Category: hiking Page 1 of 3

After the storm

Well, a week after the storm, on St Patrick’s Day, we went snowshoeing for a few hours from the Mt Rose Campground to Tahoe Meadows and back, a bit less than three miles all told.

Ingrid breaking trail.

The original idea was a winter summit attempt on Mt Rose herself, but we got discouraged at the beginning by no clear boot track from the parking lot and anyway we still weren’t that familiar with the snowshoes. So instead we walked across the highway and went for a stroll through the Mt Rose Campground and then down to Tahoe Meadows, where we enjoyed a mid-morning snack.

It’s been warm the last few days, so the snow was a bit crusty on top, which made the snowshoeing a little less pleasant and a lot louder! But despite the crusty surface, it was still soft and deep just below and the snowshoes were necessary pretty much as soon as we got off the clear pavement.

I definitely intend to get up Mt Rose this winter, or at least before the snow is gone. It might be easier to navigate up the Relay Ridge Road. Another idea we have is to make it an overnight, since we move much more slowly over deep snow, and that’s the only kind of snow we have up here.

Me on snowshoes

Bella was injured a year ago walking in deep snow, and so we left her behind for this hike. She would not have enjoyed it after the first few minutes. We felt very bad leaving her behind, and that was one reason we cut the hike short and headed back before noon.

Moar pics here.

One of the highlights of the day occurred as we were driving home down Mt Rose Highway. Between Edmonton Drive and Bargary Way we saw no fewer than 20 mule deer bounding along in people’s backyards a few feet from the highway. It was remarkable, I’d never seen so many deer at once. We pulled off the highway to watch them for a few minutes after they stopped running and simply milled around in the sage.

Hiking the Virginia Range in winter

Reno in the background

Saturday night we got about as much snow as I’ve seen fall overnight since I moved here. That night I told Ingrid I wanted to do a snow hike the next morning, no matter the weather (it was expected to continue snowing into the morning). There was a misunderstanding. She thought I meant drive up to the Mt Rose Summit at 8,900 feet on Mt Rose Highway to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, and so she started packing snowshoes, etc. But that wasn’t what I meant. The Mt Rose Highway was almost certainly closed Sunday morning, and it would have taken over an hour to get to the parking lot. No, I intended simply to walk to the top of our street and hike into the Virginia Range behind our house. No need to get into the car at all.

The plan was to hike 2½ miles to the top of the ridge (1,500 feet elevation gain). Normally I do this as part of loop hike of five or seven miles, but there’s a very treacherous bit to that hike that I didn’t want to attempt in the winter, so I decided on an up-and-back hike instead.

The night before was pretty stormy, with lots of wind as well as snow. I always worry about the wild horses when it storms like that, because unlike rabbits and coyotes, they have nowhere to hide from the wind and cold. We encountered a group of mustangs soon after we started:

Snow horses

I noticed they all had snow on their backs, although it had stopped snowing at least an hour or two before. That means their shaggy fur coats actually provide pretty good insulation, so that made me feel a little better.

Eventually the sun came out, though it stayed cold, and we enjoyed a fantastic hike through virgin snow with amazing views of the city as well as Storey County to the east.

Steep climb through drifts
Reno in winter
Looking east from the top

It is such a blessing to have all this just a short walk from our house.

More pics here.

First cross country skiing of the season!

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Sadly, conditions were mostly crap. We got a little snow on Monday and Wednesday, but I guess most of it blew away by yesterday leaving a mostly icy surface with pockets of powder. Also, we only went 2½ miles before Bella was completely exhausted (she slept all afternoon). She’s not really very old but she is definitely slowing down and I can’t bring her everywhere if I want to get a good day of physical activity in (I was thinking about getting up early this morning and doing my first winter ascent of Mt Rose without Ingrid or Bella, but it’s way too windy up there right now; next weekend it’s not going to get above freezing, and I don’t think I’m ready for that, either. I’ll have to do it some other time).

Until Friday we’d planned to get Zuly up there for her first time on skis, but she begged off at the last minute. It’s just as well, because I’m sure she would have had a lot of trouble with the crappy conditions.

