It was freezing cold when we got up. Trouble suggested lying in for an extra half hour to see whether things would warm up a little. Even though the extra time in our sleeping bags was great, it didn’t warm up that much. It was quite windy, which didn’t help. Eventually we made on to trail by about twenty to eight.
The wind kept blowing icily into our faces and we covered up as good as we could.
The landscape was of course beautiful.
We stopped for second breakfast at a bench near the Meiss Trailhead and downed a few snacks and drinks. We moved on by 10:30 am and almost immediately came across the Carson Pass Information Center. The rangers were busy packing up for the season and were really excited that we were their last thru-hikers they would see for 2018. They were super nice, let us warm up near the fire they had roaring, and pressed all of their left over snacks and sweets on us. We also received a Carson Pass bandana and had our photos taken. We even made it on to their official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/207009746117647/posts/1204489889702956/
We spent about half an hour there and left at eleven and immediately entered the Mokelumne Wilderness – which was gorgeous.
The day got a little warmer and we had a lot of fun hiking through this beautiful landscape.
The earthy colors were amazing …
… and the views spectacular.
We ended up hiking late into the evening.
It was already getting dark and I checked my Guthooks app one last time to see how far the next campsite was. Weirdly enough, the app showed us off trail. I checked with Trouble, but she hadn’t noticed a trail junction either. We turned around though, just to be sure, and backtracked for a little while. But we decided soon that the GPS must be wrong and just continued down to the campsite and set up. It was dark already and no point in trying to work things out anyway. That could wait until tomorrow.
The morning started off well, with another great breakfast at Bert’s Cafe. After that Trouble had a phone interview lined up with a member of her online hiking group and I lazed around the hotel room in the meantime.
Eventually we checked out of the hotel at a little after eleven, but felt like we needed another meal before jumping back on the trail. Bert’s had a huge line up out the door and we didn’t want to wait, so we decided to try the place down the road, called Ernie’s. Well, would you believe it, it was packed as well. Surprisingly though, we got seated within minutes and had another fabulous breakfast. Seems like South Lake Tahoe is full of really good diners.
Amazingly, we manged to procrastinate until about one, before we dragged ourselves out of the diner and walked over to the road to catch a hitch.
Incredibly, a car stopped without us even putting out our thumbs and took us down to the trail head at Echo Lake. Thank you so much!
Then it was time to take the first steps with the bear canister strapped to my backpack. For better load distribution, I kept my food inside my pack and had my tent and some other minor items in the canister. At night I’d just have to pack up my food into the canister. It worked quite well.
Once back on the trail, I felt at home again and really enjoyed the afternoon hike. Even though we wouldn’t get that many miles in, the scenery was breathtaking.
Temperatures were getting cold though and the wind had a bite to it. We’re definitely deeper into fall now.
By around 6:30 pm, we came to Showers Lake and initially wanted to set up camp somewhere along the shore, but it turned out to be busy with a lot of weekend hikers and Tahoe Rim walkers. We decided to move on a little and find something a little more quiet.
A good decision in the end, because we experienced incredible sunset lighting. For about five minutes after sunset (6:46 pm), the sunlight turned a weird, but beautiful, orange pink that made the land look bizarre and alien.
Soon after we were glad to stop and set up camp. It’s cold and windy and our sleeping bags were very welcome indeed.
Ah, town day. Sleep in, eat and be lazy … Well, sadly not quite. We had chores to do. The morning did start with an awesome breakfast at Bert’s Cafe though, which had excellent omelettes. Not surprising, since both a whole group of police officers and a group of state troopers were occupying booths. One of the officers joked to us that it was probably the safest place to eat in town.
After the filling breakfast, we made our way into town. Since South Lake Tahoe is a bit sprawling, I wondered whether it would be better to get a hire car for the day to get around quickly and more cheaply than with a taxi. I checked out the local rental agents, but they were charging way too much for a single day. Then we came past a U-Haul and I thought we could just get a pick-up truck for $19.95. So we walked into their office and, when the man behind the counter saw my Australian driver licence, claimed that they required an International licence. Oh well, if they don’t want the business …
So we kept walking and ended up using an Uber to get around. We went to the post office, where Trouble picked up her bear canister she’d scored in , and I picked up my new shoes. Always nice to put on new shoes.
