Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail
STORY AND PHOTOS BY PETER MIRES
This summer, I’m checking off a significant entry from my bucket list: I’m hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). Although experiencing the entire 165-mile trail that circumscribes the mountainous perimeter of the Lake Tahoe Basin didn’t make Patricia Schultz’s popular book “1,000 Things to See Before You Die,” it’s been on my list for some time. I retired last December and knew the time had come for me to tackle the TRT. I look forward to joining a group of fellow hikers who have completed the entire trail—the 165 Mile Club.
The Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA), with headquarters in Stateline, maintains the official list of 165 Mile Club members―nearly 2,000 people to date. The genesis of the Tahoe Rim Trail and the non-profit organization that protects and preserves it can be traced to the vision of a U.S. Forest Service employee and avid hiker, Glenn Hampton. Beginning in 1980, he generated interest in a trail that would loop around the lake at high elevation and ultimately join the existing Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which traverses the mountains on the Tahoe Basin’s west side.
Four years later, with initial funding and permits obtained, the TRT began to take shape. It was finished in 2001, thanks to the efforts of many people, mostly volunteers. But any hiking trail is never really finished; it needs constant maintenance after winter, windstorms and gully washers, along with the tread of boots, bicycle tires, and horseshoes. According to TRTA estimates, more than 100,000 people use the TRT every year.
Approximately 40 percent of the TRT is on Nevada’s side of the Tahoe Basin. Living in Carson City, the trail is practically in my backyard; I can get from home to the trailhead on Highway 50 at Spooner Summit in 20 minutes. Actually, the TRT is accessible from many locations, and the TRTA offers a free map series that breaks the trail into eight convenient sections.
GETTING OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE
One thing I like about the TRT is that, although challenging, it is doable for most people that are in reasonably good physical condition―even 60-somethings like me. Perhaps you’ve read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” or Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” or seen the movies based on those books, and find the prospect of a long-distance hike more than a little intimidating. You’d be right; hiking the Appalachian Trail 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine or trekking 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail is no mean feat!
The closest I’ve come to this sort of outdoor adventure was in 1978 when I completed the 262-mile Long Trail, which runs along the spine of the Green Mountains in my natal state of Vermont. The Long Trail is kind of similar to the TRT insofar as you have amazing views of a large lake―Lake Champlain―for most of the hike. A huge difference between the two trails, however, is their respective elevations; most of the TRT is between 7,000 and 10,000 feet, whereas the highest peak in the Green Mountains, Mount Mansfield (4,393 feet), is lower in elevation than where I live in Carson City! I’ve learned from experience that hiking in the East is not like hiking in the West, where one can’t help but notice the thin air in the mountains.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
This brings up how I’m hiking the TRT. Those aspiring to complete the entire 165 miles of the trail can do so in a number of ways—thru-hiking or segment hiking are the most common. Thru-hiking means you make a backpacking trip start to finish; segment hiking means you do a series of day hikes. In fact, you can even ride your horse or mountain bike on significant stretches of the TRT, or, if you’re so inclined, run. You can do the trail alone or in the company of others, and, if you’re like me, you can take advantage of TRTA-sponsored programs.
I’m participating in the TRT Wednesday segment hike this summer, which means our group of 11 plus our guide hike a section of the trail every week, and by summer’s end we expect to add our names to the membership roll of the 165 Mile Club. Every Wednesday until Aug. 31, we cover an average of 14 miles of the TRT. I registered for the Wednesday group—Friday segment hike is also available—back in January, paid the $600 fee (a large portion of which goes to support the mission of the TRTA), and passed a medical history review and a hiking experience survey. This is the eighth year the TRTA has offered its segment hiking program, and the preparation packet I received back in the spring reflects a collective wisdom of boots-on-the-ground experience—such as foot care, trail food suggestions—and recommended day-hiking gear. I’d also recommend Tim Hauserman’s excellent book: “Tahoe Rim Trail.”
For me, the segment hike option is perfect. I carry a daypack, my trekking poles, a hearty lunch, and plenty of water and sunscreen. The best part—besides the TRTA shuttle to the starting point of each segment—is the camaraderie, blisters and all. My new friends and I are in complete agreement with the slogan that this is “a trail like no other.”
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Tahoe Rim Trail Association
128 Market St., Ste. 3E
Stateline, NV 89449
Peter Mires—a native of the Green Mountain State—first came out West in 1990 and has been fascinated with the region, especially the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe, ever since. Dr. Mires is the author of the recently published book “Lake Tahoe’s Rustic Architecture.” He lives in Carson City.