Recently my daughter called me on the phone to say she was planning to hike the entire loop of the Tahoe Rim Trail in July and asked me if I wanted to come along.
"We could do a mother-daughter backpacking trip," she said.
"Sure, I'd love to," I replied, thinking back on the fun I had backpacking while a teenager.
Then, realizing some decades had passed since my last big trip, I began wondering how I would fare now in keeping up with my energetic daughter, Liz Chaplin. The challenge became - could I hike the 170-mile trail with a pack carrying all my needs for the trip in the two weeks she had allotted for it? This meant we would be walking an average of 12 miles per day in mountainous terrain. Feeling a little doubtful but looking forward to spending some time in the outdoors with her, I signed on for the challenge.
This trip would be a role reversal for us; Liz was going to be the trail boss and I would be the follower. She would plan all the trip details; from food to equipment to mileage goals, water sources and camping sites. Drawing on her experience through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail last year from Mexico to Canada, she recommended lightweight gear for me, loaned me equipment I needed, helped me select a new internal frame backpack to replace my ancient external frame one and strictly enforced a minimalist hiker dress code: bring only what you absolutely need and be prepared to get and stay dirty while on the trail!
Preparations made, we began our odyssey around Lake Tahoe on July 1 at the Kingsbury South trailhead, located at the Heavenly Valley ski resort on the Nevada side of the lake.
We planned to hike the route in counter-clockwise fashion, following the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) markers from the east shore to the west shore, where it merges with a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) before separating again at the south end of Lake Tahoe.
That first day was the hardest, as we adjusted to our new pace of walking, hour after hour, at altitude, and with weight on our backs. The muscles in our legs tightened with the effort, and we loosened our cinched pack straps and hip belts to find the most comfortable positions for our new burdens. Our reward was the changing views of the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe, off to the west, as we moved through the forested landscape.
Our campsite the first night was a dry camp: a few flat areas we located off the side of the trail in among the trees; no water available, places where we could pitch our small tents and prepare a simple meal over a small backpacking gas stove. Along the trail corridor, within 300 feet of each side of the trail, visitors are allowed dispersed camping, using Leave No Trace principles. We also hung our food, "bear bagging" it, as recommended to discourage attracting bears and other critters during the night.
In the following days, we hiked along, admiring the shifting position of Lake Tahoe as we calibrated ourselves against it while moving across the mountains circling it. It gave us great satisfaction to see how far we had come, on our own two feet, almost disbelieving we could walk such distances.
We passed through varied terrain: from the drier east side, with weathered granite boulders on the slopes; to volcanic peaks in the Mt. Rose Wilderness; to the glacially polished granite bedrock of the Desolation Wilderness on the wetter, west side in California, where lakes abound. Everywhere we enjoyed seeing many types of wildflowers growing. We listened to the calls of the Clark's Nutcracker jay and watched plump marmots sunning themselves on rocks.
Each day we encountered fellow hikers and in some sections where it is allowed, mountain bikers. We would often stop to chat, learn their trail name if they had one, where they were headed, and useful information regarding water sources or trail conditions.
And then, in what seemed like no time at all, we were back to our starting point. On July 14, an hour and a half ahead of schedule, we walked into the Kingsbury South trailhead, where we had parked our car two weeks earlier. We congratulated ourselves on our journey and picked up a couple of orange sodas at the local market on our way out, in celebration of our accomplishment.
I had accepted the challenge and met it. I surprised myself in finding I could walk the distance in spite of blisters and insects and sore feet. I kept up the pace and finished in the time we planned. That has given me some new self-confidence. Best of all, I enjoyed the company of my daughter as we walked the mountain trails together.
Find out more about the Tahoe Rim Trail at the Tahoe Rim Trail Association website: http://www.tahoerimtrail.org
Learn more about lightweight backpacking options at: http://www.backpackinglight.com
Nevada City resident Linda Chaplin is looking forward to her next adventure.