After that we went and an outfitter, and had some coffee, and went grocery shopping for the two of us. We resupplied for eight days and when we came out of the shop and packed up both our supplies into Trouble’s backpack to carry them back to our hotel, it felt ridiculously heavy, and we were wondering whether we’d maybe oversupplied.
Back at the hotel we divvied up our haul and went busy packing things up. Trouble was particularly shocked how heavy her pack was and went busy with a knife to cut any excess off her pack and sleeping pad. I didn’t go that length, since I didn’t think it was that desperately heavy, but of course my built is quite a bit bigger than Trouble’s too.
For dinner we went just across the road to the Lake Tahoe Pizza Company. Guess what we ate?
Then it was time to go back to the hotel and get busy procrastinating. Then it was getting late and it was bed time. Nighty-night.
We got up early and had a hot breakfast for a change – which was really nice. So in the end, even though I’d set my alarm for five o’clock, we didn’t make it on to trail until seven.
The morning was really nice and we hiked through some beautiful countryside.
The terrain was lightly undulating and it was easy going.
Well, at least for me. Trouble was struggling with the altitude again. When we were walking up to Dicks Pass at about 9,400 ft (2,850 m) [the highest we’d been so far], she was suffering from a pounding headache again.
Mind you, the views from Dicks Pass were breathtaking and I think took her mind off of her misery for a while.
Then it was mostly downhill again. Well, at least what we called “Guthooks downs”, since the terrain always looked nice and gradual on the app, whereas there seemed to be humongous mountain ranges in real life – at least for Trouble. The views were fantastic though.
We were really excited that the geology had changed so much and that the mountains were grey now, rather than black. This meant we were getting closer to the Sierras.
In some areas the Aspens were glowing in the sun and it made everything look so colorful.
We walked around Susie Lake, where we were tempted to stop for a break, but the wind was unpleasantly cold so kept on walking.
Then we hiked through some rough scree …
… and when we got to Heather Lake, it looked so inviting to me, that I actually stripped down to my undies and jumped in for a quick swim. It was very cold, but also very refreshing. I’d got some of the stink of the trail off of me and felt almost clean.
Then, by about twenty past one, we approached the most stunning scenery of the Desolation Wilderness: Lake Aloha.
It’s a lake that is basically completely surrounded by pure granite boulders and mountains, with very little vegetation, and suddenly made it quite obvious why it was called Desolation Wilderness.
I did jump up and down boulders like a little boy, all excited, to get a ton of photographs. It was beautiful.
Once we’d crossed the area we were back in forested land and were hiking towards our final destination of the day: Echo Lake.
The trail down towards the lake was beautiful and pretty well maintained since it was a popular tourist destination and, as we found out, popular with holiday hut owners.
The holiday homes along the lake shore did distract from the wilderness experience, but they also meant that we were getting closer to civilization. It was town day, after all.
At the south-eastern end of Echo Lake lies Echo Chalet, a resort and store. We’d run into day hikers on the way down and had already heard that it was actually closed for the season. What a shame. We’d so hoped to get some refreshments there.
It also didn’t bode well for our chance of getting a ride into town. Even though it was only about twelve miles to South Lake Tahoe, the traffic would be very thin at lake resort that was closed.
As it turned out though, we needn’t have worried. We’d walked on the road out for less than five minutes, when an old and rusty GMC pick up truck pulled over and offered us a ride.
He gave us a ride into town and took us down to his favorite watering hole, the Classic Cue on Lake Tahoe Boulevard. I bought him a beer, and Trouble and I had some root beer, real beer, and a very good burger each.
Then it was time to organize accommodation and I found a decent motel only half a mile down the road. The Apex Inn.
Even though it was still really bedtime yet, we just stayed in, had showers, and fiddled on our phones until it was time for some well deserved Zzzzs.
The morning was quite nice and not as brutally cold as the morning before. The scenery was also stunning and we enjoyed watching the sunrise at ten to seven.
The moon was also still up and looked big and round in the blue of the morning sky.
The trail continued along the ridges around Lake Tahoe and we soon the PCT joined with the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Apart from the signage, the trail didn’t change much. However, we could see more and more granite rock and mountains around us.
We were nearing the Sierras and the geology visibly changed.
We were really keen to get into the Desolation Wilderness. We’d heard a lot of good things about it. When we crossed the Wilderness boundary, the change in scenery was almost immediate.
The forest was epically beautiful …
… and peppered with a sprinkling of lakes and creeks.
