This hike was on a section of trail just south of Echo Summit, where the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail are coincident. It was an out-and-back day hike and is one of the hikes selected for the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s 2015 Trail Challenge. I did the Trail Explorers version of the challenge hike, to Bryan Meadow and back. The route is within El Dorado National Forest.
The GPS track shows an overview of the route, with the orange dot denoting the trailhead just off US-50 at Echo Summit, not far from South Lake Tahoe.
Although I have hiked this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail previously, for some reason I didn’t remember exactly how to find the trail access from the trailhead. As a result, I kind of wandered around the parking area of an out-of-season adventure company before finding the trail; this added about 0.5 mile at the beginning of the hike. However, I enjoyed finding some seep monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) and blue penstemon while on my little detour.
The trail climbs pretty steadily to about 8700 feet elevation before dropping down about 200 feet to the area around Bryan Meadow.
I should note that it was definitely “in season” for Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) through-hikers, and I met at least a dozen hiking in groups of 1 to 3 during the day. I enjoy these encounters and particularly enjoy wishing everyone a wonderful – and safe – experience. At times I was a bit apologetic that I was only doing a short day hike, with a correspondingly light pack, but one of the through hikers had a great response. Of his own through hike with his wife, he said “every day is another day hike”.
Besides being the season for PCT through-hikers – and Tahoe Rim Trail through-hikers – it was definitely wildflower season. Very soon after starting up the trail proper I passed by a large colony of white-flowering tobacco brush (Ceanothus velutinous) along the trail. The characteristic fragrance was especially strong in the warm sun.
Not much farther I passed a pretty patch of lupine.
There was also a second white-flowering shrub that I think is mountain red elderberry (Sambucus microbotrys). The trail passes back and forth between open and forested areas, where I saw snowplant (Sarcodes sanguinea), pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum), and wandering daisy (Erigeron peregrinus) among large boulders and outcroppings. In a damp, shaded area there were several beautiful crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa).
In many places along and near the trail there was mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi), with masses of brilliant pink-purple blossoms.
About 1.5 miles up the trail (not counting my detour at the beginning) it crosses a creek on a simple wooden bridge, just above Benwood Meadow. In this area I saw pretty face (Triteleia ixioides), spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa), paintbrush, and a yellow flower that looked a lot like chicory – except that I can’t find any reference to a yellow-colored type of chicory or similar flower. I also saw a flower that reminded me of mule ears, but the entire plant is shorter, with different leaves and more profuse flowers. I think it is seep-spring arnica (Arnica longifolia).
After the bridge the trail begins to climb, with a grade of about 11.5%. It winds and climbs about 400 vertical feet through a rocky area.
Part way through this section I stopped for a short break where there was a nice view of nearby Little Round Top, about 3½ miles away.
There was a beautiful, old-looking Jeffrey pine growing among the boulders.
About 2.7 miles up the trail it crosses the same stream again, around 8300 feet elevation. Near this stream crossing there was marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala, sometimes designated C. howellii), which grows in damp, marshy places.
Shortly after this, at a switchback in the trail, there is a distant view of the southeastern corner of Lake Tahoe some 2200 feet below, with the South Lake Tahoe Airport clearly visible. The Carson Range, including Genoa Peak, is visible on the skyline.
Not far past this viewpoint I found a pretty, low-growing evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves and distinctive pink blossoms with long, protruding stamens. It is called purple mountain heath or red heather (Phyllodoce breweri).
About 3.3 miles from the trailhead the trail crosses over a slight ridge and begins to descend toward Bryan Meadow. In this area it passes through forest, passing shooting stars, forget-me-nots, pine violets, and other shade-loving wildflowers such as these tiny (less than ¼“ long) blue-eyed Marys (Collinsia parviflora). I have seen these dainty flowers elsewhere but I generally have a difficult time getting an in-focus picture.
I intended to turn around at Bryan Meadow. It’s possible that I didn’t hike quite far enough, or else the meadow is more like a hillside clearing filled with meadow-like flora, including flowering corn lilies. In any case, at 3.8 miles from the trailhead I decided to turn around. Near my turnaround I noticed a patch of several of these low-growing wildflowers: western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata).
As I returned through the forested area I paused to appreciate some Douglas wallflower (Erysimum perenne).
I happened to notice a small butterfly as it landed on a plant and then slowly pirouetted almost a full circle before continuing to another plant. I think it is a Hoffman’s checkerspot, based on the coloring and pattern.
From time to time I heard (rather than saw) birds in the forest. Suddenly I noticed a bird with an orange head. While I didn’t get any really good pictures, I was able to determine that it was either a female or an immature male pine grosbeak.
Later on during the descent I decided to photograph some of the manzanita (Arctostaphylos) blossoms. There are over 100 species of manzanita found in California, so I do not want to try to guess which one it is!
Near the trailhead I stopped to photograph another wildflower I’d been seeing in numerous locations but had had difficulty photographing. I found some with good lighting, as well as several nearby blossoms, which facilitated getting a good picture. It is called sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa).
Near the trailhead I noticed that a list was posted of local PCT trail angels, available to support through-hikers with rides (presumably to South Lake Tahoe) or lodging. Angels indeed!
As I had driven to the trailhead in the morning I had noticed that there was some visible smoke from a wildfire that had started a few days earlier not far from Markleeville. There were a couple of places along the trail where it was possible to see some smoke. Fortunately it did not impact the hike – and, more importantly, has been progressively contained without property damage.