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Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Thru-Hike 2012

173.4 miles; 29,572 vertical feet gained in elevation
September 7-13, 2012 (7 days)
Dave Sholer (solo hike)

First, let’s get the distance understood. I encountered one woman on the trail who, after I told her I was hiking the whole TRT, said: “Wow, that must be, like, 50 miles!” Yes. But while most people have a better judgment with distance, I think the trail’s name leads to some confusion.

I've drawn some lines around Lake Tahoe (to left):
ORANGE line: If one were to walk around Lake Tahoe’s shore, it would require about 75 miles of walking.
YELLOW line: Driving around the lake is actually more direct, at 71.8 miles.
RED line: Hiking the apparent rim of the closest mountains would be about nearly 80 miles.
BLUE line: The TRT, however, totals 173 miles (and growing!).

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) has a great non-profit association (TRTA) that puts a great amount of care an effort into the trail. I met several members on the trail and could feel their love of the trail. They have work days and have helpful maps and other resources on their website.

That aside, I have these observations about the TRT:

  1. 1. Not a Tranquil, Remote Trail. Since the trail is subdivided into 8 segments, a trailhead or alternate trailhead is always nearby. That means most people use the trail for day-use only; I saw only two pairs of thru-hikers the entire trip. More so, it meant that passing a road was not uncommon. But I also came across numerous sets of telephone poles. At one point north of Tahoe City, I was walking along a nice crest. Then, I saw a row of bright orange signs that read “Warning. Cable underground.” The signposts ran in a line, up from each side of the ridge. On my first day, I passed a group of AT&T guys working on a line. I saw nothing bigger than a squirrel until day six, when I saw 3 deer. Quite often, there is the ambient noise of a nearby car, ATV, dirt bike, plane, generator, etc. Once I thought I heard a tractor on a ridge, but it turned out to be the giant generator of a ski lift operating for lazy hikers during the summer months. Lastly, the trail is overtaken by bikers. I hardly saw any day hikers, but was constantly dodging out of the way for speeding mountain bikers. I should also mention that the trail isn’t actually a trail all of the time; quite often it’s a 4x4 dirt road. If you’re looking for a similar length trail that’s actually peaceful and remote, try the John Muir Trail or the High Sierra Route.

  2. Don’t Expect a Constant View of Lake Tahoe. I saw a glimpse on Day 1, then nothing again until briefly on Day 3. Then it was about every-other day after that. On the east side of the lake, there is a large north-south segment with consistent views. But the west side of the lake has another ridge line blocking the lake for most of the trail. Additionally, while there are some aspects of the beautiful, High Sierras, there weren’t many jaw-dropping views. Again, I compare this to the John Muir Trail, where the pristine views were amazing.

  3. 173 Miles and Growing! The TRTA seems to have an ego problem and is constantly trying to expand the trail. Their website lists the trail at 165-miles, but then also states “additional mileage is being added a result of trail reroutes and other projects - the current total length is almost 173 miles”. Many times the added route, away from the Lake or a senseless switchback, seemed superfluous. Near Big Meadow, I noticed a couple of flat “switchbacks” around rocks and trees that did not need such elaborate bypassing. I think the TRTA wants to make it a 200-mile trail.

  4. Bugs. There were very few mosquitoes (probably due to the very little water, high elevation, and the time of the year), but the yellow jackets were everywhere! At times, especially on the north and east sides of the lake, I couldn’t stop for more than a few seconds without being bombarded by the critters. I don’t know how I didn’t get stung!