Tahoe Rim Trail Thru-Hike Gear

Packing my fears

Please see my previous post for details on the day-by-day itinerary of my thru-hike.

Here’s a link to my LighterPack list- I’m pretty proud of my 18lb base weight. I’d like to get that lower, but I think it’s a good starting point.

Reflections

I did a significant amount of research on gear over the months leading up to the hike, and I am pretty happy with 90% of what I carried. I had two significant fears going in, and consequently, I KNOW I overpacked here:

  • Food: I had not done an extended backpacking trip like this since 2008 (Philmont expedition with the BSA) so I had no idea how much food to pack. I packed almost 4 LARABAR snack bars AND 2 Cliff protein bars per day as well as “backup” ramen and Knorr pasta sides to reinforce freeze-dried Good to Go dinners. This was WAYYYY too much food, and I made the mistake of including the exact same items in my resupply box (sent to South Lake Tahoe.)
    • My tastes also changed very quickly, and I found that I was forcing down my LARABARs every day. When I picked up my resupply box, I had zero interest in eating more of them, so I left the whole batch in the hiker box at the hostel and picked up a handful of KIND bars at Raley’s.
    • On future trips, I think I’ll move away from freeze-dried meals… they just don’t taste that good for the weight and cost, in my opinion. I had a variety of Good to Go meals (New England Corn Chowder, Pad Thai, 3 Bean Chili, Thai Curry, etc) and they were all fine, but the 20 minute cooking time (especially compared to my hiking partner John’s 8 minute Mountain House meals) really annoyed me before long.
  • Electronics: I knew that certain sections of the trail would be challenging to navigate in a high snow year, and I planned on using my iPhone with the Guthooks app to navigate. I was really nervous about running out of battery juice, so I brought along two Anker 10,000mAh batteries. I never fully depleted the battery on the first, so the second would have been a waste (if not for allowing my hiking partners to charge up.)

The Good

  • Pack: I LOVED my Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60L pack. It was the perfect size for the trip – especially because I was carrying a bear canister. I really liked that I could store 2x Life Water bottles in the right-side outer pocket and reach them without taking off my pack. Additionally, the one massive, stretchy pocket was stuffed to the brim on the daily and didn’t wear it out. The mesh did sustain a few small holes in the bottom, but I was not really careful with where I set the pack down.
  • Sleep System: I jumped on an Enlightened Equipment Revelation 30deg (Wide/Regular) when they had it on inventory closeout and, together with my ThermaRest NeoAir XLite (women’s version… it’s warmer for the same weight), it performed well on some cold nights – only once did I wear an extra layer (both my base layer top and my R1 on top of my normal hiking shirt) to bed because I was concerned about the overnight lows.
  • Cold Weather Layers: I decided to take both my Patagonia R1 fleece hoody and Patagonia Nano Puff hoody and I am really glad I did. We typically camped at altitude (around 8,000 ft) and the temperatures really dropped once the sun set. I frequently would wear my puffy to cook dinner in and after getting up in the morning. I also liked hiking in the R1 fleece early and later in the day because I could shed heat by unzipping the big 3/4 zipper and/or rolling up the sleeves (I bought it in a bigger size intentionally)
  • Water Filtration: I used the Sawyer Squeeze (full size) and was really, really happy with how it performed. Despite some really murky lake wake (Spooner Lake… looking at you) running though it, I never once had an issue with clogging or reduced flow rate. Towards the end of the tip, I did end up losing the small white O-ring that seals the “dirty” water containers into the filter, but, apart from a gurgling noise occasionally when I would take a drink, it didn’t affect the performance of the Squeeze. My routine was to always keep 2L of water on me, in Life Water bottles in the Mariposa’s very handy lower-right side pocket. Both would be filled with “dirty” water, one with the Squeeze screwed on top, and one with the normal black cap on top. John had a Katadyn BeFree which seemed to have a better flow rate rate, but I preferred being able to drink straight from a water bottle with my Squeeze.

