This was a relatively short, exploratory hike along Watson Creek, in the Tahoe City to Brockway Summit segment of the Tahoe Rim Trail. I was scouting an adjacent section of the trail that had been scheduled for a group hike the next day, from Watson Lake to Tahoe City. To my surprise, I found that the access road was covered by a fairly substantial amount of snow and was not passable to reach the trailhead near Watson Lake. Never mind that the trail itself was at a somewhat lower elevation (7800 feet maximum, compared to 7900 feet on the access road); if you can’t reach the trailhead you’re not going to be able to do the hike.
I decided to explore the section just east of the Watson Lake area, since there was an alternate trailhead less than 2 miles east of the intended trailhead. I wanted to see if it was possible to start at this trailhead and simply bypass the snow on the road. As it happens, this didn’t work out either.
On the GPS track the dashed line just above my track is the access road. The short section running parallel to an elevation contour line through the word Forest (Tahoe National Forest) above the left end of the track is where the snow was on the road.
This past winter generated phenomenal snowpack in the Sierras. In early July, at the time of this hike, the seasonal melt and runoff were just peaking in this area and elevation. The runoff was especially prominent this year because of the snowpack. There were many seasonal rivulets running down the hillside toward Watson Creek.
In some places there was almost a continuous runoff down the hillside. This type of wide, shallow water flow reminded me, in some ways, of the Everglades.
I could tell when I was getting closer to Watson Creek, because of the sound of the rushing water.
The trail skirts Watson Creek where I took the picture. Most of the summer season there is much less water in the creek, and I didn’t have too much difficulty finding a place to rock-hop across. However, between the amount of water in the creek and some patchy areas of snow on the ground, I essentially lost the trail and had to turn back after barely 1 mile. Later, consulting my maps more closely, I’m not sure the trail actually crosses the creek, so perhaps I lost the trail because I was looking in the wrong place. In drier times this would not be a problem, as the Tahoe Rim Trail is generally easy to trail-find.
Although short, this was still an interesting hike because the water flow was so spectacular. Though there is runoff every spring, I think it was especially spectacular this year, as well as ephemeral.