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Tahoe Rim Trail: Above it All

On a thru-hike of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail, two brothers get some perspective - on America's largest alpine lake, and each other.

That we are discussing Rob’s future employment opportunities as we hike, even jokingly, would make our parents happy. They hoped I’d come back with a full report on my brother, focusing on his "aversion to authority" as my dad, another authority-averse man – he once dated his commanding officer’s daughter – refers to Rob’s particular strain of joie de vivre.

I can see dad’s point. During Rob’s second and final Yosemite sojourn, he set an Army Ranger on fire (accidentally), sprained his neck wrestling a UFC fighter, broke his only car key opening a beer, nearly slipped off of Half Dome, and spent most of his earnings on 60 seconds of airplane-assisted freefall. All in just a couple of months. In summary, he tells me, "I raged."

Perhaps our parents would feel better if they could see Rob now. By 10 p.m., he’s unusually quiet. Introspective even. We’ve walked 15 miles, pushing into darkness to reach camp, paying, as I predicted, for our swim-and-tan at the falls cascading from Fontanillis Lake. My body throbs. We stumble past a snake that turns out to be a bird, and a bear that’s really a deer, and arrive at Richardson Lake’s still, black, alkaline waters at midnight. "What a day," Rob says as we down two cans of Bush beans – yes, he brought cans, too. "This is the life."

Like most thru-hikers, we bolted out of the gate too fast, and by day three we’re paying for it. My left knee has been hurting, as has Rob’s perennially sore left foot. I fashion a mostly ornamental ankle wrap with duct tape and find him a knobby stick, which cramps his style. We continue on through streams and meadows, limping in lockstep.
   
At 7,650-foot Barker Pass, 32 miles from Lower Echo Lake, we sit and take stock. We’re at a long-trail juncture I know well: hungry to the point of self-abasement, but tiring of our rations. Time to teach my brother how to yogi.

Named after the cartoon bear, yogiing is a trail skill I learned on the AT that involves looking pitiful enough to coax – not beg – food from strangers. Within minutes we’ve accumulated Advil, Fig Newtons, chocolate squares, and fancy trail mix from four other hikers. The loot satisfies our immediate needs but, unfortunately, seems to confirm Rob’s long-standing hunch that money, hence a job, isn’t necessary.

A few hours of blitz-hiking later, through donkey ear and explorer’s gentian and a red fir forest, a ridge affords our first staggering views of 1,645-foot-deep Lake Tahoe. We make camp on a panoramic knob at mile 38, as the sun falls low and pink over the basin. We eat freeze-dried pad thai and discuss authority figures, which Rob summarily dismisses, except in very special cases: Tim Leary makes the cut. So does the sun. Park rangers don’t. An older brother? "On rare occasions, when he is spiritually aware."

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