The Tahoe Rim Trail
Excerpted from The Tahoe Rim Trail by Tim Hauserman
From Spooner Summit, the mostly sandy trail climbs moderately up a somewhat open slope where manzanita, chinquapin, tobacco brush, and sagebrush grow. In a fairly short time, the grade eases and you begin a steady, but less steep, climb through open forest, meadows, and thicker stands of Jeffrey pines and red firs. Here, the trail is smooth, hard-packed sand, which is wonderful for mountain bikers. This open forest is a popular area for both deer and bear, and at least one mountain lion has been spotted in the area. During the drought period of the early 1990s, a high percentage of trees in the area died because they lacked the necessary moisture to fight off invading bark beetles. In the late 1990s the area was logged heavily to remove the dead trees. The result has been a more open forest and some new dramatic views of the surrounding mountains.
Along the way south toward South Camp Peak, you intermittently glimpse Lake Tahoe and Desolation Wilderness to the west, and Snow Valley Peak to the north. Mule ears, paintbrush, lupine, and several aspen groves grow along the trail. After about 550 feet of ascent and 1.5 miles, you reach a little knoll with a short spur trail to the top, providing views into the Carson Valley and to the north toward Snow Valley Peak (9,214 feet) and Mount Rose (10,776 feet), two mountains of the Carson Range. While enjoying the view, contemplate the Carson Range, which is the transition zone between two very different environments. To the west, along the slopes above the western edge of Lake Tahoe, is the heart of the Sierra Nevada, where every winter copious amounts of snow fall. That area is lush with a thick forest, green meadows, and countless lakes. The snow lasts well into summer. Where you stand in the Carson Range, on the other hand, receives about half as much snow as the western slope. The trees are more scattered and lakes are rare. The dryer area that you see to the east, begins the basin and range high desert zone, which dominates most of Nevada and Utah. This area receives considerably less annual precipitation than the Carson Range. While many factors determine what the natural surroundings look like, in the western United States the biggest determining factor is how much precipitation an area receives.
About 0.6 mile past the spur trail your route turns from south to east, and after a nearly level 0.4-mile traverse, it crosses a minor road about 250 yards north of where it ends at Genoa Peak Road, a major forest service road. A large aspen grove grows alongside it, but you won't find any flowing water. You've climbed only about 100 feet in the last mile, but now you turn southward and climb gently 0.4 mile to an abandoned road that would take you southeast in 0.25 mile to a pond that usually has water into June. After a second 0.4-mile climb, you reach a second short spur trail, which takes you to less spectacular views. Now you descend 0.3 mile west to a crossing of the major Genoa Peak Road, about 3.5 miles from the trailhead, adjacent to a large open staging area for logging operations. The trail then becomes increasingly steeper as you begin an unrelenting 800-foot climb to the crest of South Camp Peak through heavily forested terrain. You may see signs of logging, including numerous blackened stumps. The trees were cut down and the brush and debris from them was burned. Just before reaching the northwest edge of South Camp Peak, the trail passes through a thickly forested north-facing section where you may see some early summer snow.
South Camp Peak is a large, nearly level, open area with great picnic sites. You walk along the broad summit's west rim; and, its low-lying shrubs do not obstruct the spectacular views, which you have for 1 mile. The summit in fact is so broad and level that "Peak" is certainly a misnomer. The highest rock outcropping is about 0.75 mile along your rim traverse, and looking southeast from it, you see, Genoa Peak, the pointy nearby peak with a radio tower on top. Scanning clockwise, next you see Heavenly Ski Resort and beyond it to the south, the brown, rounded Freel Peak; Stateline, and its casinos, as well as the rest of the South Lake Tahoe area; Fallen Leaf Lake; Desolation Wilderness including the pointy spire of Pyramid Peak, and Mt. Tallac which seems to rise up right from the lake; Emerald Bay, and evidence of the landslide that occurred in 1955, just after the construction of Highway 89 along the bay. Next comes Stony Ridge, with Jacks Peak and the nipple-topped Rubicon Peak; and then to the west, the deep westshore canyons: Blackwood, and Ward (with Twin Peaks on the ridge between the two canyons). Increasingly northwest you see Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and to their north, Castle Peak above Donner Summit. While the views are spectacular, sometimes the winds are ferocious as you gaze from this exposed lookout straight into prevailing westerly winds. From this angle you can see right into Emerald Bay and you may get the mistaken impression that Lake Tahoe is 100 miles long and 5 miles wide. Unless you take a steep sidetrip up to Genoa Peak, this is the highest elevation point along this section of trail, at around 8,800-foot elevation. If you would like to hike an out-and-back on this section of the TRT, this is the place to turn around. It makes for a wonderful 10- to 12-mile round trip (mileage depending on where you turn around). About midway along the journey across the open area of South Camp Peak, you may discover the small abandoned and caved-in copper mine. This site may be dangerous so avoid exploring.
If you complete the entire point-to-point route from Spooner Summit to Kingsbury Grade, you will probably drag yourself away from the views and start heading gently downhill and away from the sometimes stiff winds in the direction of Genoa Peak. In 0.5 mile you reach a saddle with a dirt road that climbs southeast to Genoa Peak.
On the TRT, from the junction with the Genoa Peak jeep road, you begin a 5.7-mile long and usually gentle descent toward Kingsbury Grade. The forest here is composed primarily of small young Jeffrey pines, red firs, and western white pines, and you may continue to see the blackened stumps left behind by past logging. About 0.7 mile past the road which led up to Genoa Peak, you cross a small dirt road on the floor of a gully, and here the trail turns northwest and then south as it rounds a peak. You traverse the mountainside on a trail that has become more challenging and technical for mountain bikers. Your path is now bordered by granite boulders and has many rock steps to climb over. The forest has become thicker so you can only get an occasional glimpse of the lake. One of these views, however, is a dramatic look at Emerald Bay and Mt. Tallac, which feels much closer to this section of the trail. As you continue on a more narrow, rocky trail, you see Heavenly Ski Resort and its accompanying development. The stark view of high-rise condominiums takes away from the feeling that you are away from it all.
The last mile of the trail rolls up and down along short stretches. Just 0.5 mile shy of the finish, a short vista trail heads off to your right. While the views from the vista point are not nearly as lovely as the views you saw earlier, this vista makes for a pleasant short hike to a viewpoint from the Kingsbury Grade trailhead. Past the viewpoint your trail curves east and soon terminates at the end of a paved road.
To get to the next section of the TRT you must walk 1.9 miles to Highway 207 on a paved residential road, and then an additional 1.5 miles on the other side of the highway to arrive at the trailhead under the Stagecoach chair-lift at Heavenly Valley. About 0.8 mile north of Highway 207, thru-trekkers can obtain water at George Brautovitch Park, along the road's west side.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication