 miles on Tramway Drive to the Tram parking lot. The trail-head is literally at the Tram.

Big Meadow - From Highway 50 at Myers, go south on Highway 89 5.3 miles to Big Meadow camp ground and trail-head on the left.

Distance = 23.2 miles
Net climb = 2200 feet
Net decent = 2400 feet

Elev Miles Location
7520 0.0 Kingsbury South
8820 5.1 Monument Pass
9100 8.8 Star Lake
9730 10.7 Freel Peak Jct
8700 13.7 Armstrong Pass
7300 23.2 Big Meadow

Because of Burning Man, we didn't get back to hiking until September 9. I hoped we still had time for two more hikes before the weather turned bad.

Dave Orel joined us on part of this hike. He didn't want to do the whole distance so he planned to take a short cut down to Fountain Place Road at Armstrong Pass. We shuttled the cars accordingly.

40 Unicycle Guy

We got started at 9:20 with a steep climb and a surprise. Even though bikes are allowed on this section, we didn't see any. But we DID see a UNIcycle. And I got a picture because I'm sure no one would believe me. I am constantly entertained by the range of human behavior. I don't know how far this guy went, but I'm impressed he was there at all. He was on a bad stretch of ground and was going far slower than a walk working his way over the rocks. But it was quite inspiring.

41 Smoke in Nevada

We had a pretty good climb during the first five miles with average trail conditions turning to DG and granite. The views of the Kingsbury Grade during the first mile would have been dramatic except there was a lot of smoke from another fire way down by Fresno. And there were some impressive trees. Along with the unicycle, it was an entertaining start.

42 Sugar Pine

43 Short Fat Tree

44 Star Lake

At Monument Pass we gained views of Myers and South Lake Tahoe as the hike became more open and alpine. Star Lake is indeed a star and a great place for lunch. There was a couple camping there as well.

45 Freel Peak

After lunch we made for the high ground at the Freel Peak junction, and then over to Armstrong Pass were we met three day hikers who had come up a mile from a forest service road.

We said goodbye to Dave and continued up the ridge as he headed down the creek. At this point, I was expecting a small climb and a long drop down to Big Meadow. I got surprised. The map doesn't show it well, but the next few miles were instead a long series of downs and ups climbing about 2,000 feet total to gain only 800 on very rocky and uneven ground. Every time I thought we were headed down, we had another hill to climb.

46 Steep Ground

We were both getting tired. An said she felt like crying. Then it started to rain so I couldn't tell one way or the other. A thunderstorm had been building all afternoon but it didn't rain hard. Anyway, it was a welcome distraction. Now if we could only find the true top.

The trail got flat and we could see no higher peaks. Finally, it descended for good. The down-hill was a relief but still had rolling parts mostly in forest.

47 Perfect Rock

At Tucker Flat Junction An found the "perfect rock for sleeping". We were both worn out. Or maybe both just having a bad day. We took a short break. There was still over four miles to go, but it's nice when you realize you're getting close to the end after such a workout.

We finished up at almost 7:00 P.M. for an average speed of 2.7 MPH which was better than I expected.

At 23 miles this was not the longest section on the Tahoe Rim Trail, but it was certainly the most taxing because of the unexpected and seemingly never-ending rolling climb on bad ground. It was also one of the most exhausting hikes I've ever done. Be ready for a workout.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 4
Views - 6
Experience - 3
Overall - 4

Hike 8 - Section 7A - Echo Summit to Bayview

Echo Summit - Go west from Myers to the summit on Highway 50.

Bayview - Go north on Highway 89 from South Lake Tahoe to Emerald Bay. Just before Eagle falls is the Bay View campground on your left. The trail-head is at the end of all the camp-sites.

Distance = 22.4 miles
Net climb = 2000 feet
Net decent = 2400 feet

Elev Miles Location
7380 0.0 Echo Summit
7525 2.2 Echo Lake
8120 9.6 North End of Lake Aloha
9380 15.8 Dicks Pass
8500 17.5 Bayview Junction
7000 22.4 Bayview Campground

One of the things I noticed on all these hikes is that the sections were too long for most day hikers. The day hikers we met were generally within a few miles of a trail-head. The beginning and end of each section had far higher traffic than the middle. You could even see it in the trail bed. Near the trail-heads the path is wide and well worn. Ten miles in, the path becomes a narrow single track.

Our final section was too long for us too. Since we were hiking with the Sierra Club on section 7, we didn't go all the way to Echo Lakes as I'd planned. To pick this up would extend this section to 34.7 miles. After our experience on section 6, we decided this would be too far for one day. This was especially true since it was now late summer and we had less daylight.

These are the reasons we decided to break section 8 into two different hikes coming out at Emerald Bay both times. There were also two trails into Emerald Bay and since we'd never hiked either one, we'd get to see new ground both times. This turned out to be the best decision of the entire project.

