All things Autumn in Tahoe

By Tim Hauserman

An early September morning found me on the Tahoe Rim Trail between Barker Pass and Ward Creek. This has always been one of my favorite sections of the TRT. The trail traverses across a fascinating volcanic slope, passing a number of small streams and seeps flush with greenery and a few remaining flowers. It also provides expansive views of both Blackwood and Ward Canyon, and Lake Tahoe in the distance. But my favorite part of this trail are the trees. At 8000 feet on the west shore of Lake Tahoe there is a lot of snow, and the trees that thrive on the deep powder: Red fir, western white pine and hemlock grow tall and strong along the trail. In fact, in a particularly lush grove at the headwaters of Blackwood Creek is said to be the biggest hemlock in the Tahoe region.

The combined TRT and Pacific Crest Trail begins at the top of Barker Pass. Catch the road, across Highway 89 from Kaspian Park about 4 miles south of Tahoe City. Climb seven miles up the canyon to the end of pavement, then follow the wide dirt road an additional half mile to the PCT trailhead on the right.

The TRT begins climbing through a lush forest of red fir, then passes through wide fields of Mule Ears with views to the south of Desolation Wilderness. At about a mile, you reach awesome views across Blackwood Canyon to Lake Tahoe. Now, the route traverses along the edge of the canyon soon reaching two large volcanic knobs.

From here, the trail drops down into the bowl which contains those humongous hemlocks.The walk is now sublime with views of Tahoe, seep springs, ancient trees and craggy volcanic rock formations. After a gentle descent, an extended climb begins on a series of long switchbacks to the top of the ridge. Here at the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness, 360 degree views are found as well as giant western white pines, battered by the winds.

Next, the PCT and TRT part, as the TRT heads to the east over the shoulder of Twin Peaks, and down into Ward Canyon. It’s a long descent through alternating thick forest and fields of Mules Ears with views of Twin Peaks and the Pacific Crest. You pass little McCloud Falls just off trail then cross on a bridge over Ward Creek, before a last few miles of gentle descent to the road.

by Tim Hauserman

Since the first few smaller winter storms are now under our belt, it’s time to move from road construction season to controlled burn season. In an effort to reduce the potential for a catastrophic fire in the Tahoe region, a slew of government land managers conduct controlled burns each fall and into the winter to reduce the amount of fuel that could feed a fire, or to stop a fire in it’s tracks when it happens.

For the most part a controlled burn is the last stage of a tree thinning project. The larger trees are removed for lumber or firewood, and the smaller trees and brush are assembled into piles. These piles sit out to dry anywhere from a few months to a few years until the burning agencies have the time and the right atmospheric conditions to burn the piles. In Tahoe, that means once the fire danger has abated but before multiple feet of snow cover the ground. Frequently you will see the fires light up just before an impending storm, which allows the fuel load to be reduced and a high level of assurance that the precipitation coming in will be sure to put the fire out.

(Area burned by the Washoe Fire in 2007)

The best evidence I’ve seen of the importance of reducing the fuel load in the Tahoe basin was the Washoe Fire near Sunnyside ten years ago. The fire started from a BBQ on a back deck on Washoe Blvd in the Tahoe Park area. Heave winds raced the fire up the hill through thick forest into the neighborhoods above. The fire had burned six homes in a short time and many more were threatened, all the way to downtown Tahoe City, when it entered an area which had recently been thinned and the fire fighters were able to get a handle on it.

