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Backpacker Magazine – August 2010

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.

by: Charles Bethea

The author treks along Carson Ridge (Ryan Heffernan)
The author treks along Carson Ridge (Ryan Heffernan)
Bouldering next to Round Lake (photo by Ryan Heffernan)
Bouldering next to Round Lake (photo by Ryan Heffernan)
Charles and Rob arguing logistics (photo by Ryan Heffernan)
Charles and Rob arguing logistics (photo by Ryan Heffernan)
Showers Lake: the author and
Showers Lake: the author and "silver surfer" (Ryan Heffernan)
Crossing a meadow near Showers Lake (Ryan Heffernan)
Crossing a meadow near Showers Lake (Ryan Heffernan)


"You take the Silver Surfer," Rob says. "The Secret Garden‚" - pointing now to a pair of brief briefs with a synthetic fig leaf in front‚ - "is mine."
These spare garments, he explains, are "Speedinis," and leaving them in the car is not an option. Recently, the jungle-patterned Secret Garden has been a boon to his love life.

"It's also the best way to prevent chafing," he says. "Chafing is my chief concern." Huh. Never mind the fact that 20-mile stretches of trail are bone dry by early August - this is late August - and we have no sunblock.   

Our first steps trace Lower Echo Lake, around granite boulders, pine trees, and  cabins. We're rushing. As kids, we raced through the woods of Georgia and North Carolina this way. We hike single file, side-by-side, spread slightly apart. We sing, talk, and rap. We walk silently, then discuss silence. Through Sierra larkspur and western columbine and the rest of Haypress Meadows' wildflowers, at 8,400 feet, we stride by the cauldron of Lake Aloha with its Prius-size granite rocks, below 10,000-foot Pyramid Peak, to Mosquito Pass, blessedly bug-free in late summer. All told, we cover 12 miles through Desolation's alpine grandeur - without dredging up the old sibling power struggle. It feels like an auspicious beginning.

That night, we lie in a tent we last shared in Montana's Bitterroots, 15 years earlier, on a family trip. Its smell conjures memories of our parents. They had their problems, strange to a child's eyes - their marriage unwound in a cabin in the woods - but they loved camping, and taught us to love it, too. It was assumed, of course, that eventually we would love it together.

Day two begins promisingly. The bear pinata hung five feet off the ground has not been disturbed, the sky is perfectly blue, and Rob bounces up the rocky trail, talkative and energetic. He's full of fun facts ("Humans have many sphincters, not just one") and earnest questions ("Why didn't Native Americans get Giardia?"). By noon, we reach Dick's Saddle, just below 9,974-foot Dick's Peak. Lakes shimmer to the north. Having finished what the cheery author of our guidebook, Tim Hauserman, claims is the worst of today's climbing, Rob uncorks a bottle of cheap wine - a glass bottle that weighs at least two pounds and somehow snuck past my pack check. Then down we go, past more shimmering lakes where we can see the trout but not catch them. Instead, and repeatedly, Rob calls for a semi-nude
dip-and-celebration. A serious thru-hiker wouldn't be so distracted; I may have lost my edge, but I see an opportunity to casually broach a touchy subject: What should Rob do for a living? As a trail game, it's more about entertainment than advice.   
"What about a storm chaser?"
"I'd rather be a hip-hop jeweler."
"Rodeo clown, maybe?"
"Shaman," he counters. And so on.



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READERS COMMENTS

Emily Hogan
Jul 12, 2012

My big life-changing trip didn't happen until I was 50, and it was a trip to Utah. I had been there before, and always loved it. This time, it was like a religious awakening. All we did was hike the day trails in Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Canyonlands, but I couldn't get enough of it. I decided I wanted to be a geologist. I've still got quite a lot of college credits to earn, and I doubt I'll ever get a job because of it (I work at the Heard Museum in Phoenix), but I'm happy with the path my life is on (and those paths I walked in Utah).

One question -- what's Giardia? An illness? A Flower? An Italian philosopher . . . ?

Paul Mags
Nov 08, 2010

Charles and I corresponded before the trip. Gave him some info...maybe this doc (since updated) will help any potential TRTers. Good trail for those want to see what a thru-hike may be like. :)
http://www.pmags.com/ring-around-the-lake-tahoe-rim-trail-journal-2009#impressions

TRT Hiker Gal
Aug 26, 2010

That should read 'east' side of camp. Sorry for the typo.

Star Lake is a good spot for water on the Kingsbury-Big Meadow segment and a great place to camp. Looking forward to the Echo/Barker segment soon. I'm half done with the trail.

TRT Hiker Gal
Aug 26, 2010

Hi Sparksrick, if you take the left fork at Marlette Peak, you can take a short path on the ease side of the campground to a water well with a hand pump. Ice cold and so yummy. The path from camp meets back up with the east fork not far from camp so its not out of the way. Its still on the TRT.

John I. Gutierrez
Aug 26, 2010

Thanks for this!

John I. Gutierrez
Aug 26, 2010

Thanks for this!

Sparksrick
Aug 26, 2010

Maps, Hauserman's guide is good, Harrison's Recreation Map is a handy topo, but I think the Take It Outdoors Trailview Map is essential. I've referenced it more than either of the first two for my 165-mile section hike. I agree, the Echo/Barker section is fairly spectacular. My least favorite section was Tahoe City to Brockway. I agree, the east side is dry, dry, and may require a water cache at Tunnel Creek road.

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