The fact that this hike happened was a kind of serendipity. Unlike the previous winter, which featured abundant snowfall starting before Thanksgiving, the current snow season is – unfortunately – very dry. About a week into January I received an e-mail announcing a Martin Luther King Weekend hike hosted by a Tahoe-based hiking club I belong to. The idea was: Heck, if we can’t ski we might as well hike. The group planned to hike the beautiful and popular Rubicon Trail, which goes from Rubicon Point near the north end of D.L. Bliss State Park past Emerald Point and around Emerald Bay to Eagle Point Campground. This area is within the El Dorado National Forest. The hike leader had obtained a trail report that the entire trail was free of ice and snow – amazing for January.
The group hike was planned as a point-to-point hike with a car shuttle. Due to my current hiking distance limitations I planned to start with the rest of the group, hike for 2½ -3 miles, and then return to the start on my own.
D.L. Bliss State Park and the Eagle Point Campground are closed in the winter; in fact, CA-89 is not plowed within the park and is typically impassable in January. Because the park was closed in spite of the clear roads, it was necessary to park cars farther than usual from the trailheads. In fact, we needed to walk nearly a mile down the park road before reaching the nearest access point to the trail, at the hairpin at the north end of the GPS track.
At this point the group split, with some faster hikers proceeding north via the Lighthouse Trail to Rubicon Point, and the rest of the group simply turning south on the Rubicon Trail. The two groups would meet up later in the hike. I stayed with the group that turned south. It was a perfect hiking day, and there are many places along the trail with gorgeous views across Lake Tahoe.
The weather report for the day included an all-day wind lake advisory, with the wind expected to increase in the afternoon. During most of the hike the conditions along the trail were calm, as the trail basically skirts a steep hillside at the lake shore. However, there were interesting wind patterns visible on the lake surface, as well as a couple of short-lived examples of this interesting small-scale whirling dervish-like phenomenon:
The trail crosses a small stream that tumbles down the seemingly-vertical hillside. At first I was surprised to note a heavy coating of ice along the side of the stream, on some of the rocks, and on a small tree limb that had fallen across the stream. How could ice form with the water rushing by so quickly? Later I hypothesized that the falling water creates spray, which can freeze and gradually build up during the cold weather.
The trail actually cuts across the tip of Emerald Point, and at first (if you don’t check out a map of the area) it’s unexpected that the trail seems to veer inland for ¼ mile or so. In this flatter area there are stands of beautiful tall evergreen trees.
After crossing the mini-peninsula of Emerald Point the trail approaches the shore of Emerald Bay, my goal for the hike.
Here I separated from the group I was hiking with, as they continued along the trail and I turned around to return to the start trailhead. Barely 15 minutes later, I met up with the hikers who had gone north to Rubicon Point, just as they were stopping for a break. We compared notes about our experiences and I gave an update on the rest of the group. Then I continued on my own. Shortly before the trail leaves the immediate shoreline I noticed one of the famous paddlewheelers, the M.S. Dixie II, out on a cruise. (The reputedly authentic and more famous paddlewheeler, the Tahoe Queen, has a slightly different design.) Note that the Heavenly Valley ski runs in the background are bare.
This was the first time I’ve hiked on the Rubicon Trail, and it is understandable that it’s a very popular trail, especially in the summer. I will look forward to a return visit, once my hiking range increases and I can experience the entire length of the trail.