48 Echo Summit

We were at it again at 8:45 the next Sunday morning, September 16, 2007. We started at Echo Summit to pick up the 2.2 miles section to Echo Lake. This was another example of a very lightly traveled trail. Maybe it was because of the many houses which are rare on most of the Tahoe Rim Trail, but I think it was because of the length of Section 7. Most people would use any excuse to cut it down to size.

49 Echo Lake

This short part was mostly just a walk through the trees. That is, until you approach Lower Echo Lake. Then there was an excellent view of the lake and the granite basin behind it which you'd miss if you started this section at the lake parking lot.

50 Angora Fire

Just as you leave lake level, there's a sign about camping in the Desolation Wilderness area. A hundred feet to the right is a view of Lake Tahoe. Check it out. It's the only one you'll see on this section unless you cut out to Emerald Bay like we did. When we were there, planes were re-seeding after the fire from a couple of months eariler. Then the trail gets back to the lake and surrounding granite.

51 Echo Lake Houses

52 Echo Lake Boating

53 Over-loaded Mule

54 Upper Echo Lake

Others told me this segment and the Desolation above were the most beautiful on the Tahoe Rim. I have to agree. These lakes, trees and granite mountains, even with the houses around them are breath-taking. And the trail provides mile after mile of these views. Make sure and bring your camera.

The trail is a bit rough but steady in it's climb out of the valley. I also turned around a lot. This would be another hike that would be just as visual in the other direction if you get the chance.

55 Entering Desolation

Above the lakes we entered Desolation Wilderness and the trees. There wouldn't be any bikes on this section either. We were still on the PCT and besides, much of the ground was WAY too technical for mountain bikes.

56 Desolation Valley

57 Desolation Valley

Dropping into Lake Aloha basin we discovered what the "desolation" was all about. Most of the valley has been scooped clean by glaciers leaving bare granite basins forming lakes. It has an eerie beauty that's hard to capture with a camera.

But the granite terrain also makes it difficult to build a trail. Much of it is uneven and steps. One of those steps caught An's heal and she twisted her ankle. She screamed and went down. Her falling probably kept it from being a worse injury. Either way, it was a problem.

After a few minutes, An said she could walk on it if she stepped just right. So I got her a walking stick and she gave it a try. We were almost ten miles in so it was a toss-up as to which direction to get her out. An wanted to go on so we did. Every now and then she would step wrong and squeal, but mostly she kept going; and at a pretty good pace.

About then I noticed the clouds gathering at the tops of the peaks. I was a little worried about a thunderstorm, but this seemed to be a cold wind from the north. Later that night it snowed. And it snowed again every few days for the next month. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

58 Susie Lake

We checked An's ankle after a mile and it wasn't swelling, so it was not a sprain. I tried holding her up on her bad side but the trail generally made this unworkable. Since she was still enthusiastic, we left Aloha and continued northeast.

We had lunch at 13 miles with yet another panoramic view. If you like views of dramatic granite mountains, this is your hike. The views got even better climbing up to Dicks Peak where you could see it all from above.

59 Determined Trees

60 Dicks Lake

The trail was rough, but the gain was steady. There's little wasted altitude loss as on section 1 and 6. It was a fun hike. Well, at least for me. An kept hobbling along.

61 Big Group

I should mention we saw more hikers and back-packers on this section than all the rest combined. This was partly because there were two big groups of college students packing south, but there were several other smaller groups too. This is definitely the most popular section of the Tahoe Rim Trail for hiking and camping. And you can see why.

At the top we couldn't see Tahoe, but we could see were our cut-off and trail would take us - more beautiful country. We headed down slowly at first since An had to get used to the new grade.

She got comfortable and we were quickly down to the junction and headed toward Bayview. This ground was less traveled and even more difficult but mostly level. At just over two miles from the TRT there's a fork in the trail. Left goes down to Eagle Lake and Falls. We would do that one on the next hike. This time we went right and had to climb a bit, but it was worth it.

62 Eagle Canyon

63 Emerald Bay - (click to enlarge)

Soon the trail broke out above Emerald Bay with one of the most beautiful scenes in the Sierra. It was not only a dramatic over-look of Emerald Bay from 2000 feet, it was also a panorama of the entire south end of Lake Tahoe and the city.

And it wasn't just the summit. Much of this trail down to the campground is vivid as it switches back and forth through trees and lakes. Over half way down there was an excellent overlook where I got some more pictures. I was leaping from rock to rock in a care-free fashion when it happened. Yep, I twisted MY ankle. An started laughing and handed me her stick. I'm sure she thinks I was faking it, but I wasn't. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as hers and I had no problem getting to the car.

