I happened to be in the Lake Tahoe area just three days after the first snowfall of the season. Though the roads were clear of snow, some of the local ski areas almost looked (from a distance) as though they were ready to open. For example, here is the backside of Northstar.
Only a week earlier, the runs were bare. Sometimes all it takes is a single snowstorm to transform the landscape. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this early October snowfall, however, is the fact that the last snowfall of the previous season had been barely 4 months earlier in June. Several ski areas re-opened this year for Fourth of July skiing, and while on a couple of hikes that weekend – only 3 months ago – I’d had to turn back due to snow on the trail at similar elevations to today’s hike. The high-country summer hiking season was unusually short this year!
Today’s hike covered a relatively short section of the Tahoe Rim Trail from Brockway Summit on CA-267 to the forest road near Martis Peak. This section of the TRT lies within Tahoe National Forest. My plan was to proceed somewhat cautiously: although the trail was clear of snow at the trailhead, based on the visible snow at Northstar I expected to find snow on the trail well below my intended turnaround point, which was roughly 1300 feet higher in elevation than the trailhead.
The trail climbs immediately after leaving the trailhead, and within 15-20 minutes of hiking there is an initial preview of Lake Tahoe, with snowy peaks of the Carson Range in the background.
Most of this section of the TRT passes through open forest. As the trail climbed to higher elevation I started to find patches of snow near the trail, with a few small patches across the trail.
Continuing to climb, as expected I found more and more snow. Fortunately, it was clear that hikers – and mountain bikers – had already climbed the trail since the snowfall, and it was easy to simply follow their track.
If there had not been such a clear way to find the trail, I certainly would have had to turn back. It’s worth noting that, on a warm day (high was in the mid-50’s) following a snowfall, there is snow melt to contend with. Indeed, there were several sections of trail that were slushy or even covered by puddles.
Because the trail was easy to follow even through the snow, I was able to climb up to the forest road near Martis Peak. Technically, the last tenth of a mile or so diverges from the TRT toward a road that climbs to a lookout tower on Martis Peak. Nevertheless, at the junction with the forest road I reached the prize of this hike: a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe, with a little snow in the foreground as a reminder of the specifics of today’s journey.