In the Tahoe basin Lake Valley, North Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Douglas fire protection districts, as well as California State Parks, California Tahoe Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service are all set to burn in the next few weeks, including in these locations:

D.L. Bliss State Park
Carnelian Bay
Kings Beach
Incline Village
Diamond Peak Ski Resort area
Glenbrook
Upper and Lower Kingsbury Grade
Near Lake Tahoe airport

By Tim Hauserman

Every year Tahoe City shows it’s fall colors not only with its vibrant red maple trees lining the streets, and of course with the lovely October weather,  but with a host of scary scarecrows tucked into many corners along North Lake Blvd. The scarecrows are produced by local schoolchildren, artists and Tahoe City business people as a gift to the community. Be sure and wander around downtown and find your favorites. Here are a few of mine:

Haven’t had a chance to check out the scarecrows yet? A perfect time to do so is Halloween Night. On October 31st Tahoe City hosts the Downtown Trick or Treat. From 4-6 pm local businesses are dishing out the candy and the town is full of wandering Ice Monsters and goblins. Start the evening at Heritage Plaza (That’s next to the Syd’s Bagel scarecrow pictured above) and get a free bag to contain all the booty.


By Tim Hauserman

Mountain bike the Burton Creek State Park/Tahoe Cross Country trails for fall colors
Check out the Taylor Creek Kokanee Salmon hiking trail and profile chamber
Hike into Desolation Wilderness, which actually lives up to it’s name in the off-season
Ride through the aspen trees to Marlette Lake, and the Flume Trail
Walk the Rubicon Trail from Emerald Bay
Kayak on a calm day out of Hurricane Bay
Hike the Judah Loop Trail on Donner Summit
Ride the Emigrant Trail to Stampede Reservoir
Catch the fall colors at Sagehen Creek
Ride Sierra Valley checking out the barn quilts and hawks
Take a stroll along the shore of Lake Tahoe in downtown Tahoe City
Catch the fall colors in Page Meadows
Look for bears foraging while hiking in the woods around Tahoe.
Take a cruise on the Tahoe Gal
Head to a beach on a quiet midweek morning and enjoy the quiet
Check out the Donner Memorial Park Visitor Center then take a stroll down to Donner Lake
Ride your road bike from Donner Lake to Cisco Grove and back. Too far? Ride around Donner Lake
Hike north on the Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe City to view Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River Canyon
Ride to the top of Blackwood Canyon for a workout and fall colors
Spend a cool morning by a fire

 

 


by Tim Hauserman

During the crazy busy days of August and Labor Day, my local swimming spot on Lake Tahoe was often so crowded it was hard to find space on the pier to lie down. Earlier this month, I walked down to the beach for a swim on a bright and sunny late morning, with the lake calm, and the water still warm, and took a dip. I was the only one on the pier. Yep, it was time for the September Slows…Locals summer… August without the crowds…And Tahoe folks were just besides themselves with excitement.

Well, but then again, September can be a fickle little bugger. It can be warm, sunny and crowd-less. Or as I was reminded a few days after my swim, it can snow. On September 20th it snowed all morning at lake level, quarter size flakes gently covering the lawn with a few inches of snow.

Two days later, I was enjoying a hike along Emerald Bay, there was a cool breeze and a few sprinkles, but that couldn’t dampen my spirits as a hike along the Rubicon Trail is always a gorgeous way to spend a few hours.

The next day, I was mountain biking the hardened, deep brown trails of Tahoe XC above Tahoe City. There was not a hint of dust on the trails, but I did roll over a few remaining patches of snow. Sure it was a bit nippy, but the bright blue sky and even brighter blue lake shimmered in the sun.

This week, it is supposed to rise back up into the 70s and perhaps a few more days of swimming in Lake Tahoe are still in the offing. Or perhaps it will snow again.

The moral of the story when it comes to September and October at Lake Tahoe is that you need to carpe diem. If the weather is warm and lovely, get out there for a hike, bike ride or paddle on the lake. If it is stormy or snowy, bundle up, light a fire and enjoy a hot chocolate…and then get out there, just choose your location wisely. Let nature be your guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tim Hauserman

Lake Tahoe is mountain biking paradise, but those trails we love don’t just magically appear. Many were old dirt roads that were converted into trails, while others were created by volunteers that put in the time and expertise to build a bit of dirt heaven for the rest of us to ride. Now, an effort is underway, largely through the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association (TAMBA), to replace steep, eroding trails with flowing ones that are more fun to ride as well as being more environmentally sensitive.

