Day Nine: Tahoe Rim Trail

5 Nov

Oct. 29, 2013
Marlette Campground to Spooner Lake TH
4.5 miles

Ugh. I tried to get Jen to write this post, but it was technically my “turn”. So before reading know that I do not wish to write this. If it seems like I am bitter, I am.
A year to freaking day we got hit by Sandy on the AT. A year to the day! 12+ inches of snow. It is pretty and quiet and peaceful and blah, blah. It makes trail finding impossible. Especially on a trail that is small, alone, and pretty much marked only at intersections! Not a big deal when you can see the path, but buried under 3,000 feet of that stupid white fluffy stuff one can’t see squat.
Now, Jen and I were in the tent this morning making our decision. After looking at the map we realized the best course of action was to take the trail 0.5 miles to the fire-road. Once there we would take the fire-road, which is also the alternate TRT, 8.5 miles to a major trail head and hitch a ride into town. After this we would get a hotel room and see what the weather was like to determine if we could finish the trail with small day hikes.
The only problem with this plan is that once we packed up everything we had to get somewhere dry. Aggie is a three season tent. She was doing her best and did quite well, but with the weight of the snow she was sagging and her zippers were separating. Nylon does well when wet, but when there is contact on both sides as well as pressure the moisture seeps through. So where the tent had collapsed a bit and made contact with our stuff and our sleeping bags and our things were wet.
Some of you may or may not know that when down gets wet it loses it’s loft. The loft, or negative space, between the feathers or fibers of anything is what traps the heat and keeps one warm. Our immediate danger was that once we packed all of wet gear, and sweated through the clothes we were wearing, we would have nothing to warm us at the end of the day. So we knew that if we stuffed wet gear, wet down, and a wet tent into our packs we had no choice to get to a hotel where we could be warm and dry our things. If we left camp, we had to make it out. No other option.
Another issue freezing weather brings is that it takes a toll on all batteries. So even though we had our phones we could only turn them on after warming them against our bodies and use them for a short time. At nine am it was decision time. Jen turned on her phone so we could take a final glimpse at weather and received a text. Scott, aka Slacker, had been paying attention from home and had checked out some local web cams. Unknown to us he had borrowed a truck and driven to Tahoe! So we quickly touched base with Slacker and packed up camp in the snow.
The 0.5 miles to the fire-road was not easy. Hell, none of the hiking was easy. But any savvy outdoorsman knows that a lot can go wrong in a half of mile. So together, using the map, we set short bearings and hiked from one to the next. We were elated that after about 45 minutes we saw a sign.
We held our breath as we neared the post knowing full well it was possible that we could have just come full circle. Looking for prints in the snow we cautiously made our way to the sign. We did it! We found the “road”. Now we just had to keep ourselves on this path and hike carefully out.
Luckily for us the road was marked better than the trail. I am assuming this is for Ranger use. It does not matter really, we just had to keep the blue diamonds as our blaze and we would be set.
Hiking was slow and hard. Making trail in over a foot of snow, at times two due to drifts, is not without considerable effort. We took turns cutting trail to save energy. We were deliberate with our steps. We did stop at times to catch our breath and take notice of the beauty. The woods, fresh snow, animal tracks, and solitude are really something I cannot explain. The awesomeness of our surroundings were not lost on us.
The road had a couple of trail heads on it as we made our way out. At each one we stopped to uncover the signs, look at the map, and track our progress. I believe it was at the third one of these when I heard Jen draw a deep breath. I could not see around her and was like “what!” She took a step and I was able to see Georgy Bear galloping through the snow to greet us. What a happy sight. Scott soon crested the same hill and with a large collective sigh we knew we were soon to be warm and dry.
We all hiked back out another half mile or so to the truck. An easy task with the weight of our well being lifted, and because Slacker had already cut the trail. We attempted to take pictures but all batteries were too cold and dead, and yours truly was too cold and wet to bother with trying to find the replacement camera battery amidst her cold, wet gear. So we piled into the truck and sailed over the last four miles to the highway.
So what did we do next…. Eat of course! We made our way to a wonderful cafe, the same we had our send off breakfast feast, and quickly devoured nachos and French fries. Health food!! Carrot and I used the bathroom to strip off some wet layers and then ravenously consumed our fat intake looking and smelling like drowned rats. All the while clean, well dressed tourists were casting sideways glances at us as we drank a beer and laughed out our good fortune.
After breakfast Scott and I got coffee to go, and Jen looking out for us made her way to the Nestle bakery so we had enough chocolate to help ease the pain of our decision. We knew that after we had been hiking through two week old snow patches on the trail that there would not be a significant amount of melt to make the trail passable for us.
Scott drove us back to our starting point and to Jens car. We all took task to digging her car out and making our way down the road. It is always crazy to drive from elevation back down to the desert. By the time we had made it back to Jen’s home town the sun was shining and the earth was dry. It felt surreal.
So, what was next? Girlie things of course! The next few days were spent shopping, going to San Francisco, and visiting Alcatraz. There was also a fair amount of wine consumption. The night before my departure my dear friend Ashby made her way to me and the four of us managed to consume 7 wonderful bottles of wine, pizza, and laughed and cried through the night.
Please note that in true “thrutrailchicks” fashion this trail is not over. In the spring I will return, and we will finish the TRT within 6 months time. If you happen to be in the Tahoe area you can look for us. I imagine we will be easy to spot. There are probably only two hikers in the world that will now carry snowshoes throughout all of the seasons. Carrot and Lucky will now be seen as those strange hikers with snowshoes strapped to their packs in July. None of them will know our story, but you all will understand why. If we hit the trail, I imagine it will snow. We will have the last laugh this time though, for we will be able to do what we do best. We will be able to continue to put one foot in front of the other and conquer what lies ahead.

*important to note that TRT was just a backpacking trip. No lifelong dream of either of us. Just an accessible footpath through this beautiful land.
** special thanks to Scott for enduring my presence in the apartment and for bringing a warm dry place to us. A simple act, but thoughtful and caring. It was not unappreciated.

2 Responses to “Day Nine: Tahoe Rim Trail”

  1. Lance Pearson November 7, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Glad you two made the sensible decision. For whatever it’s worth, you will see snow on the PCT as well. One July in the Grand Tetons Karen, Brad, Kim and I got into a massive hail storm that came over Grand Teton in 20 minutes and covered everything with 1″ of 3/8″ white hail balls. We thought we were under attack. Altitude means weather…always though I have friends in California who love to hike the high mountains and do so over some awesome passes, fly fish in high mountain lakes and take a dog who packs her own food as well. Enjoy.

  2. Elvis December 6, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    Glad y’all made the good decision and bailed. Without snowshoes, deep snow is a killer. And given y’all’s history, I know you’ll get back out and finish that trail next spring. I hope you’re both in good hospitals (or whatever) for the winter. I did some of the PCT and Timberline Trail in September with my son … which was fun for an old man. I’m hoping to catch another section of the AT in the spring. I have good memories of y’all and Bear at the Gooch Mtn shelter last June when you were close to the finish. Glad to read y’all are back on the trail.

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