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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)


Today is my brother's 24th birthday. It's also the beginning of our sixth trail day, around mile 57, and we only have a liter of water left. A paradox of this trail: While water is frequently visible, it's often too far away to drink, especially on the eastern shore, in Nevada. We'll have to hike four miles before getting an opportunity to refill at Watson Lake. "Drink shallowly," Rob advises.

Massive pines surround Watson Lake, and we take a long midmorning break, the sort I rarely allowed as I rushed, like a 21-year-old, from Georgia to Maine. Glutted on water and pepperoni, we fall into a sunny daze. Time has slowed down. Sometime later, idling down the trail, we meet an ultra-marathoner doing the TRT in six days. He doesn't notice our speedinis, or at least doesn't acknowledge them. Rob wonders if he notices anything as he runs.

The speed hiker dashes away, and we decide to do the opposite: slow down even more. Birthday dinner will be in town. On the TRT, amidst some of the wildest beauty in California, once you hit a road you're rarely more than a 10-minute thumb from a beer. Near Brockway Summit at CA 267, 19.2 miles from Tahoe City, we don trousers and get a ride to King's Beach and the
Char-Pit's justly famous burgers.    

Despite our short break from the trail, or maybe because of it, we find our rhythm. By mid-afternoon on day seven, we summit Relay Peak, the highpoint of the trail at 10,338 feet - halfway around our particular circle. Just before we reach the top, Rob speeds up, as if he has something to prove. Maybe he does: I've been ahead our entire lives. "We just raged up that peak, bro," he exclaims. It's hard not to agree, peering down at Castle Peak, with Donner Lake pulsing miragelike to the west.

We hit the Mt. Rose Highway at sunset, and Rob suggests hitching, again, to Incline Village, ostensibly for forgotten supplies - which I take to mean sunscreen, though he means whiskey. We won't be able to get back to the trail until morning, but he's sure we'll find nice bedding in town. Two hours later, we're sleeping in a drainage ditch. In the darkest part of a sparse thicket, we stash our packs and unfurl our bags. I can see condos. Rob falls asleep quickly while, hot and anxious, I swat at ants. Is this the jolt I needed? Here, a difference is quite clear - to him this is freedom; to me it's one step from homeless.




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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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