The Burton Creek State Park/Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area is the North Shore’s most popular mountain biking terrain, and right now TAMBA is in the process of rerouting/rebuilding two major trail sections in the area. They are converting the Elevator Shaft Trail (sounds a bit steep doesn’t it?) and the Ocelot Trail from the steep rocky drainage ditch type trails they are now, to winding pleasurable romps through the woods.

I had a chance to check out the still under construction new Ocelot Trail today, and it is going to be awesome. Not too steep, super fun, and once it gets completed, a heck of a lot smoother than the old trail. I’ve heard equally good reports for what the newly redesigned Elevator Shaft will be like once the work is completed there. But if the trails are to be finished before the snow flies, there is still a lot more work to be done. That is where you come in. Volunteers who want to spend a day helping build trails are needed.

You can work on the Elevator Shaft Trail this Wednesday, September 13th, and the Ocelot trail on Saturday, September 16th. On the 13th meet at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area at 9:00 am. On the 16th meet at the Tahoe City PUD building across from the Fire Station on Fairway Drive in Tahoe City at 9:00 am. Both work days will go until 4 pm, but whatever time you can commit will be appreciated.

If you come to help out, please bring: Long pants, long sleeve shirt, helmet (bike Ok), sturdy shoes, gloves, sunglasses or other eye protection, water, snacks and plenty of energy. Lunch will be provided by The Back Country if they know you are coming.

For more information go to tamba.org or contact trail builder John Clausen at integrationsports.jc@gmail.com

 

 

By Tim Hauserman

The Tahoe Film Festival will bring twenty-three full length films to the Incline Village and Northstar Cinemas between December 1-4. The Festival, which supports SWEP, the Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships, is focused on films about the environment as well as award winning independent films covering a wide range of topics. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for people at Tahoe to see amazing films that would otherwise not appear in the region.
Films include:
“Certain Women” a story about several women facing personal crossroads staring Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern.
“When Two World’s Collide” , a Sundance Film Festival Award winner about the battle between indigenous people from the Amazon, and the President of Peru.
“Before the Flood” which tells the story of climate change staring Leonardo Dicaprio.
“Antarctic-Ice and Sky”
“For the love of Spock” by Leonard Nimoy’s son Adam Nimoy.
“The last laugh” a documentary in which famous Jewish comedians including Mel Brooks and Sarah Silverman discuss joking about the holocaust.
“A man called Ove” is a funny and heartwarming story that has won the Audience Award at several festivals.
“Thank you for your service” about mental illness in the military
“Casting by” about the life of a casting director.

In addition to the films, there will be a SWEP Gala on December 4th, and an Opening Film Party on December 1st. Many directors and actors will be in attendance at the festival to discuss their work with the audiences.
Go to tahoefilmfest.org for ticket and schedule information. The festival not only supports the very worthwhile programs of SWEP, but the concept of a film festival in Tahoe, so get out there and buy some tickets!

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By Tim Hauserman

As winter approaches it’s time to enjoy those last few hikes and mountain bike rides before the glorious white stuff covers the ground. One of my favorite last chance spots is the top of Ward Canyon. Here the views of the surrounding Pacific Crest, contrast beautifully with the deep blue sky. Closer in, you can marvel at the gnarled still standing dead trees, and the live ones laden with sticky pine cones while listening to the gentle rustle of Ward Creek pounding over rocks.

 

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The drive to the top of Ward Canyon begins just south of Sunnyside on Tahoe’s West Shore. Turn off Highway 89 and take Pineland Drive. Roll through Pineland, and then suddenly you escape the houses and begin a several mile journey through undeveloped forest in Ward Canyon. Enjoy glimpses of Ward Creek and Ward Peak and pass a trailhead for the Tahoe Rim Trail, before reentering the civilized world in the residential community of Alpine Peaks. Continue to follow Courchevel Road to it’s end, where you find a small parking lot close to the base of Alpine Meadow’s Sherwood chairlift.

