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Trekking into the Sierra backcountry

Alex Close
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunThe time has come to dig out the snowshoes. Luckily for Lake Tahoe-area residents, there is no shortage of options.
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With the snow falling, it’s time to put away those hiking boots and pull out the gaiters and snowshoes yet again. Because trails are not necessary for winter trekking, most folks in the Tahoe-Truckee area can just trek right out of the edge of their neighborhood and find a great little winter walk. However, as most local residents know, there are a few choice spots for a walk through the snow. While this guide is a great starting place, it’s a good idea to pick up a book on the subject with detailed descriptions and maps. Michael C. White’s “Snowshoe Trails of Tahoe” is a good example, and was used as a source for this article.

Difficulty: Varied

Distance: Varied

The Mount Rose area not only has multiple peaks to climb, but also the popular Tahoe Meadows, which is great for beginning hikers and cross country skiers alike. Trekkers can use the Tahoe Rim Trail parking facilities or park on the side of the road. Explore the many peaks for breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe or trek out through the meadows for an easy, short flat trip. With so much different terrain, the Mount Rose area has something for everyone, beginner to expert.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: Nine miles round trip

From Brockway Summit on the highest point of Highway 267 between Kings Beach and Truckee, either park on the Tahoe side of the summit and take the Tahoe Rim Trail or park at the forest service road on the Truckee side and simply walk up the road. From either point, it’s almost five miles up to the lookout, making most of a whole day necessary for this trip.

Once there, the lookout is a small building with panoramic windows affording a breathtaking view of Martis Valley and all of Lake Tahoe. The lookout is manned as a fire lookout in the summer, and in the winter a frequented rest stop for snowmobilers and backcountry trekkers.

Difficulty: Varied

Distance: Varied

The Tahoe Rim Trail intersects Ward Creek Road about two or three miles from Sunnyside. Either take the trail or service road north to Paige Meadows for an out-and-back trek with the length of your choosing, or go south toward Twin Peaks. The southern route can afford a nice five-mile loop around Stanford Rock and back toward the Ward Creek State Park.

Difficulty: Difficult

Distance: 6.25 miles

To get to the trailhead take the Castle Peak exit just west of Donner Summit on Interstate 80. Follow signs to the Sno-Park at the end of the road south off the freeway. Walk back under the freeway to the north side to get to the trailhead.

Follow the service road up above the off ramp and northwest into the woods. Follow signs for self powered travelers to the right. Take the road up through Castle Meadows to Castle Pass and then follow the ridgeline up to the 9,103-foot peak for views north to the Sierra Buttes or south to the peaks of Desolation Wilderness and all around the Donner Summit region.

Difficulty: Extreme

Distance: 4.25 miles

Mount Tallac is, to many local backcountry enthusiasts, the premier Tahoe peak. Located in the southwestern corner of Lake Tahoe, the 9,735-foot peak juts up out of the lake nearly 3,000 feet in a mere three miles, making it a hike for the advanced, experienced and physically fit hiker.

About four miles north of the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89, take the Spring Creek road. After about half a mile, turn right on Pomo Road and follow that to its end and park along the road. Hike out through the trees and up through the gully into a large bowl, where some avalanche debris can often be seen. Keep climbing to the north ridge of Tallac and follow it up to the peak.

Tallac is not only one of the best climbs in the area, but also one of the best descents for the experienced skier or snowboarder.

NOTE: Tallac poses very real avalanche danger and should be attempted when the snow is stable by those with knowledge of avalanche dangers. The safest times for an ascent is late winter and spring when the snow has consolidated.

If you are not familiar with the area you will be traveling in, be sure to carry a compass and map, as well as some food and extra water. Also a good idea for longer treks into unfamiliar areas are a space blanket and shovel for digging a snow shelter.

Always dress in layers, and don’t wear clothing that loses warming properties when wet, such as cotton. Instead, use synthetic fleeces, wicking materials and wool.

Avalanches are a very real threat on many, if not all, of these hikes. If you will be traveling on slopes greater than 30 degrees, have some knowledge of avalanche danger ” take a course, learn to use a beacon and be smart.

Never travel in the backcountry alone, especially in the winter.


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