Editor’s note: After hiking a segment of the Appalachian Trail in 2001, Somerset’s Norm Stoldt, trail name Stormin’ Norman, decided to stay closer to home in 2002. He shares his 2002 adventures on the Tahoe Rim Trail.
After backpacking the first half of the Appalachian Trail last year, covering 1,095 miles in 75 days, I wanted to try something shorter and closer to home in 2002 and decided on thru-hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail.
It offers excellent hiking opportunities for both casual day hikers and more serious long distance backpackers. The TRT is a 165-mile loop starting and ending from any of nine trail heads. The longest distance between trail heads is 31.7 miles; the shortest is 12.2 miles. The elevation along the trail ranges from 6,240 above sea level at Tahoe City to 10,339 feet on Relay Peak.
My journey took me through six counties, three national forests and three national wilderness areas. In preparation for my hike I mailed food packages to the post offices at Echo Lake Resort and Tahoe City. I also cached water at several strategic trail heads as water sources are extremely scarce around the northern portion of the lake.
Nevertheless I still had to carry 10 pounds of water in addition to six days of food along with my normal camping gear when I started. The initial weight of my pack was 45 pounds, considerably heavier than what I preferred.
I began at Tahoe Meadows. On the first day along the trail at 8,000 feet I saw magnificent views of both Lake Tahoe and Washoe Valley between Reno and Carson City. On other days I passed mile upon mile of beautiful alpine flowers nourished by melting snow from nearby mountain peaks.
Six times during my adventure I crossed over mountain passes or peaks that exceeded 9,000 feet. But the grand finale of this part of my trek was ascending Relay Peak. From such a majestic height I had a spectacular panoramic view of Lake Tahoe to the south, Donner Lake to the north, the high desert Nevada plateau to the west and numerous snow-draped mountain peaks to the east.
It was humbling to realize that this scene existed tens of thousands of years before my arrival and would still be there tens of thousands of years after my passing.
The southern portion of the trail descended from mountain peaks and ridges into scattered forests and large meadows. Coming from the midwest, my memories of a meadow are large, flat, grassy dry areas. Here the meadows were large marshy areas fed by melting snow and were home to swarms of hungry mosquitoes.
There was another major change in the terrain in the Desolation Wilderness area southwest of Lake Tahoe. This region was formed by the action of ancient glaciers. It was sparsely forested with brilliant blue alpine lakes nestled among spectacular granite slabs formations. The scenic surroundings more than compensated for the lack of any view of Lake Tahoe.
So far I had averaged 10 to 14 miles a day but for this section of my walk I took advantage of all the excellent lakeside campsites and cut down to 6 to 8 miles a day. The lakes also provided an opportunity to rinse off both the accumulated layers of sunblock, dirt and mosquito repellent from myself and to clean my grimy, sweat-coated hiking clothes.
The strangest section of the trail involved trekking through Kingsbury on 3.4 miles of paved residential roads and a highway. Later I found an eerie scene as the trail wound back and forth under some of Heavenly Ski Resort’s ski lift chairs. There I was all alone in the middle of nature passing under these modern contraptions silently swinging in the summer breeze.
I faced many challenges, some big, some small and some humorous in the 16 days it took me to complete the trail. When the handle on my only cooking pot broke I managed to fix it with a safety pin. On a midnight jaunt to the primitive toilet at Marlette campground with just a small photon light to brighten the path, I became disoriented and had great difficulty finding my way back to the campsite.
Embarrassed I eventually found my way but not before the trip turned into a 15-minute foray. At the same park I hung my food bag from a bear cable. When I tried to get it down the next morning an empty cable was wrapped around mine. The bag was stuck way out of reach.Using one of my hiking sticks and stretching and jumping I ultimately retrieved it as fellow hikers said I looked like a kid knocking down a pinata.
On a more serious note, I got caught in a major mountain thunderstorm at Armstrong Pass, elevation 8,700 feet, while setting up camp. The wind was blowing about 45 mph as I tried to set up my tube-like tent. I would stake down one end and by the time I got to the other end the wind ripped out the stakes.