Hiking was slow going today, because Trouble was having real problems with altitude sickness. Although she wasn’t feeling dizzy any more (which is an improvement), she was having a pounding headache all day. When we reached Fontanillis Lake at around 6:30 pm, I suggested that we find a nice campsite somewhere along the lake.
As it turned out, the lake was utterly gorgeous – and popular with other hikers. Most of the good spots had tents on them already.
We ended up walking almost along the entire length of the lake. As the trail started to turn away from the lake, I jumped up into the bolder field above the lake and quickly found a flat spot for us to stay.
I waited for Trouble to catch up and directed her to me. I wanted to cowboy camp, because the location was just so beautiful, but Trouble was scared of being cold again, so I set up my tent for her.
Then it was dinner time and once the sky’d turned dark, we both fell asleep very quickly.
Hmm, so yes, it was really cold … and windy. Neither one of us had a good night and I felt bad for having dragged Trouble away from the good sheltered spot she’d found last night.
It was so cold in the morning that we both just scrambled up our possessions and moved down the hill a little for some shelter, to get changed and pack up properly.
Mind you, it was still a pretty epic view.
This sort of set the scene for the day, as it turned out to be a pretty epic day for hiking.
Temperatures warmed quickly, even though it never got actually warm. Still, cool temperatures are excellent for hiking and we made pretty good progress, even though Miss Trouble was having a grumpy mood day.
Certain sections reminded me strongly of the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington – and that had been the most epic day of the trail.
The views were mesmerizing and the trail easy.
Soon we could see Lake Tahoe up ahead, which was quite exciting.
Especially the colors were beautiful, as the tree foliage was in shades of green and yellow, but also the mountain sides were draped in grays and browns and reds.
The afternoon was spent wandering along various ski areas. Even though the trail was trying to stay away from them as much as possible, it was hard to ignore the terrible scars in the countryside.
With the setting sun came absolutely amazing colors. The sun’s rays were so rich and golden … just gorgeous.
We were high up on a ridgeline and not too many opportunities for setting up camp presented themselves.
I’d pulled out my trusty Guthooks app and apparently there was a site only four miles ahead.
It wasn’t far and each and every step was just astonishing. Either because of the view, or because of the light. Mostly because both of them.
After just three miles, I found a little alcove under some trees and it was just too good a site to pass it by. Trouble happily agreed (yes, this one was sheltered) and we got ready for the night.
We had to get up to watch the sunset, bit boy was it worth it.
We were up way too early and Trouble went downstairs to organize some coffee for us. When she came back she reported on the sorry state of the breakfast buffet and we quickly decided to walk into town to have a proper meal.
So we walked the long (almost two) miles into the eastern part of town. We came across Marty’s Cafe again and this time the waiting line wasn’t too long and we stood around the entrance door only for about five minutes, before we got a table by the window.
We gorged ourselves on our obligatory omelette and coffee and took plenty of time and enjoyed ourselves.
I also made my second biggest mistake on the PCT, even though I wasn’t to know it for quite a while. On Trouble’s insistence, I booked my return flight. Not a good decision, because it influenced the later part of our hike in a bad way. But more of that later.
We did enjoy ourselves having a good breakfast.
Well, maybe a bit too much, for we were late to check out of the hotel room. We still took the time to take a picture of me in my new trail attire. Feels great wearing fresh clothes.
Back at the hotel, the lady behind the front desk was very understanding and didn’t make a fuss about us being late. So we quickly went up to our room, packed up, and walked back to the grocery store, for we wanted to have some cold drinks before hitting the trail again.
Then it was time to stick our thumbs out and hope for a quick ride. Our hopes were shattered fairly quickly though, since there wasn’t anyone willing to even look at us, let alone stop and offer us a ride.
Eventually we gave up and walked over to the outfitter where I’d bought me new clothes from. They didn’t know a solution either, so we decided to go at it from a different angle and have a coffee first. Conveniently, there was a Starbucks right there and I ordered a couple of lattes for us. While we were still waiting for our order, Golden walked in, the thru-hiker we’d met three days ago south of Sierra City. He was accompanied by the nice lady who’d specially made us breakfast at Packer Lake Lodge. Apparently they knew each other and she’d driven Golden over here to Truckee.
The four of us hung out at Starbucks for a while (Golden being in a celebratory mood for having finished his thru-hike) and exchanged trail gossip. Eventually, the lady from Packer Lake Lodge offered us a ride to another junction that she said would be much better for catching a ride. Sadly she had an appointment in town and couldn’t take us all the way to the trail.
