Martis Peak via Tahoe Rim Trail |

Martis Peak via Tahoe Rim Trail

Dan MeliusDying wyethia - mules' ears - and firs frame a view of Lake Tahoe on the Tahoe Rim Trail, en route to 8,656-foot Martis Peak.
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MILES: 10 miles R/T


MAP: Tahoe National Forest or Tahoe Rim Trail brochure

For years, the dirt road up to Martis Peak has been a favorite of hikers, cyclists, skiers and horse riders. With the old route now chip-sealed, the peak is still accessible – but two miles longer – via the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Take I-80 to Highway 267 between Truckee and King’s Beach. Past the Northstar ski resort, look for the sign for Brockway Summit, about 100 feet lower than Donner. A scant half mile reveals a perpendicular parking area on the right and a brown sign with a hiker icon. Cross the busy highway with extreme care to the marked, “Forest Protection Road – not suited for passenger cars.” Just before its green gate, look back at the sky-blue Tahoe Rim Trail sign.

The trail starts with a double-back left at the large wooden TRT sign. Study its map and pick up a brochure on this remarkable collaboration between volunteers and public agencies to encircle the lake with a 138-mile, continuous trail. Note that the final 10 miles to be built begin at the cutoff to Martis Peak.

This is a multiple-use trail, as evidenced by the boot- and hoofprints and bike-tire tracks Dan and I saw in its dust. We started up a long stretch of switchbacks, with glimpses of the lake, alongside neatly piled logging slash.

We were disappointed to see that wildflowers had come and gone early in this neck of the Sierra this summer. Dying, rust-colored stalks of pine drops poked out of ground-hugging huckleberry oak and white-leaf manzanita, which already had large fruit. The air smelled of vanilla-scented Jeffrey pines and minty pennyroyal.

The highway noise was replaced with the roar of motorboats echoing off the lake as the roofs of Northstar’s townhouses became tiny. Mountain chickadees sang “chippety-CHEE-chee-chee!” and chickaree squirrels shrilly pleaded, “Tchew? Tchew? Tchew?” Myriad golden-mantled ground squirrels ran down holes under seemingly every rock.

Past a spur heading uphill on the left, the trail flattened then headed downhill to a meadow filled with skunk cabbage on its last legs. We crossed a gravel road and saw a remnant California firecracker, or scarlet gilia. The trail became an easy amble under Jeff pines. Chickarees had left pink-and-green piles of eviscerated, fresh pinecones. Dan said, “They eat ’em like artichokes – they peel all the ‘leaves’ off and go straight for the heart.”

In another meadow, a tiny seasonal creek hung on with a few yarrows and asters. Mauve-colored Sierra thistle (the thistle at my house at 3,200 feet is red) was forming heads of seed parachutes. The trail went up to a vast hillside covered with wyethia (“mules’ ears”) rattling in the breeze. A month earlier, this was a sea of yellow, daisy-like flowers. A lake view was neatly framed between pines and the floppy “ears.”

We headed up the meadow’s slope to a fir grove and an easy incline. An open, talus-strewn hill presented an astonishing view of the entire lake, with honky-tonk King’s Beach softened to a vision of Capri. Ahead was 9,600-foot Rose Knob.

The trail veered back into the woods then out into another wyethia-choked meadow before arriving at a dirt road buried in thick dust caused by four-wheel-drive tires. The TRT ends here; we went left for about 100 yards to the new, chip-sealed road, paved for the peak’s recently reopened fire lookout.

We turned right on the steep road, looked back at a ski run-scarred hill, and passed a gate. Suddenly, we were at the 8,656-foot-elevation peak with its rebuilt lookout and outhouse and a picnic table.

We chatted with two California Division of Forestry and Fire Protection volunteer firewatchers, who were feeding golden mantles off their deck. Our reward for the climb was at our feet: a 360-degree panorama of Mount Rose, Martis Valley, the Truckee River valley, and Prosser, Stampede, Boca, Donner and Tahoe lakes.

Pat Devereux is a copy editor for The Union and a member of the Nevada County Hiking Club.

This article was originally published on 9/7/2000.

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