The Things I’d Change

  • Bear Canister: Holy crap was this thing heavy. I picked up a BV500 on sale from REI because I needed all that space for my (excess) of food and added 2 lbs 9 oz (almost 3 lbs!!) to my pack just like that. I’m currently in the process of trading the BV500 for a BV450 (only 2 lbs) for future trips into parks that require bear can use. Which brings me to:
  • Food Storage: For some reason, I chose not to bring a food bag in which to store my food when it wasn’t in my bear canister at night. Which meant that I had to take all of my lunches and dinners out of the bear canister while it was still in my pack on trail – which often meant feeling blindly around in there, because the canister sat so deep inside my pack. I’m seriously considering picking up a ZPacks DCF Bear Bag Kit so that I not only gain a food bag, but I also have a system to hang in food when in territories that don’t mandate bear canister use.
  • Insect Spray: I decided to try out the Sawyer Picardin personal insect spray (I did not treat my tent or clothes with Sawyer Permethrin) and it did NOT work against the voracious mosquitos on the west side of Tahoe. I might as well have just poured water over my head, because they were on me whenever I stopped. Luckily, Kevin had some 100% DEET spray and I slathered that shit on for the last two days.
  • Shelter: I carried the Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL one-person double-walled trekking pole tent and it worked well on the TRT. We saw some pretty windy nights (but never any precipitation overnight) and, fully guy’d out, I never had an issue with it in the wind. In my opinion, it’s a tricky tent to get an ideal pitch on, and despite practicing beforehand and using it every day on the TRT, I never felt quite confident that I had gotten it exactly right. I am trading this tent out because, on a subsequent car camping trip, I got rained on three nights in a row, and I was unhappy with how much water was absorbed by the High Route’s silnylon’s fly, causing sagging against the inner mesh and condensation issues. I’m excited to try out my new DCF Tarptent Notch Li on my next trip!

Again, check out my LighterPack for a full breakdown of my gear.

Thanks for reading!

Hiking to the White River Suspension Bridge

Since last Sunday, I’ve been making my way around the shores of Lake Superior, camping and hiking where I can. I’ve spent nights at Wyalusing State Park (Wisconsin), Superior National Forest (Minnesota), and Pukaskwa National Park (Ontario). While at Pukaskwa, I did a day hike out to the White River Suspension Bridge – on the Coastal Hiking Trail.

My first Canadian national park!

The Park

Pukaskwa National Park is GORGEOUS. It’s rather isolated – 3.5 hours from Thunder Bay, ON and 5 hours from Sault Ste. Marie, ON on the Trans-Canada Highway. I arrived around 9pm and the Park Kiosk (the check-in/registration station) was closed, but you can self-register. Rates were $5.80CAD/adult for entry and $25.50CAD/night for a non-electrical site. I had a brief moment of panic when I realized I didn’t have $30CAD+ in cash on me, but then I realized that they allow you to write down your credit card information on the self-registration for. NPS and USFS should take a page out of their book here!

Map of Hattie Cove Campground – the front country camp administered by the park. I stayed in site #52.

I was blown away by the park’s “comfort stations” with multiple hot shower stalls, multiple real toilets (at least in the men’s room), climate control, and motion-sensitive lighting. There were bear-proof trash and recycling containers scattered conveniently around the park. Lastly, the Visitors’ Center had satellite wifi internet that you could sit on the back porch and use after hours.

THE HIKE

There are a number of day hike options within the park, ranging from easy to difficult. I had my eye on hiking out to the White River Suspension Bridge via the Coastal Hiking Trail. Total length (round trip): 18km or 11mi

Follow the red trail down to the bottom-right corner of the map, labelled “White River Suspension Bridge”

I set out at about 10:15am and started the day by walking through an area that had been the site of a prescribed burn in 2014. I thoughts Parks Canada did a tremendous job highlighting why that area looked different than all the rest and the role of fire in maintaining a healthy forest. There were multiple informational panels placed in that ~1km section describing how they lit the fire, what weather concerns they had, how they prevented the blaze from spreading, etc.

Credit: Parks Canada/CBC

The trail was very well maintained and crossed a variety of terrain over the 7.5km route out to the bridge. There was a good amount of ascent and descent, but never so long that I’d describe the trail as strenuous. The park had built raised walkways over mud and small stream crossings as well as brand-new looking bridges over larger rivers and creeks.

An example of the trail just starting out.
An example of one of the older foot bridges…
… and a brand-new foot bridge!
Meadow walking!
The trail does get pretty rocky at times towards the middle.
The trail sticks pretty closely to the water for most of the route, and you are treated to some amazing views. This is one of my favorite photos.

THE PAYOFF

I arrived at the east side of the bridge around 12:30pm and, for a guy still working on overcoming a fear of heights, was looking pretty intimidating.

Standing on the east side of the bridge.

Crossing 23m (or 75ft) above the White River at Chigamiwinigum Falls, it’s a good rush to walk across the bouncing bridge during a stiff gust of wind. I crossed over, ate lunch on the other side, and then took my time photographing the moment while I had the bridge to myself.

Looking down river from the bridge.
And looking up river from the bridge.
Standing over a 75ft drop!

After spending about 20 minutes at the bridge, I headed back, and arrived to the trailhead around 3pm. This was a GREAT hike and I was sad to be leaving the park that day!

Thanks for reading!

