Stomping first footprints |

Stomping first footprints

Greyson Howard/Sierra SunThe amber skies of a sunset over the Northern Sierra as seen from the Grouse Ridge area northwest of Truckee.

With snow melting earlier this year than year’s past, a friend and I decided it was time for a shake-down hike Saturday. Judging by the boot prints in the snow, we weren’t the only ones impatient to get into the backcountry.

An hour-and-a-half drive found Adam Shapley, a Sacramento-based EMT (always good to have a medic along) and me in the Grouse Ridge area of Tahoe National Forest, a granite landscape dotted in lakes, and still frosted in snow. Not out for big miles or monster climbs, we wanted to test our new gear ” and our legs and lungs ” before taking on bigger challenges later in the summer.

While the snow wasn’t as deep this time last summer, large drifts quickly forced us off trail, pushing through thick brush, slogging through cold streams and scrambling over large boulders to find our way.

The usual trail conversations, ranging from “Remember that one time when?” to “And that’s why she’s never talking to me again,” fell silent as we focused on pushing through the challenging terrain, our concern growing as we looked for a familiar landmark or dry spot to set up camp.

Our destination was Glacier Lake, but we didn’t know what we would find when we arrived.

The upshot was that we found our way to the small high altitude lake ” at roughly 7,000 feet in elevation ” without too much difficulty, leading a group of day hikers to our destination as well.

But while they had to turn around after a short break, we spent the afternoon setting up camp and enjoying the still mostly frozen body of water and its surrounding peaks.

While Adam played with all the poles and lines of his new tent, I nervously watched thunder clouds billowing to the east while setting up my meager poncho tarp.

As we cooked, ate and got into Adam’s gin and lime concoction, the skies cleared and the temperature dropped, sending the mosquitos to wherever they go when they aren’t eating me.

Getting to bed well after hiker midnight (9 p.m.), I slept as anybody would sleep the first time of the season on cold, lumpy ground, but woke to the sunrise blazing on the surrounding snow-covered mountainsides.

With our packs once again shouldered, we set out for a ridge-top walk that forced us through thicker brush and over bigger rocks than the day before. The reward for our efforts: An open trail with 360-degree views of the northern Sierra.

Looking north toward the Sierra Buttes, probably one of the area’s most arresting sights, Adam couldn’t help but break out his cell phone and brag to a few choice friends and relatives ” receiving envious expletives in return.

Red Indian Paintbrush, yellow Mule’s Ear and other colorful flowers were just starting to bloom along the sandy ridge, and a cool breeze made for perfect walking weather.

By the time we reached my car, we both had an idea of the good, the bad and the ugly ” both in our gear and our bodies ” anxious to make the necessary adjustments and get out on the trail again.

To check out the Grouse Ridge area, Take I-80 west, exiting at Highway 20 toward Nevada City. Turn right on Bowman Lake road and take either Grouse Ridge Road (still snowed in as of the weekend) or Carr-Feeley road (both are dirt roads, so don’t take your sports car) following them to the end. Park, pack and go. A good topo map and compass or GPS will get you to any number of lakes or peaks in the region.

Greyson Howard is a reporter for the Sierra Sun and a regular outdoor columnist for the Tahoe World. He can be reached at

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