February 28, 2013 – Lake Tahoe, CA
Greetings fellow hikers. While many are snowed in and can only look longingly out their windows, counting the days until the snow melts, the trails clear, and wildflowers start to sprout, I consider myself lucky that I can hike most weeks in the Bay Area. This week however, I’ve taken advantage of three days off in a row to head up to the Lake Tahoe area for some snowshoeing. After all, snowshoeing is hiking, but with bigger shoes and sharper treads.
I left Alameda early Tuesday so I could get in a short hike up the Ralston Peak Trail off hwy 50 a few miles from Echo Summit before continuing on to Tahoe. I am admittedly a novice on snowshoes, but there isn’t much to the technique. On rented shoes last year, my first time on snowshoes, the most important thing I learned is that it takes more energy to cover the same distance hiking, and it uses slightly different muscles since you’re raising your legs higher during the stride. On Ralston Peak, I also learned something new. Traction-wise, uphill is much easier than downhill. Coming down a very steep snowbank, my treads lost their purchase and I was forced to inadvertently practice my glissading technique. This was also new to me. But it was a complete blast and it put a goofy, giddy grin on my face for the rest of the day.
In Tahoe, I stayed at a wonderful B & B called Heavenly Valley Lodge. I used to stay there when it was called the Inn at Heavenly. In 2009 (or early 2010), it went belly up and I was heartbroken. It was sad to see it deserted and neglected for more than a year. Last year new owners (Linda and Johan) purchased the property, upgraded everything, including new beds and flat screen televisions. According to TripAdvisor it is now the #1 B & B in Lake Tahoe. You can find cheaper rooms, but you won’t find better service and a more sincere welcome. It’s the old adage: You get what you pay for. This is an unpaid endorsement 🙂 Obviously I highly recommend it.
Back to my snowshoeing. Wednesday morning, I got up before dawn (and even missed my complimentary breakfast) for my main snowshoe hike of the trip. With my ever present coffee and muffin, I drove west on hwy 50 towards the highway 89 turn-off towards Hope Valley and Carson Pass.
With temperature still below freezing, I parked at the Meiss Meadow Trailhead and was on the trail just before 8:00. While I’ve hiked around Carson Pass several times before, I’ve always headed south from the trailhead across the road next to the ranger station. That trail heads towards Frog and Winnemuca Lakes and Round Top. Today I wanted fresh terrain and I was treated to wonderful views and perfect weather.
The new lessons I learn as I snowshoe is that while there might be a trail beneath all this snow, I don’t necessarily need to follow it’s exact path. Since I’d never been on the trail in the summer months when it’s clear, I simply pulled out my topo map, and got my bearings from the natural landmarks so I could see where I was going and to find my way back to the parking lot when I was done. From then on I just picked out terrain that I thought my body and equipment could handle and kept walking.
In some of these images, there seems to be plenty of snow (except for the ridge photo above). But after a great start in November and December, there’s been meager snowfall since. It will be interesting to try this hike again during different conditions, such as more snow and later this year when wildflowers are in bloom and the rivers and creeks are flowing. But the conditions, nevertheless, were wonderful and I reveled in my surroundings. I like to remain modest, but I think it was one of my more successful days photography-wise.
When I started my hike, I had no specific destination in mind, but after being on the trail for more than two hours, I started looking for a suitable place to stop and have my lunch. After a difficult traverse that was steeper and had more sideways slope than I thought from a distance, I made it to a spot where I could look into some of the distant valleys and meadows to the north.
As I munched on a sandwich and rehydrated with Gatorade and water, I sat on a patch of bare rock overlooking a frozen, snow-filled creek bed. Facing south, I enjoyed the view, and all I could hear was the sound of the wind blowing through the pass. I also had my eye on a bank of clouds that seemed to be approaching from that direction. Not wanting to chance getting caught in weather, I started heading back. It is a good thing I’m not a weatherman. It turns out that the clouds stayed far to the south and even retreated as I made my way back towards the trailhead.
And more wonderful textures and colors:
While the clouds to the south stayed distant, wispy gauzy cirrus clouds gathered above the ridges to the north. I think most photographers are thankful when they have some clouds in the skies of their landscapes (as long as those clouds aren’t bringing thunder and lightning).My hike back to my truck was somewhat uneventful except for another unexpected tumble and subsequent glissading practice. I did leave an impressive impact crater (not pictured). On the way back to the inn, I stopped several times along hwy 88 to take some pictures of the Carson River (West Fork) as it flows through Hope Valley. This area is also one of my favored spots to experience the aspens changing colors in the fall. For now though, Hope Valley exhibits a different array of winter color.