Thru-Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail

“The easiest day was yesterday”

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!
  • 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
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

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!

Author: Zach "Free Fall" Tucker

Long Distance Hiker, Traveler, Peakbagger, and AEA Stage Manager.

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