Over the long holiday weekend, I completed a solo thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail, starting in Tahoe City and going counter-clockwise. I only got about 10 decent photos before my camera battery died (oops!): Check out my photos
I had camped the previous night just a few hundred yards in from the trailhead in Tahoe City, and got started around 5AM. The first day on the trail was by far the easiest, with relatively mild climbs, good trail conditions (no snow, few mosquitoes) and relatively mild weather.
After reaching Watson Lake at mile 13, there is no water close to the trail until Snow Pond nr the Mt Rose Trailhead, which is over 20 miles away. I didn't grab enough water at Watson, and ended up having to bushwhack down to Gray Lake to get water, which wasn't particularly fun!
Despite the fact that you hit the highest point on the TRT at Relay Peak, the North Shore is the least strenuous section of the TRT. If you are like me and coming to the hike from sea level without much time to acclimate, I would recommend starting here.
I finished Day 1 camping about half-way between Tahoe Meadows and Tunnel Creek Rd, on a ridge overlooking both the Washoe Valley and Lake Tahoe. It was an incredible location, and definitely my favorite campsite!
I got started around 5 AM on the second day, moving pretty quickly along the East Shore. I had planned to grab some water at a place called Twin Lakes, only to find that these lakes are dry already. The unavailability of water here meant I had to make a 1-2 mile detour to Marlette lake to refill.
The stretch from Marlette to Spooner summit was really nice, w/ great views of lake Tahoe, and some mild but not too strenuous climbs. At Spooner Summit, I again had to make a detour (1-2 miles) down to Spooner lake to get water.
The next leg from Spooner to Kingsbury grade involved a few climbs, nothing too outrageous. When you get to Kingsbury grade, there's a ~4 mile stretch on paved roads. I hit this at the peak of the afternoon, and let's just say it didn't lift my spirits! Again low on water, I actually used a faucet on the front of someone's home to refill my water (with permission of course!).
The one benefit to this re-encounter with civilization is that you pass a convenience store. Had I known this, I'd probably have been able to reduce my packload by a few pounds of Clif Bars.
The stretch on pavement is also not well marked, so you really have to rely on your map and watch the street names! Once I was back on trail, it pretty quickly turned into a tough ascent up to Monitor Pass. By then it was early evening and the temperatures had cooled, making it a bit easier of a go. I ended up camping this night at Star Lake, about 9 miles from the Kingsbury trailhead. I'd highly recommend this as a campsite, especially since pushing further would mean more tough climbing! Total distance for day 2 was somewhere in the mid-high 40s, when you factor in the detours to get water.
Starting from Star Lake, I immediately climbed to another pass, then continued through rolling terrain at pretty high altitude (9000+) until descending to the Big Meadows Trailhead at mile 14. From Big Meadows, it was up again until reaching the intersection with the PCT 5 miles in. After a few more climbs, it was descent time down to Echo Summit. At around this point, I began to get some mild heat exhaustion or altitude sickness (not sure which), so it became increasingly tough for me to keep going. My goal was to reach Gilmore Lake at the end of day 3, so I kicked in the 'granny gear', and took about 6 hours to finish the last 12 miles of the day. On a side note, I passed another convenience store at Echo Lake. Doh!
Surprisingly, I would say that the stretch through Desolation wilderness is some of the easier terrain on the entire TRT, especially compared to the terrain between Kingsbury and Big Meadows. It was kinda nice to slow down and take in the scenery a bit more.
Desolation was also the start of 'mosquito country'. The high sierra, hummingbird-sized mosquitoes are out in full force right now, so bring lots of deet and apply liberally!
I woke up early (3:30AM) on the 4th and final day, wanting to knock out the climb to Dicks Pass and cover as much ground as possible before the heat kicked in. There was only patchy snow climbing up to Dicks Pass, and then more snow on the descent, but also pretty well-defined footpaths through the snow, so it was easy to stay on course.
The mosquitoes were pretty brutal all the way to Barker Pass. I found myself applying 100% Deet head-to-toe about every hour or so.
From Barker Pass, the final remaining tough climb were the switchbacks up to Twin Peaks, where the TRT veers off from the PCT. From there the final 12 miles were pretty much all downhill, with a short climb about 5 miles out from Tahoe City.
I arrived in Tahoe City at about 5PM, and immediately jumped into the Truckee River to wash off 4 days of sweat, Deet and other miscellaneous funk. Boy did that feel good!
This was my longest hike by far (Previously I've done 2-day hikes in the 80-90 mile range), and there were a few lessons learned that I'll share:
- Take care of your feet! By the end of day 2, I was having to stop a lot to tend to hot spots, blisters, etc. Next time around, I plan to 'pre-bandage' the areas where I know I would get hot spots, in an attempt to prevent them in the first place.
- I ended up carrying about 1 day too much worth of food, or an extra ~3 lbs. I would have done anything to not carry this weight, including deal with a bit of hunger on the last day. If you are doing this route, take advantage of the convenience stores at Kingsbury Grade and Echo lake.
- I would definitely recommend the really early start (4am ish) like I did, to allow you to cover a lot of ground in the cool, then take it easy during the mid-day heat.
As far as my gear goes, here are a few key components that I brought:
- My Osprey Talon 44 performed admirably as always, though I think the amount of food and water I had to carry at the start was probably a bit more weight than the pack is designed for.
- Montbell UL Hugger #3 sleeping bag was a dream every night. i was neither too hot nor too cold.
- Ditto for my Thermarest NeoAir. I use the small size which is perfect torso-length for my 6'1" frame. This is far and away my favorite sleeping pad ever.
- I brought a relatively new pair of TNF Prophecy 2 light hikers on the trip. They worked great, though this is my second pair where the toe has started to peel within 150 miles or so of use.
- I was able to get away without using my tent at all on the first night (east shore), but it was absolutely necessary at Star Lake and Gilmore lake. I was glad to have a tent and not a bivy, since that meant more space between me and the bugs!