Tahoe Meadows again

Moar snowshoeing:

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Last week I downloaded an Android app called Gaia GPS. It’s a GPS mapping app, sort of like a smartphone substitute for a dedicated GPS unit. It has a lot of good reviews. I downloaded a similar app soon after I bought the phone and it was crap, but that was almost three years ago. This Gaia GPS app is really pretty good.

I don’t know how well it works if you are out of cell phone coverage area, but I have Verizon and anyway we weren’t that far from civilization so I had good coverage all day yesterday. With Gaia GPS you don’t need to carry a map. It has a built-in compass and you can also use it to lay out routes. I’m not sure how useful it would be for me in the summer, since I typically follow trails everywhere, but for snowshoeing cross-country it’s great. We used it to route-find over a hill into the Tahoe Meadows area and to check our relationship to the Ophir Creek trail which we were interested in following for a while. At the same time I was recording the hike to a GPX file I could load onto a Caltopo map:

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It was only a 3.6 mile hike, but it was fun. I wouldn’t mind doing a similar hike on skis. We’d have a little trouble getting down that hill in the center of the map, but probably could traverse more widely and get down that way. But the rest of the hike would be great on skis. And easier. If we had skis (and we left the dog at home), we could have got much further down the Ophir Creek trail.

I’ve always liked the idea of collecting GPX tracks, partly so that I could follow in the winter tracks I made during the summer. About ten years ago I bought a GPS unit and it really didn’t work very well for this. The antenna wasn’t very powerful and it had a hard time seeing the satellites through my body when it was in a pocket, so the tracks looked like shit. And it was difficult to use in any case.

The Gaia GPS app had no difficulty maintaining a very accurate track of our hike. Now I honestly don’t know whether smartphones really use the GPS satellites or if they simulate GPS by triangulating from multiple cell towers. I had always assumed it was the latter, since for GPS to work as well as it does the smart phone would have to have a very sensitive GPS antenna, because while cell phone towers are no more than a few miles away, GPS satellites are hundreds of miles away. So I figured the GPS wouldn’t work if you had bad cell coverage. But I don’t know. For now, hiking around not far from the highway and not far from Lake Tahoe, the Gaia GPS app seems to work very well indeed.

Two other things I was worried about was battery usage and phone memory. I thought maintaining a track would use up the battery and the track itself would take up a lot of storage. But I had no problem with either (it was a short track, and a GPX track is nothing more than a text file, a list of coordinates, easily compressed). So clearly this works well for day hikes; I’m not sure I would want to depend on it for overnights and longer hikes.

Packing up after lunch:

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Ingrid got herself some snowshoes

Ingrid got herself some snowshoes, so we went for a walk around the Mt Rose Campground, on the south side of the highway from the Mt Rose trailhead parking lot (there was new snow up there on Saturday).

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Just beyond that toilet at upper left is the Mt Rose Ski Area, lots of folks skiing and snowboarding down.

Man, I love snowshoes. Such freedom,

Tahoe Rim Trail winter death march

We hiked what I call the Galena Creek Waterfall Loop. This is where you start at the Mt Rose Summit trailhead and instead of taking the Tahoe Rim Trail to the waterfall, you cut west to connect with the Relay Ridge utility road and take it a few miles up to Third Creek Pond, then catch the trail north up to the Galena Creek watershed. Then you hike down from the top of the waterfall to connect with the Tahoe Rim Trail and take that back to the car. It’s between five and six miles and I first did this hike in September.

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Ingrid gave me shoeshows for Christmas, and we brought them up with us to try them out. We figured if the snow got really deep Ingrid could wear them and I’d just power through postholing. But since it hasn’t snowed in a couple weeks, we didn’t think there would be much deep snow, we assumed it would be pretty hard from freeze/thaw cycles. Boy, we still have a lot to learn about this place.

We got a very late start because we had to deal with my mother first. I forgot to bring a map (again), so once we left the road we were sort of on our own. I had assumed that by this time there would be lots of boot and ski tracks guiding us from the road to the waterfall, but I was sure wrong about that. Fortunately, by now I have a pretty good idea of how the land lies, so we were able to make it down to the waterfall. The snow was deep and we traded the showshoes. Poor Bella had a rough time in the deep snow.

