Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 5

September 5, 2011: I awoke in the middle of the night to a blackened sky. "Where are the stars?" I wondered. A couple of minutes later, it started to sprinkle. "Dammit, I've got to set up my tarp!" My timing was still off. The first night I attempted to cowboy camp, it started to rain. I had been having trouble sleeping every night so far on the trip. My legs ached horribly in the middle of the night. I was taking several Ibuprofen but that wasn't helping either. My hips ached and it felt like someone was trying to pull my spine out of my ass. My lower back was giving me trouble causing nerve pain down my legs and feet. I simply could not get comfortable at night.

Nevertheless, I had a late start the next morning hitting the trail at 9:00. Hiking in the morning always helped me feel better. Pretty soon, I remembered a small patch of Sierra primrose that I saw on the trail last year that I would soon be approaching. This flower stuck out in my mind because I think its more common in the Southern Sierra, and when I saw it last year, it had been a couple of weeks since I saw it last. Sure enough, there it was, growing in the same spot. Once again, I tried to get a picture of it that turned out blurry.

The trail offered amazing views of Desolation Wilderness. Again, my mind was transported to last year. I remember hiking this part in an exhausted state, looking for a place to set up camp because the sun had already set. I remember trying to camp next to the rock outcropping below, but could not find a place suitable to sleep.

Water was still abundant, and I walked through several breathtaking Sierra gardens. Colors were radiant.

Mosquitoes seemed to come and go, were worse in some places rather than others. This morning, the trail traversed through quite a bit of forest where mosquitoes seemed to congregate. I was still wearing my shorts and short sleeves, and swatting at intruders.

At one point in the morning, I crossed paths with the day hiker I had met the day before near Twin Peaks. He had parked his car at another section and was hiking towards me. Perhaps, we were both a bit ashamed of our negativity the day before, so our conversation was positive and enjoyable.

I came upon Richardson Lake, and decided to go for a swim. That always seems to improve my state of mind. The water was ice cold, but so incredibly refreshing. The trail had been extremely dusty, so I was happy to finally wash off a majority of the dirt that had started to accumulate on my body. A minute after getting out of the lake, I started to get swarmed by biting flies. They were everywhere, dive bombing me in every direction. I could barely get my clothes on. They would bite relentlessly if I paused for just a couple of seconds. I became frustrated again.

To make matters worse, chaffing was still a constant issue. It was becoming extremely painful to walk. I was not a happy camper. Eventually, I entered Desolation Wilderness. This is the most popular section on the trail, and as I mentioned before, a permit system has been established to limit the amount of people who use this part of trail. The first part of Desolation Wilderness for me (since I was hiking counter clockwise) is not very scenic. I was hiking through dense forest which is also kind of swampy, dark, moist, and filled with mosquitoes. I was battling frustration and irritability throughout the early afternoon.

I did manage to find an excellent lunch spot under a large, ancient Western Juniper tree. A grandfather of the wilderness. Mosquitoes were few and far between, a stiff cool breeze was blowing, and I had excellent views of some of the granite mountain peaks in the distance. It was a welcome reprieve.

Shortly after lunch, I met a couple of TRT hikers heading the opposite direction. One of them had hiked the PCT and the AT, and the other guy had hiked the AT and 500 miles of the PCT. It was nice to talk trail with these guys, and I was glad I'd see them again in a few days somewhere on the other side of the lake.

Later in the afternoon, my frustration hit a boiling point as I entered another mosquito ridden section of trail. I was reluctant to apply Deet on my sun burnt, and suntan lotion covered arms and legs. I was too stubborn to put on my rain jacket because I did not want to overheat while hiking. Why didn't I bring a comfortable long sleeved shirt? Why didn't I just hike in pants? How can I rid myself of this ever present, painful chaffing? What is that spot on my arm? Is it cancer? To my relief, the trail led me to another area of reprieve and I stopped for a break under another grandfather of the wilderness.

I looked around me and noticed how beat up the forest looked. Trees were mangled in every direction battling the elements. Granite boulders were strewn about. Plants were struggling to thrive in their given locations. "It ain't easy out here..." I said to the grandfather tree. I like to believe he was talking to me as he asked, "Who are you to feel entitled to perfect majestic views, glorious Sierra wildflower gardens, mosquito free hiking, flat trail, pristine lakes and streams around every corner? Look around you, no one has it easy. You must embrace all aspects of nature, and take the good with the bad, not just the good."

I pondered these words as I finished my Cliff Bar. That was all I needed to hear. The frustration, negative thoughts, and irritability melted away from that point on. I felt at peace and developed a plan to deal with the mosquitoes, rather than swat madly at them. After all, this is their home, the defenders of the wilderness! After putting on my pack, I entered another swampy, mosquito filled area. I was not the least bit frustrated. I wore my rain jacket, and my head net, and walked slowly so not to break a sweat. I thanked the grandfather tree was his advice, and thoroughly enjoyed the next few hours of hiking. Not only that, the trail became more beautiful the further I walked into the Desolation Wilderness.

In the evening, I came to Fontanillis Lake. I remembered this place from last year, but could not place the name. It was exquisite. Many of my favorite wildflowers were growing along its banks. The water reflected the silvery moon moving across the darkening, blue and purple sky. Snow still clung to the northern slopes, and I saw a patch of one of John Muir's favorite wildflowers, the white mountain heather (not pictured). I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away saying, "I know you!!!" I'm not sure whether it's the flower I like so much, or that John Muir liked it so much. Nevertheless, it was a treat.

According to my permit, I had to reach Dick's Lake and camp for the night. I was quite tired, but was soaking in the wonder of the area. An exceptional evening of hiking.

Finally, I reached the lake, and set up camp along its shores. The alpine glow was in its final stages and I cooked a huge dinner under my tarp. At last, I was tuning into the moment, and thankful for another opportunity to hike. Tomorrow was going to be a big day, since I had to hike to interstate 50 and hopefully hitch into South Lake Tahoe before it became too late.

For now, I was grateful for the lessons of the day, and was hoping for a good nights sleep...


  1. Great pictures. I love those alpine lakes. Lots of snow for September.

  2. Sounds like you need to invest in some Body Glide. And if you hate mosquitoes, wait until we do the Everglades Wilderness Waterway...which I vow to complete some day!