Wandering Lizard

An online magazine with information related to attractions, lodging, dining,
and travel resources in selected areas of the Western United States

A Day of Hiking Above Lake Tahoe

A trail high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

When in the Tahoe area I usually stay at a small hotel in South Lake Tahoe. It is convenient and caters to an energetic group of people interested in outdoor activities. This particular morning my alarm clock woke me at six. By seven I was dressed, had had coffee, and was out the door. Team Tahoe was ahead of me and was just finishing packing their vehicles for the Subaru Primal Challenge. The sky was clear and the temperature was mild.

Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

I drove along the Nevada side of the lake on Highway 50 to the Spooner Summit trailhead for the Tahoe Rim Trail. There was one car in the small parking area. I was on the trail by eight. About twenty minutes into the hike I passed the driver of the car. He was the last person I was to see for the next four hours. I am constantly amazed at how few people venture past the first mile or so of the hiking trails in our national parks.

Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The Tahoe Rim Trail is magnificent. It completely encircles Lake Tahoe following the ridge line pretty much all of the way. It offers spectacular views of the lake and of the lands far beyond deep into California and Nevada. The Spooner Summit trailhead is located just above Spooner Lake and I had tantalizing glimpses of the bright blue water through the pine trees for the first mile or so. The people who built the trail put a lot of thought into it. Rarely does the grade exceed twenty degrees and never does the route fail to offer access to the best vistas along the way.

Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

After Spooner Lake the trail climbed up the ridge line with fulsome views of Nevada alternating with brief glimpses of Lake Tahoe. As I gained altitude the forest changed and I began to see more and more evidence of lightening strikes in the taller trees. Just past the 8,000 foot level I came to a knoll that must be Lightening Central when the big storms sweep through. Virtually all of the tallest trees had had their tops blasted away not once but multiple times over the years. Dramatic scars showed where the powerful electric pulse had travelled down the trunks. The ground was littered with fallen giants split asunder by the force of the storms.

Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

I continued to climb gradually all morning walking six miles to Snow Valley Peak. The trail at this point is 9,000 feet above sea level and I gave frequent praise to the trailbuilders that had consistently eschewed steep inclines. Snow Valley Peak is a rocky crest that rises well above the tree line and the views of Lake Tahoe are among the best that can be imagined. It was very late summer but there were still a few wild flowers in bloom along side the trail. At this altitude on an exposed wind swept rocky mountain side all vegetation is miniature. Many of the flowers that one sees far below exist here too. Tiny points of blue and red and yellow hugging the ground as though to avoid being blown to a far corner of the world by fierce storms.

Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

I was now three hours into the hike and it was almost time to start back to Spooner Summit. A little used four wheel drive road angled down the mountain side to the west toward the valley far below and a spectacular vista of the Nevada hinterland opened to the east. There was sign that both deer and bear lived here. I walked straight ahead to a small rise from which I could look down on Marlette Lake, a beautiful azure jewel separated from Lake Tahoe by a narrow band of earth - definitely a world class vista and a perfect spot for a picnic. I momentarily regretted my decision to fast that day.

Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Eventually I reluctantly surrendered the high country and started down the steep road to the small valley below. At the very bottom there was a creek that provided encouragement to a small forest full of shimmer and color. I followed the road down to the lake and wandered around its shore a bit. It would be a wonderful spot to spend a full day and many folks do.

Snow Valley Peak, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The road that follows the valley links Spooner Lake and Marlette Lake. It is a very popular mountain bike trail and that Saturday it was in heavy use by people of all ages - their only common denominators being the bright color of their shirts, their spandex pants and their great physical condition. I followed the road all the way to Spooner Lake, walked around the eastern side of the lake, and then took a small side trail up to Spooner Summit and the car. If it had been my first visit to the area I would have added another hour or so and walked all around the lake. It is a beautiful spot and well worth the time.

All in all I was on the trail for seven hours and had not eaten since the night
before. I am not sure exactly how far I had walked but judging from the
elapsed time and the way that my legs felt I would estimate about
fourteen miles. I treated myself to a steak that evening and
went to bed early. It was a very good day.

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