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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)



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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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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