Follow the dirt road which begins here as it winds over ski runs up the slope to the top of the Sherwood chair. It’s a gentle rise with stunning views in every direction. At the first major switchback, a hiking trail heads straight. Follow this a short distance to a grove of humongous western white pines. They sit at a vista above the meeting of two Ward Creek tributaries which are diving swiftly into a deep ravine.

Back on the road, views of Twin Peaks get better and better as you gently climb. Rounding the open slope into a grove of trees you meet a junction. Straight ahead leads to the base of Alpine Meadows, and a left turn continues to the top of Sherwood. A series of switchbacks leads to a rocky precipice, a great place to ponder Lake Tahoe and much of Ward Canyon. You can continue on to the top or meander along this ridge to a panoramic view into Alpine Meadows.

At the top of the Sherwood chair, the road ends, but you could keep going, following use trails along the ridge to eventually reach the top of Ward Peak. Whether you venture all the way to the top or just wander for a bit close to the trailhead, the views are spectacular, and well worth stretching your legs.

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By Tim Hauserman

When we think of Tahoe weather it is sun and snow that primarily come to mind. Tahoe is famous for blue skies or white powder. But the gray days of rain, like the glorious torrential events we’ve seen this fall, are a rare opportunity to see another kind of Tahoe beauty.

On the third day of a recent rainstorm I escaped the computer, donned my rain gear and walked from my house in Tahoe Park to Ward Creek along the bike trail. Even over the wet waves of sound coming from the wakes the cars made plowing through sheets of water, I could hear the creek well before I could see it. It was a rolling, churning mass of gray water, rushing to get to the lake.

I strolled into Ward Creek State Park, following the creek bank upstream. Granite rocks glistened with lime green lichens. Grasses and matts of pine needles wafted a gentle musty odor of decay and transition. The wet bark of Jeffrey pines and firs shown bright red. And the rain, kept coming down. Making puddles and building tiny streams. Dousing the recently parched land, and beginning the long and important process of filling up the enormous lake.

As the rain slowly stopped, the first rainbows lit up the sky and dipped their legs into the pile of liquid gold that is Lake Tahoe. Then the sun reemerged and the water quickly settled into the dirt, creating those trails perfect for mountain biking or hiking, while we enjoyed the last vestiges of the colors of autumn. A final chance to enjoy the fall before the winter snows are sure to roar in.

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by Tim Hauserman

One of the true hallmarks of a Tahoe fall is the Kokanee salmon run at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. There you will find diminutive Taylor Creek and the watershed around it packed with color. You can marvel at the yellows and oranges of the aspen and other deciduous trees, while making your short stroll to Taylor Creek which is awash in the bright red of thousands of salmon packing the creek to the gills.

Kokanee salmon spend most of their lives in the relative obscurity of the deeps of Lake Tahoe. They only become a famous attraction in their last days as they struggle up Taylor Creek to lay eggs or impregnate those eggs in that little pile of rocks that they decide is the perfect place. For the viewers, the salmon’s last days, are good days for learning, and marveling at the amazing beauty of throngs of them struggling up this shallow little stream.

Fortunately for us, Taylor Creek is an easy spot to witness the spectacle. Not only are there gentle walking trails right next to the shore of the creek, but several bridges give us a look from up above at the luscious redness. The Forest Service has also created a viewing chamber that allows us to witness some of the fish from a below the water vantage point on an extra channel in the creek they created.

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Once you’ve had your fill of gazing at the fish, be sure and enjoy the fall colors, and take a short stroll down to the quiet shore of Lake Tahoe where Taylor Creek makes it’s way to the lake.

In addition to human visitors, other animals come to Taylor Creek not for the viewing, but for the eating. Raccoon and bears both enjoy dining on the pink flesh of a dying salmon. Please, use your common sense and stay far away from any animals you see, and don’t prove your lack of intelligence by trying to get close to the animals and take a selfie. Too many bear/human interactions may lead to shutting off the area to humans to prevent an injury to the bear or humans.

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To get there: From North Lake Tahoe. Take Highway 89 South several miles past Emerald Bay to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center road on your left. opposite the Fallen Leaf Lake access road on your right.