Thru-Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail

“The easiest day was yesterday”

Last day views of Lake Tahoe from the Mt Rose Wilderness – Day 9

Earlier this week, I completed a clockwise thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 9 hiking days and 2 zero’s in South Lake Tahoe. Although I started as a solo hiker, I met a number of other thru-hikers while I was on trail, and finished with two guys named John and Kevin. John, I met mid-way through day 2 and we added Kevin to the tramily the day before finishing.

The Itinerary

  • Day 1: Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead to Marlette Peak Campground
    • Trail Mile (TM) 40.1 to TM 54.4 = 14.8mi (includes backtracking from alternate)
      • Notes: I attempted to complete the Christopher’s Loop side trail (leads you to the most-photographed potion of the TRT) about 3/4 of the way through the day, but bailed out after taking a nasty fall into some rocks while climbing a snowy slope. I elected to take the Marlette Lake View Alternate to get to the camp site, as that led me around the south side of the peak and avoided some of the snow.
      • Trail Magic: When I rolled into the camp site, I was shocked to see two dozen volunteers from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association sitting around a camp fire and a FULL kitchen setup. They were so gracious as to invite me into their circle to talk about the trail AND gave me a big plate of pasta salad, spicy rice, roasted peppers, and a shortcake dessert. Not at all how I thought my first night was going to shake out!
Hiking through Tahoe Meadow – Day 1
Can you tell where the trail is? – Day 1
Hiked up a VERY steep side trail to check out the Diamond Peak lift – Day 1
Coming around the corner to see Marlette Lake – Day 1
  • Day 2: Marlette Peak Campground to Dirt Road outside Kingsbury
    • TM 54.4 to TM 70.5 = 17.1mi (includes 1 mi round-trip to Spooner Lake for water)
      • Notes: Today I met Bumble, Scott, and John! I hiked with Bumble and Scott until just after lunch and then got together with John, but the four of us ended up camping together at the dirt road. This section between Spooner Lake and Kingsbury North was completely dry, and I was very lucky to find a patch of snow by the road to melt and cook with.
      • Thru-Hikers Met: Peter and Dani, Bumble and Scott, John
Sitting on The Bench – Day 2
  • Day 3: Dirt Road outside Kingsbury to Under Heavenly Mott lift
    • TM 70.5 to TM 84.7 = 14.2mi
      • Notes: John and I made our first town stop today! We hiked about .8 mi (all uphill!) into Kingsbury from the Kingsbury North trailhead to grab some snacks at the Tramway Market and lunch at the Fox & Hound pub next door. A burger has never tasted so good!
We passed under 3 or 4 different lifts over the course of the day – Day 3
  • Day 4: Under Heavenly Mott lift to Luther Pass Campground
    • TM 84.7 to TM 103.9 = 19.2mi
      • Notes: We wanted to push our biggest day yet so we could get as close as we could to Big Meadow. We had a pretty challenging time following the trail in the afternoon as we navigated the trail over Freel Pass. Luther Pass Campground was pretty disappointing, as we had a .5mi (plus) road walk down into the campground, where we discovered that all the sites were taken, so we just setup in a sheltered spot in the woods all the way in the back.
Me at Star Lake – Day 4
We were treated to an incredible view of the Sierras in the late afternoon – Day 4
  • Day 5: Luther Pass Campground to Echo Chalet
    • TM 103.9 to TM 122.1 = 18.2mi
      • Notes: We are officially halfway done! We passed the southernmost point of the TRT and joined the PCT, which we’ll be on for the next 50 miles. This was easily the hardest day on trail so far, with literally miles of snow covering the trail on the ascent to Echo Summit. I gritted my teeth and got through it, though, because I know John’s wife was waiting for us at Echo Chalet to bring us into South Lake Tahoe for a few days off! At the beginning of the descent into Echo, we lost the trail and ended up following a bunch of PCT hikers down this near-vertical cliff next to a waterfall. Later, closer to the Chalet, John and I got separated and each independently got lost. Eventually, we both made it to the Chalet and headed into town – stopping by Big Daddy’s Burgers for dinner.
      • Thru-Hikers Met: Beaver, Trash Can and Store Brand
      • A Note about the PCT: It was such a special treat to be able to share the trail with Pacific Crest Trail hikers, coming up from Mexico or coming down from Canada. Those coming from Mexico had hiked 1,000+ miles at that point, but were still so jovial and willing to answer questions and give advice.
Look Ma, I’m on the PCT! – Day 5
There was A LOT of snow on the way to Echo – Day 5
  • Day 6: Zero in South Lake Tahoe
    • Notes: Woke up incredibly sore and took it very easy today. John picked me up after breakfast to pickup my resupply box from the Post Office, hit an outfitter so he could get a new pad (his NeoAir UberLite developed a leak on night one), and stop by Raley’s to grab some different snacks. I had a nice long conversation with my family on the phone and then just walked around town for the night.