By the time we got to the waterfall, the entire east facing ridge was in shadow and I was starting to get worried, not so much about me and Ingrid as about Bella, who seemed to be getting exhausted and maybe cold. We experienced another miscalculation that slowed us down: since the waterfall trail is so popular in the summer (it’s really a mob scene on weekends), I assumed there would be an easy to follow trail back to the car through the snow, but we found only a few sets of boot tracks around the waterfall. So routefinding back to the main trail was tricky and it was very slow and miserable going (since we had only one set of snowshoes between us). Of course, we did find our way before too long and Bella, bless her, seemed to get a second wind.

We got back to the car 30 minutes before it got dark. Fumbling through the snow in the dark really would have sucked.

Lessons learned:

  • Get an early start.
  • Carry a map.
  • Always carry snowshoes, no matter how good the trail is near the trailhead.
  • While the showshoes were about right for me, they were too big for Ingrid, so she needs to get smaller ones.

My feet got a little damp and were numb by the time we got to the waterfall, but other than that I felt fine in a thin polypropylene undershirt, wool shirt, polypropylene long underwear and jeans, plus two pairs of wool socks. I wore glove liners for most of the hike. Ingrid was comfortable too. I carry warm clothing and accessories, and would have been fine (though not happy) if I had to spend the night out there.

Bella was probably okay as long as she kept moving, but we could tell her feet hurt by the middle of the hike. We carry dog booties, but deploy them only in emergencies, especially in the snow, since I think they would keep her feet damp and cold. We also carry a sweater and a sort of insulated windbreaker for her, but again she probably doesn’t need anything in these kinds of temperatures as long as she’s moving and there’s no significant wind. I’m not sure she would have survived a night on the mountain without shelter.

Once we were home and snug we forgot about how miserable much of the hike was and we agreed it was a fine winter adventure.

Mt Rose again

Saturday did another Mt Rose summit.

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I know a lot of folks think it’s pretty boring hiking the same mountain again and again. But it’s close and it’s beautiful and it’s a good workout and also we really want to become familiar with the topography so we are more comfortable up there during the winter.

Plus the wildflowers are still doing their thing:

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A walk behind my house

Yesterday we went for a hike again up in the hills above the house. This time we went north instead of south, and the cloud cover made it very pleasant for man and dog. Lots of pretty hills up there and all easily accessible by car. There are also a few Lovers Lane sort of spots on hilltops overlooking the city, which explains why on many evenings we see young couples in pick-ups heading up the dirt road at the end of Man of War Drive near the end of our street.

I looked at this and thought it would be a nice area for cross country skiing in the winter. Carry our skis up the road and then put them on and ski all over the place. I bet no one goes up there in the winter:

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Last week I saw a fire the next ridge to the north while I was driving home from work. Saw the flames and everything, but I could tell it was on the other side of the freeway from us. Left a lot of burnt grass behind:

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There are supposed to be more thunderstorms tomorrow which means probably more fires. Last summer we had maybe two storms all season. Now we are getting them every week. Except for the fires, it’s kind of nice. This summer might be more normal than last summer, since the drought was still on last year, but I don’t know.

I made a panorama of the entire Truckee Meadows (Reno and part of Sparks) from up in the hills, from Mt Rose (at left) to Peavine Peak (right). You can see everything:

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Last week Ingrid was riding an Uber and the driver was complaining about the Reno Airport, which is right at the eastern edge of town and separates Hidden Valley from the rest of the city. He said the airport should be moved north to Stead or some such place so better use could be made of the land the airport uses now. But Ingrid noted how if that ever happened the land would simply be used for more commercial and residential development, which would mean lots more traffic and congestion in the city and also for us out in the eastern fringes. So we are usually happy that there is an airport so close to us. Since the planes never fly overhead, we much prefer having an airport there than a shitload of homes, office and shopping centers.

A short stroll in the Virginia Range

What is the Virginia Range, you ask? Well, broadly, it’s the long ridge in Nevada to the east of Reno, north of Carson City, northwest of Fallon, and southwest of Fernley. My home also happens to be built on its lower slopes in Hidden Valley, and I can access the range by walking up my street and into the hills, which I often do while walking Bella.

