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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
It is such a blessing to have all this just a short walk from our house.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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).
Just beyond that toilet at upper left is the Mt Rose Ski Area, lots of folks skiing and snowboarding down.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
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.
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.
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:
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):
A glance back revealed 10,785 foot Mt Rose, our favorite local day hiking summit:
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.
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.
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):
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:
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.
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.
The ferns are coming back, anyway:
This is looking back toward Sugarloaf Mountain from the trail above Horse Meadow:
The same view in 2009:
Fortunately, the western and southern parts of the Wilderness Area were spared from the fire.