Most of the outdoor recreation enthusiasts in our area know the hiking season in the higher reaches of the county has been curtailed due to the long winter and cold, snowy, spring.
Kayaking, canoeing, or swimming in an alpine lake are not readily available but a bit lower in elevation, Sly Park, Ice House, Union Valley, Loon Lake and Fallen Leaf are all full and ready for you to show up. A bit higher, Caples, Red Lake, Silver Lake, and Echo Lake look pretty good for a day on the water. Lake Tahoe, which doesn’t freeze, is always a good choice too.
The roads into some of the other higher lakes, Wrights for instance, are not passable yet so getting to them is a problem. The trails in the Crystal Basin Recreation Area, along Highway 88, or up in the Tahoe Basin, are pretty well marked but take a map and compass with you.
This year it is clearly different in the high country. The snow is still there. Snow changes everything. The trails are, for the most part, snow covered.
Up at Carson Pass the snow starts right at the trail head. Lake Winnemucca, as of July 4, was still partly frozen. The trail leading to Frog, Winnemucca, and Round Top lakes is about 80 percent under snow though there are patches of dirt that show through.
The same is true up in the Crystal Basin. The higher the trail, the more likely it is that there is snow on it. The Tahoe Basin, at lake level, is free of snow. Start hiking up your favorite trail, though, perhaps towards Mt. Tallac, or 5 Lakes in the Granite Chief Wilderness, and snow shows up pretty quickly.
Hikers should be aware that the snow on and around the trails can be very slippery, change in appearance and unstable.
Hikers without snowshoes are taking a big chance. Sinking through the snow with each step, popularly known as “post holing,” is quite tiring. Sinking in up to your upper thigh can really put you behind schedule.
Perhaps the most important issue is this: Snow really does change everything. The familiar trail markers and landmarks are simply not as identifiable as they are during a normal, non-snow covered hike.
It’s an extremely bad idea to think you’ll be able to retrace your path through the snow. Your tracks won’t look the same when you head back to civilization and the end result is that you could get truly lost.
There is hope though. With each warm day that goes by, the snow melts a bit more.
Patience will pay off. If you just can’t wait, and do decide to head out over the snow, make sure you are prepared. Take sunscreen, water, first aid kit, compass, map, food and snowshoes — essentials for a day hike. Turn around frequently and note what you see. At some point, after all, you’ll want to head back so it’s good to know the way.