Waking up at Marlette Campground (read the story of my hike there in my earlier post here), I ensured I had filled my 1.5-litre (50-oz) water bladder and my 500-ml (17-oz) soft flask since the section of the Tahoe Rim Trail I would be following was known for being particularly dry. I had slept later than expected after my early night so I started off after 8:00AM while eating a Clif Bar for breakfast.
As I climbed up from the campground I crossed a number of patches of snow but was rewarded with the best views yet of Lake Tahoe as I crested Spooner Summit. I descended down the other side and reached the trailhead perfectly on time for the rough schedule I had put together for the day. I had completed 9 miles (14.5 km) of the 36 miles (58 km) that I had planned for the day. Since my next camping spot would be in the wilderness (rather than at a designated campsite) I did have the flexibility to reduce or increase the distance I would cover.
At the trailhead I bumped into a couple who were planning to set out for a full 165-mile (265-km) thru-hike of the trail starting on the following Saturday. They had just been out on the trail to stash some water due to concerns of the dry nature of the section I was hiking. They were quite surprised when I mentioned my destination for that evening (half the distance would generally be considered a long day’s hiking) so after a couple of minutes chatting I set off again.
I climbed again on the other side and was rewarded with some more stunning views of the lake. Slightly after reaching my halfway distance for the day I stopped for lunch, resting on a shaded rock just off the trail. Lunch consisted of a couple of wraps made using tortillas filled with cream cheese, salami and capsicum (bell peppers). I had been rationing my water to ensure that I had not consumed more than half of my 2 litres (67 oz) by the halfway point of my day, which I had managed to achieve, but I knew that it was leaving my body slight dehydrated. My mouth was dry but I was setting time or distance targets for each sip of water.
I started passing under chairlifts and noting signs providing me with options for green or blue runs as I made my way through the ski resort of Heavenly.
A few miles after lunch I came across a shallow stream, which was unfortunately so shallow that I was only able to half fill my water bladder. But I was glad enough for that so I filled it as much as possible and treated the water with a purification tablet. Then a few miles later I came across another stream that had some small, stepped falls that would allow me to completely fill my water bladder. Therefore I took off my pack once again, this time completely filling the bladder and once again treating it with a purification tablet.
Just as I was getting ready to repack my backpack I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye, and looked up to spot an adult black bear around 80 feet (25 metres) away. It was heading towards me, then stopped to observe me, and then continued towards me once again. It was clearly heading towards the exact stream that I was standing beside but I was also concious that it might have smelled the food I was carrying by then. I very quickly gathered all of my belongings (without repacking them), stood on a nearby rock and waved my arms above my head to look larger (hoping to discourage the thought of following me for my food), and then headed along the trail and away from the bear.
I kept walking and looked back over my shoulder to see if the bear was following. It descended down towards the stream and did not reappear onto the trail, but I continued for another half a mile before stopping to repack. Amazingly the sighting of a wild bear is something that many tourists seek in North America but I can honestly say that I would have been quite fine without that experience. It was my second bear sighting (the previous occuring in Washington state back in 2010), but that time a ravine had conveniently separated me from the pair of bears (mum and not-so-small cub).
I reached the top of a climb to arrive at a branch where a couple of trails met with a gravel road (possibly either a forestry road or fire trail), where a sign directed me to turn down the road briefly before another sign attached to a tree seemed to direct me back off the road. I tried to find the trail off the road but a large tree had fallen down the hillside and had obscured traces of any path. I headed further down the road to see if I could spot the trail but had no luck. I reclimbed the hill to the junction to recheck that I hadn’t missed a sign. At the top I put on some warmer clothes as the sun was getting low in the sky and causing the temperature to drop, had a snack, and then started following the signs once more. Once again I ended up at the fallen tree with no trail in sight.
I then turned to my trusty Suunto Ambit. I had loaded the entire route of my hike along the Tahoe Rim Trail onto the watch, and had even marked a number of key crossroads, campsites and points of interest. I had been navigating using it earlier in the day but had switched off the navigation functionality as I had noticed that the battery was depleting at quite a rate. I now switched it on again, and the watch told me that I was a couple of miles off the trail. Not a good start but it didn’t sound quite right. Then I asked the watch to give me my exact location so that I could plot my coordinates on the map I was carrying. The watch advised that the GPS signal was weak before eventually getting a proper lock and then giving me a set of coordinates. I then re-entered the navigation function and the watch now advised that I was very near the trail. I climbed back up to the road, and appeared to be exactly on the trail, and then pointed myself down the road and my watch indicated that to be the exact direction to follow. I took off down the road once again, went past the spot where I had earlier turned around, went around a sharp bend, and then spotted another TRT sign directing me back off the road and onto the trail. My watch certainly saved me from losing even more precious time, and I was back on track although I had lost around 30 minutes as the sun continued to descend.
The trail now started ascending as I made my way towards Monument Pass. I was traversing the mountain on a narrow trail with a drop to my left and a steep wall to my right. I had less than two hours of daylight remaining so I started assessing options. My main target remained Star Lake, since it would provide water as well as flat ground for camping. I still had plenty of water from my creek stop (thankfully I had filled up before the bear headed over) so I did have the option of stopping anywhere on the trail. Unfortunately there was not a lot of flat ground at that point so if I did decide to stop before the lake and couldn’t find any flat terrain then I would potentially be required to sleep on the trail. I wouldn’t be able to setup my tent, but I could arrange my sleeping bag along the trail and use the tent fly as a tarp for warmth and waterproofing.
All of these thoughts provided great motivation to keep moving, so I ran as much as possible and walked hard when the ground was too steep. I eventually spotted a drop between two peaks with powerlines running between them and was sure that it would be the pass. When the trail started rapidly ascending with switchbacks just before reaching the powerlines I knew that I was right. I crossed over the pass and then began descending for a while before recommencing a traverse around the mountain, now with a drop to my right and steep, forested ground to my left. I passed a small creek and spotted some fairly level ground with a little less than 90 minutes of light remaining and briefly considered stopping, but I assessed the distance remaining and decided to push on to Star Lake (although I did note the location just in case).
The ground started rising again and I knew that I was near my destination, with Star Lake being located at over 9000 feet (2700 metres). With around one hour of light remaining I reached the lake, and it was certainly a worthy campsite. I briefly admired the view of the lake and the surrounding mountains in the waning light, and then got to work setting myself up. I put up my tent, prepared a quick rehydrated meal, washed my feet in the extremely cold water, took a couple of photos, and then stuffed all of my food into a dry bag and hoisted it up a tree. I then had a brief look at my plans for the following day, and went to bed as a reward for a stunning day of hiking in which I had covered over 36 miles (58 km).