I overcame the wind by placing my pack inside as soon as I staked down one end and racing around and staking down the other end. Then I crawled inside. No sooner was I safely inside when the downpour started followed by the thunder and lightning.
Lightning illuminated the top and sides of my tent and the deafening clap and roll of thunder was all around me. The tent shook violently and I thought it would be blown away at any moment. That was the scariest moment of the trip and fortunately it only lasted 20 minutes. Miraculously, none of my gear or I got wet.
And finally, early on in my hike I left my boots outside the tent at night. A spider crawled inside one during the night and bit my ankle when I put the boots on the next morning. My ankle swelled and it was painful but I suffered no other ill effects. After a day of soaking the ankle in ice-cold mountain streams the swelling went down and I could hike normally.
The most bothersome creatures were droves of bloodthirsty mosquitoes. The most villainous were chipmunks. I munched on a bag of “Grandma’s” cookies one night while setting up camp and noticed a chipmunk hanging around in the background. When I picked up the bag to get another cookie it was empty. Theodore, the wily chipmunk had stolen all of Grandma’s cookies.
Long distance hiking to me is not only about feeling a oneness with nature and our creator, seeing wildlife, and facing and overcoming challenges, but it’s about meeting people. Most of the people I encountered were mountain bikers.
While waiting for a friend at Barker Pass I met three Pacific Crest Trail hikers on their more than 2,600-mile journey from Mexico to Canada. The two trails overlap along the west side of Tahoe. They appeared in pretty bad shape — ragged, tired and emaciated. I gave each a power bar before they departed.
Most male long distance hikers lose weight, sometimes to the extreme. I lost 30 pounds my first month hiking the Appalachian Trail. For some reason women generally lose little, if any weight. To the contrary, they tend to gain weight on the trail.
Except for one weekend I hiked by myself. In the course of my travels I ran into only five other thru-hikers. The most emotional meeting occurred while grocery shopping at Tahoe City when I came upon two Pacific Crest Trail hikers whom I had met on the Appalachian the year before. There is a fraternity among long distance hikers who have shared the hardships and joys of the trail. Our near tearful hugs brought stares from passersby.
The bravest hiker I met was a senior woman walking alone. She stopped to tell me she had just encountered a large bear up the trail. It blocked her passage twice in a 100-yard stretch. She kept her composure, stood tall, waved, shouted and banged on some of her gear before it reluctantly retreated into the woods.
I wondered how wise it would be to continue and decided that since the bear had backed off once, it would do it again. I pressed on and never saw Yogi or any of his friends.
The strangest hikers I met were a family of three wearing mosquito netting from head to toe. Their “body armor” against the bothersome insects made them look more like aliens from outer space than hikers.
I had the good fortune to meet three wonderful “Trail Angels,” people who go out of their way to help hikers. The first was a woman who showed me the trail head out of Kingsbury and then walked with me another 2 miles to point out a great camping site.
The second was a mountain biker who saw my swollen ankle and offered to go to the ranger station for help. He assured me he would return the next evening and keep an eye out in case I needed assistance.
My favorite trail angel was Charlotte, a beautiful, energetic 85-year-old woman I met at the state recreational park in Tahoe City. I had been on the trail for two weeks and desperately needed a shower and to wash my clothes. The park attendant said the park was full; I couldn’t pitch my tent there or use the facilities even if I paid a site fee. Then I heard Charlotte’s angelic voice say, “We have an RV and will not be using our tent site or table. You can pitch your tent on our site.”
Finally, I will never forget the tremendous efforts of the many trail builders and maintenance volunteers. Without their dauntless work my journey and that of many others through this magnificent wilderness would not be possible.
All too soon my odyssey was over. My son-in-law picked me up at Tahoe Meadows. On the drive back to Somerset I pondered about next year’s adventure. Would I return to finish the Appalachian Trail or hike north on the Pacific Crest Trail to Oregon? Or I could maybe head south on the PCT and the John Muir Trail via Yosemite to Mt. Whitney.
Well anyway, I’ll have time to think about it.