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Today I took Bella with me up into the slopes above our house. We were looking for a loop from the deep saddle you can see east of Reno, north to the high cliff above my neighborhood and back down. We started by walking to the end of Rough Rock Drive and starting up the canyon at the end of the street.

The street ends at a cul de sac at 4,740 feet, where a short jeep track continues past a gate. The dirt road quickly fades into a narrow trail that climbs up a deep canyon I call Rough Rock Canyon, after the street full of stucco homes (the canyon is not named on topo maps).

The trail isn’t very good, it is used mostly by local dog-walkers like me. In fact, the only person we met during the hike was another old guy walking his dog. He told us the trail did indeed reach the saddle at the top of the canyon, and that it connected to the south with a track into the Hidden Valley Regional Park. That was nice, but on this day we wanted to fork north, to the lookout above my own neighborhood. He didn’t know anything about that.

We continued up and I was somewhat surprised to find we were walking along the path of a small running stream, which was unexpected in these parched hills. But at least we now knew where the wild horses that roamed the hills got their water.

As we approached the saddle we looked back and saw the Reno metropolis framed between sandy slopes, with 8,269 foot Peavine Peak and the Carson Range beyond:

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Finally, upon cresting the saddle, Storey County was laid out for us in a high desert panorama that reminded me of my childhood in rural Orange County, CA (which hasn’t been rural for decades):

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A glance back revealed 10,785 foot Mt Rose, our favorite local day hiking summit:

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This is the mountain you see when you look north from almost anywhere along the shores of Lake Tahoe.

The hills up there were remarkably verdant, with far more vegetation that we are used to seeing in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The largest plants were scraggly junipers and what I believe is a species of stunted fir, with dry grass thick upon the ground. Northern Nevada, I have learned, is far more flammable than Southern California, which surprises me.

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We found a small footpath heading to the north from the saddle, and followed it to a dirt utility access road that took us up to the high point of the ridge above our house. It was getting hot. We should have started an hour earlier than we did.

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I brought water, of course, but it was Bella who drank most of it.

We crested the high ridge (about 5,800 feet) and looked back down toward Reno and our own home (which is at about 4,600 feet):

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Our house is visible left of center, and of course downtown Reno is at upper right. The Reno-Tahoe Airport separates us from the rest of the city, and Steamboat Creek, a tributary of the Truckee, supplies a wetlands that thrusts Hidden Valley into the headlines every year there is excessive flooding (fortunately, our house is up in the hills).

The dirt road in foregound is an extension of a residential street a block over from ours, and I hoped it connected with the top of the ridge, but in fact there was no way down; we had to return the way we came. It was about a 2¼ mile hike to the ridge from our house and so it would be an easy 4½ miles round trip.

On the way back down the canyon, Bella took a few minutes to wallow like a pig in the mud below the spring:

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So refreshing!

Hidden Valley Regional Park is just south of here, with miles of properly maintained trails, but for the moment we are more interested in checking out the paths less traveled. The east side and crest of the ridge can also be accessed by jeep track. I attempted this last weekend with my lifted 1998 Suburban, but didn’t get very far: the road is so rocky I was afraid of getting my 7,500lb vehicle suck in some remote location. I think we’ll trying hiking the jeep trails later.

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The Lake Fire a year later

Yesterday Ingrid volunteered for trail crew on the South Fork Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The Lake Fire was a year ago and they still haven’t reopened the northern part of the Wilderness Area. She doesn’t know when they will.

The following images are from the lower part of the trail, well below South Fork Meadows. The fire destroyed what in my opinion was the most lush and beautiful forest wilderness in SoCal. I started backpacking there as a teenager in the 1970s and in 1989-90 I was a volunteer backcountry patrol ranger for the USFS. I met Ingrid on San Gorgonio and we explored the Wilderness Area together for the next few years. The forest will not recover completely during my lifetime, and I’ve thought it just as well that I moved away. I’ll never go back to see again it in person.

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The ferns are coming back, anyway:

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This is looking back toward Sugarloaf Mountain from the trail above Horse Meadow:

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The same view in 2009:

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Fortunately, the western and southern parts of the Wilderness Area were spared from the fire.

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