We finished at 6:30 for a speed of 2.6 MPH which is not bad for an injured hiker on bad ground. An did an amazing job considering that she hobbled over 12 miles. And for me, this was an excellent hike - my second favorite of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 4
Views - 10
Experience - 10
Overall - 9

64 Richardsons Lake

Hike 9 - Section 7B - Barker Pass to Eagle Falls

Barker Pass - Go south from Tahoe City on Highway 89 for 4.25 miles and turn right onto Blackwood Canyon Road (Forest Service Rd 15N38). Go west up the hill to the summit and trail-head at 7.2 miles.

Eagle Falls - Go north on Highway 89 from South Lake Tahoe to Emerald Bay. Trail-head is in the Eagle Falls parking lot.

Distance = 20.1 miles
Net climb = 800 feet
Net decent = 1500 feet

Elev Miles Location
7650 0.0 Barker Pass
7800 15.0 Middle Velma Lake
7800 15.3 Emerald Bay Junction
8500 17.5 Eagle Falls Junction
7000 20.1 Eagle Falls

As I said, it snowed the night we completed the last section. A few nights later it snowed again - hard. Winter was coming. We needed to get this objective completed before it got deep. But An needed to let her foot heal up too. The doctor said it was a pulled tendon on the side of her foot. She was fine on level ground but very painful if twisted sideways. And it would take about a month to heal. Maybe some of the snow would melt by then.

This last section looked like an easy hike, but at least the last third was on uneven ground. For these reasons, we didn't get back to Barker Pass until October 14, 2007.

Dave dropped us off at 10:00 A.M. and headed to the casino to watch football. Once we described the views, he planned to hike the Bayview / Eagle Falls loop in the afternoon so he'd be there to pick us up.

We were only about a mile down the trail when An squealed and almost fell down. I caught her and held her up as she started crying. It was tears of frustration. We only had this one section to go and she wanted to complete the project.

I suggested we try to get Dave on the cell phone and even checked for signal (no luck). So we would have to hike down Barker Pass road until we got signal. But An was determined to hike this final section. I had brought ski poles for her to use, and she said she just needed to get used to them and keep her foot level. We pushed on away from the road. I had my doubts, but it was her call to make.

65 Light Use

66 Some Snow

I remember thinking about halfway through this segment, this is the most remote area of the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. Almost anywhere else you can find a shortcut down to the lake or paved road in a couple of miles. Here, there was a mountain ridge between us and the lake and no pavement for at least eight miles in any direction. It was even more remote than Desolation Valley.

In general, An DID get better with foot placement and using those ski poles. She squealed about once an hour at the beginning. By the time we got to the bad ground, it was less. Good thing we didn't do it in reverse.

This first 15 miles turned out to be a mostly flat low-stress hike through the trees. There were few view-points, though we did find a nice one for lunch. After that was Desolation Wilderness again and it got beautiful in every direction.

There were several lakes and granite peaks as we approach the Eagle Falls / Bayview junction. This time we took the left branch and dropped down instead of climbing the ridge. That's when the views got even more dramatic.

67 Hard Ground for Growing

68 Emerald Bay

This is a VERY steep decent into a v-shaped canyon and is mostly rock steps. It's a great place to be at sunset (and I would think even better at sunrise) as the light hits the three thousand foot of rock walls.

Because of An's foot, we didn't do any side trips, but Eagle Lake was a short one about half way down. Near the bottom we watched a group repelling off a hundred foot section of cliff. Again, you tend to see people near the trail ends, not the middle.

We got to the car at 6:00 for 2.5 MPH, though the last part was much slower. For me it was a very pleasant hike. An had to work harder, but she finish another twenty mile hike on rough ground with a bad foot. She had finished her objective in spite of the pain. That's determination.

Ratings out of 10
Trail - 6
Views - 7
Experience - 8
Overall - 7


The project went pretty much as planned, though there was more variation in the sections than I would have guessed. All the hikes except the shortest one are moderate to difficult but you can't tell just HOW difficult from the mileage or altitude numbers.

If you have time for a long hike, section 3 from Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit is a great choice. Or the more famous first half of section 7 from Echo Lakes to Emerald Bay at Bayview would also be excellent. Section 3 is more panoramic of Tahoe with a better trail. Section 7 has prettier ground and mountains but is a more difficult walk.

Finally, if you're short on time but still want to get a taste of Tahoe hiking, try the hike that's not even ON the Tahoe Rim Trail - the Eagle Falls / Bayview hike at Emerald Bay. This 6 mile loop is very steep with a 2000 foot gain and drop, but the granite canyon and lake views are worth it. I've decided it's my favorite short hike at Lake Tahoe.

Enjoy the miles.

And let me know what YOU think.

If you've read this far, please take time to send me an email. I'd like to know what YOU experienced.

sudden.net (at) gmail.com

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