  • Day 7: Zero in South Lake Tahoe
    • Notes: Today I moved from the Holiday Inn (where I had spent the previous two nights) down the street into the Mellow Mountain Hostel and a bunk in an 8-person dorm. I wish I had stayed in the hostel the previous few nights – cool atmosphere and a lot of other friendly travelers to chat with. I watched the sunset over the lake from nearby Lakeside Beach and had dinner at my quickly-favorite SLT restaurant: Poke Rok.
    • Thru-Hikers Met: Victor
Sunset over Lake Tahoe – Day 7
Doesn’t this look delicious? Ate at Poke Rok for dinner two nights in a ow – Day 7
  • Day 8: Echo Chalet to Fontanillis Lake
    • TM 122.1 to TM 138.2 = 16.1mi
      • Notes: Back at it! We took an early 6am Uber back out to Echo Chalet and embarked upon the part of trail that we were both looking forward to: Desolation Wilderness. After a beautiful, easy hike past Echo Lake we reached the crown jewel… Lake Aloha. Past Aloha, we got ready to head up Dick’s Pass – the biggest climb of Desolation. After making our way down several hundred vertical feet of snow on the other side of the Pass, we stopped for the night at the best camp site of the trip – on a rock ledge overlooking Fontanillis Lake.
      • Thru-Hikers Met: Animal Planet, Soccer Mom, Wanderer
Aloha Lake! – Day 8
Southbound views from Dick’s Pass – Day 8
The perfect campsite at Fontanillis Lake (I’m the middle tent) – Day 8
  • Day 9: Fontanillis Lake to north side of Barker Pass
    • TM 138.2 to TM 187 = 18.8mi
      • Notes: Another day working towards Tahoe City. We hit some pretty major snow coming down Barker Pass, so we decided to call it a day at a nice campsite next to the trail.
      • Thru-Hikers Met: Filter
Starting the day, we crossed an ice bridge over this stream – thank god it was early, or it would have been really sketchy – Day 9
Which side of Barker Pass do you think gets more sun? – Day 9
  • Day 10: North side of Barker Pass to alongside Mt Watson Rd
    • TM 187 to TM 9.1 = 23.3mi
      • Notes: We made it to Tahoe City! Early in the morning, John and I met Kevin on the descent after Twin Peaks and the three of us hiked the 10 miles into town. Although I debated staying the night in town, the allure of finishing the next day eventually drew me into hiking back out after polishing off a medium pizza and stopping by Raley’s to resupply. The section after Tahoe City is pretty dry – we were aiming to make it to Watson Lake, but ended the day a few miles short.
      • Thru-Hikers Met: Kevin
That pizza did not last much longer! – Day 10
Beautiful views of the lake on the climb out of Tahoe City – Day 10
There’s me! – Day 10
  • Day 11: Alongside Mt Watson Rd to Mt Rose Summit Trailhead!
    • TM 9.1 to TM 40..1 = 31mi (172.7mi total)
      • Notes: WE DID IT! We started off early, at 6:55am, and started hiking at a good pace. We ate lunch at Brockway Summit Trailhead and set off on the 20 mile push to finish the whole trail. The section from Brockway to Mt Rose was completely dry and almost completely uphill – it was a total ass-kicker of a day. We battled hundreds of vertical feet of snow on the climb and descent onto/off of Relay Peak (the highest point on trail) and at times, though the trail was switch backing under us, we just went straight up or straight down on the snow. I was utterly exhausted by the time we reached Relay Peak, and was thankful that the remaining 5 miles were all downhill (we elected to take the Old TRT alignment down). We finished our thru-hikes just before 9:45pm.
      • Trail Magic: The Trail Magic we received today absolutely saved me. A few miles into the morning, we reached Watson Lake and were able to refill water (having not had a reliable source since before noon the previous day), but still had most of the day to cover without reliable water. A Trail Angel left a gallon of water at Brockway Trailhead, which was 2/3 gone by the time we got there, and the three of us split it between ourselves. Then, about a half hour into the biggest ascent of the day, we ran into a group of three elderly women coming down the trail. I got to talking with the woman on the end, and she handed me two of her spare water bottles – these would prove invaluable over the course of the day as I drank far more than my hiking partners.
The view from the trail along the Mt Rose Wilderness was just UNREAL – Day 11
On top of Relay Peak – Day 11
DONE – Day 11

Not a single day on the Tahoe Rim Trail was easy, but I loved the experience. The people I met on trail, especially John and Kevin, were incredible – I think they represent the best of humanity. The fact that it is a high snow year certainly added an extra degree of difficulty, but I think that just adds to the accomplishment. I’m so proud to call myself a thru-hiker, and I’m excited to do this again.

Coming up next, I’ll describe my gear: what I took, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what I’ll do differently next time.

Thanks for reading!