No problem through. We were scarcely five minutes at the new location, when a contractor stopped and offered us a ride down to the trail, even though he was actually going in the opposite direction. Thank you so much!
We got dropped off at the Donner Pass Rest Area Westbound, where we ran into Achilles and Cuddles, two other thru-hikers we hadn’t met yet. We hung out with them for a little, until we finally couldn’t delay any longer and had to hit the trail. It was already three o’clock.
Thankfully, the afternoon was absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed some gorgeous sunshine, with decently warm temperatures, and a light breeze.
The trail was really nice too and we enjoyed a couple of stops to dip into our chips supply and enjoy the scenery.
Soon we reached Donner Pass, which is named after the Donner party, who were a pioneer group in wagon trains, who got stranded near the pass in the winter of 1846-47. During their four months long ordeal, they ran out of food supplies and lost almost half their number to starvation. Only 48 made it out alive and they reported only making it, because they resorted to eating the flesh of their dead comrades.
Thankfully, Trouble and I didn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.
We enjoyed the late afternoon sun. I especially loved the intense yellows of the aspen in the setting sun.
At about 6:30 pm, we reached the Jerome Hill Express ski lift of the Sugar Bowl skiing area and considered briefly whether we should stay there for the night.
We did come to our senses quickly though and decided to move on.
Trouble found a night spot among a group of trees, but I didn’t like it, because it had no view. I’m somehow fixed on having good views for the night, even though we usually don’t see it for most of our stay. Anyway, I convinced Trouble to move on a little and she reluctantly followed me further on. I did find an amazing spot not much further on, high on a plateau with views of the mountains and the rising moon.
Well, the one thing I hadn’t considered (but Trouble had), was the fact that we were really exposed up there … and we were at almost 8,000 feet (2,400 m) … and it was late September.
It was freezing cold when we got up and we had to force ourselves out of our warm and cozy sleeping bags. It was seven, by the time we hit the trail.
We made it quickly to the top of the section at about 8,400 ft (2,550 m) and could enjoy a mostly-down for the rest of the day.
The scenery was still pretty epic, and it was a joyful morning.
We were quite happy when we came across Peter Grubb hut. It’s a great hut and it was a bit of a shame that we didn’t stay here over night, but when we entered, the main room was packed with a group of weekend hikers and some trail maintainers and it would’ve been a bit of a squeeze for us anyway.
The cast iron stove was lit though and Trouble and I spent a few minutes warming up around the fire.
It was only four miles (6.4 km) down to the interstate. A couple of day hikers we met suggested to hitch from the actual interstate, rather than to walk on and try it from Donner Pass road, since they didn’t think there’d be a lot of traffic.
So we ended up doing a bit of cross country bush bashing to get to the Donner Pass Eastbound Rest Area and set up shop just before the on-ramp. Not that anyone took any notice of us. So, after a good twenty minutes, Trouble had enough of the waiting game and walked up to a man who just got back into his SUV after his toilet break and asked him outright whether he would give us a lift into town. He was more than willing and we paid him back with some of our adventure stories, which he eagerly listened to. Thanks very much.
We were in town by eleven, and the nice man had dropped us off in front of Marty’s Cafe, a cute little cafe and restaurant next to the rail tracks. We knew it was good, because it was packed with people and a waiting list to get seated.
Well, starved hikers that we are, we couldn’t wait, and decided to go a little further down the street. We found Coffee And and sat down to order breakfast and plenty of black wakey-wakey juice.
A couple at the neighboring table pointed at our backpacks and questioned us about our trip, while we were munching down omelettes and country fries. We chatted about for a while and suddenly the server lady came up to us and handed both Trouble and I a $20 note. Apparently another couple behind us had overheard our story telling to the other couple and were excited by our adventures. So when they’d left the shop they’d instructed the server lady, because they didn’t want us to decline their gracious offer. Well, what else can I say, but thank you! From the bottom of my heart.
Then it was time to do some shopping. So we walked over to the western part of town where the Safeway is located. We stopped by the Tahoe Mountain Sports outfitters and Trouble picked up a couple of things she wanted for the Sierras. I pondered to get a few new things myself. I ended up spending way too much money, but it felt great to have new shorts that didn’t fall off my bum and a new shirt that didn’t have the stench of 1,500 miles in it.
