After a huge day of hiking along the Tahoe Rim Trail the previous day (read the post here) I slept very well and woke just after first light. After being on the trail until only one hour before last light the previous evening I decided to waste no time in starting out. I had a shorter day of 31 miles (50 km) planned, and would climb from my campsite at over 9000 feet (2700 metres) to my highest point of the day at around 9600 feet (over 2800 metres) within the first 2.5 miles (4 km). Then I would continue to descend throughout the day to end at 7525 feet (around 2250 metres).
I packed up my campsite, collected my food and set off while eating a Clif Bar for breakfast. I crossed over the stream feeding out of Star Lake and started my ascent for the day. I soon reached a clearing with a large mound of snow covering it and had some difficulty locating the trail on the other side, but eventually managed to continue on my way. I continued to climb along a narrow, ascending trail with occasional patches of snow.
Then, after approximately one mile the trail effectively ended at a wall of snow. There was a ravine to cross, and the entire ravine was still entirely filled with snow. The snow was deep, bumpy and had a very hard crust. I looked up and down the ravine to see whether I could get above or below the snow but it stretched on in both directions. I descended down the incline beside the snow to see whether there were any easy places to cross but none looked more promising than higher up. I could see footprints across the snow at approximately the location of the trail, but they were quite deep so the owners of those feet had possibly crossed later in the day once the snow had softened. With the amount of distance I had planned for the day I did not have the option to wait that long, and could not know for sure whether the conditions were such that it would soften even if I did wait.
I clambered back up to the start of the footprints and ventured a dozen steps out onto the snow. The snow field had to be at least 165 feet (50 metres) wide, and was so raised above the trail that I could not see beyond it. For all I knew there might be an even larger and more dangerous one on the other side. I evaluated my options, and made the smart decision.
I retraced my steps back to the trail (which was treacherous enough), made my way back to Star Lake, and then started heading back to the nearest trailhead 9 miles (14.5 km) away. I had enjoyed some great sights on my hike along the Tahoe Rim Trail, had camped at a stunning location the previous evening and was comfortable with the decision to end my hike short. With a big race coming up, and nothing in the snow-filled ravine to stop my descent other than trees it was simply not worth the risk.
When I arrived back at Monument Pass I sent a message to the shuttle driver that I had arranged to collect me the following day requesting a collection that morning. I descended from the pass, crossed back through Heavenly ski resort and made my way to the town of Kingsbury Grade for the lift back to my car at Mt Rose.
It certainly was a great couple of days, and I will definitely need to come back to the question I had been asked the previous day by a pair of hikers I had met at the Spooner Summit trailhead: “Will you come back at some point to complete the rest of the trail?”
When I arrived back at the parking lot where I had left my car a big transformation had occurred. There had been no lines painted at all so it was not even obvious on what angle to park. I arrived to find that new lines had been painted throughout the parking lot, and thankfully the painters had not opted to paint the line that apparently should have gone straight along the roof of my car.