For accommodation, I booked a reasonably cheap hotel room online and then we resupplied at the grocery store. Finally, it was time for a shower and we walked over to The Inn at Truckee at about 2:30 pm.
We had showers and got all comfortable. We didn’t leave the room for the rest of the day, except for the few yards down the road for me to pick up pizza from the Village Pizzeria (yes, we still can’t manage to get pizzas delivered!).
As you can probably tell from the picture, it was delicious.
We were up surprisingly early and made on to the trail by seven. It was great watching the sunrise and we enjoyed the subtle early morning light.
The colors in the sky do seem to suggest that it’s getting fall now and the temperatures during the day confirmed this suspicion.
Despite the chilly temperature, the scenery was top. Absolutely gorgeous views and landscapes.
It was really fun walking through the fall colors of the trail. Things look different to all the pictures I’d seen before in my online researches. Seems like only very few hike through here this late in the year.
Hunters, on the other hand, love this season. We ran into a whole bunch of them, which made us feel a bit nervous. Not all of them looked like they really knew how to handle a weapon responsibly.
Nothing happened to us however, and we spent most of the morning climbing up to about 8,000 feet (2,400 m) and, even though Trouble was struggling a bit with elevation sickness, we absolutely loved the views once we were up there.
At this altitude weren’t really any hunters either and we could enjoy the landscape all by our lonesome.
We spent the afternoon actually hiking together. Trouble’s trouble with altitude sickness made me a bit cautious, but we had still plenty of fun together. We posed on rocks and boulders and spent time just looking at the scenery.
Initially we’d planned to make it up to the Peter Grubb hut, but Trouble looked really tired and a bit miserable and I looked for an alternative along the trail. About 2.3 miles from the hut, we crossed a little stream at a switch back and after a little scramble into the bushes I found a nice place on a few rocks.
For some extra warmth and calories we had Idahoan mashed potatoes for dinner and some chocolate chip cookies for desert. Then it was time huddle up, because it was getting cold quickly.
We had a surprisingly good and quiet sleep behind the church. We did get up early though, since we were keen to have town breakfast. We packed up, used the public facilities next door, and then made our way down into town.
To our great disappointment though, everything was still closed. We checked on the opening hours and realized that the breakfast place wouldn’t open until eight. It was around 6:30 am now.
We looked around for a coffee shop at least, to maybe get a hot brew and a muffin, to bridge the time. We found the Mountain Java Coffee Shop, just a little down the road. They just opened their doors when we arrived and I helped bring out the outdoor seating furniture. Trouble and I both got a large coffee and a bagel with cream cheese and then moved over to the Buckhorn, since there seating was a lot more comfortable than the coffee shop’s.
We spent the time eating our bagels, drinking coffee, and doing various chores on our phones, until finally, at around eight, the Red Moose Cafe & Inn opened its doors and we migrated over. The Red Moose was really nice, with great and friendly staff, and really good breakfast.
Then it was time to resupply and we went over to the general store. We were a little shocked about the prices, but thankfully we didn’t need that much. Just to get us to Truckee.
As we stepped out of the store, it was time to return to the trail. But wait! Er, second breakfast anyone? Of course.
So we went back to the Red Moose, took seats on the outside patio (it was warm enough now) and had round of burgers, root beer, and about a gallon of coffee. It was great. Thanks so much to the staff there, you’ve been super nice and kind.
Eventually we did have to leave though and picked up our packs and stepped out on to the road and started walking. We had barely down fifty yards, when we heard a car approach behind us. Trouble stuck her thumb out, and a pick up truck pulled over and offered us a lift back to the trail. Thanks Sierra City, you’ve been great!
We were back on the trail by twelve and things were quite gradual and nice.
The hike was rather pretty and we had plenty of opportunity to admire the scenery.
The temperatures were great and we really enjoyed the afternoon.
At one point we came across another through hiker, Golden, who told us that he was on his last twenty miles of his thru hike, since he’d done some flip-flopping. That was pretty cool, and we wished him the best for the last little bit.
The evening sun was wonderful and bathed everything into a subtle golden glow.
As we were watching the sun disappear behind the horizon, it was time to find a spot to stay for the night.
Even though we’d only just crossed a dirt road (we don’t like staying near roads), I saw a little bulge above the trail and went up there in the hope of finding a good spot. I did. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was covered in pine needles, which would make for some comfortable sleeping.
We set up camp, had a hot chocolate, and then went to bed. Good night.