Magical trek to Pole Creek

It was one of those frigid days where the temperature was not expected to rise above 30 degrees F and snow was in the forecast. I needed to get some fresh air. The skies were gray as I layered up and set out to snowshoe the Pole Creek Trail.

The trail is easy to find, from Truckee take State Route 89 south for about 7 miles. Look for an elevation sign and another small sign with a skier icon denoting the turnoff on the right. If you are coming from Tahoe City, the trailhead is 2.5 miles north of Squaw Valley Road on the left.

The gentle-to-moderate ascent through the forest offered a beautiful stillness
and much-needed quiet.

There was plenty of snow on the trail when I parked next to the Pole Creek Trail sign, which offers a trail map, safety tips, clothing recommendations with a diagram on layering and a winter code of ethics. My friend, Karen Barchas, and her pit bull, Kiya, braved the cold with me on this dog-friendly trail.

We strapped on our snowshoes and realized we both forgot poles. The snow was deep and we launched ourselves up the old logging road. The gentle-to-moderate ascent through the forest offered a beautiful stillness and much-needed quiet. Cross-country skiers had made their way up the hill as did snowmobilers and wildlife — all of which left tracks in the snow.

The sun tried hard to make an appearance, but the clouds dominated the sky. Snow was on the way. Every once in a while we were graced with a few rays of sunshine as we walked through the forest of pines. Westerly, an angry slate-gray sky hovered over the mountains and mingled with a bit of blue sky. There were openings in the trees that offered beautiful views of the surrounding granite peaks.

There are many options on this trail for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. It’s a 2-mile journey up to Pole Creek where you can turn around and head back. Depending on your cadence, it will take about an hour or so.

If you decide you want more of a workout and enjoy what nature has to offer, you can cross Pole Creek via the bridge and follow the road on the north side of the creek until you reach the Bradley Hut, which is about a 10-mile hike from the trailhead. At the head of the valley, an impressive alpine wall separates Pole Creek drainage from the North Fork of the American River, which lies immediately to the west.

If you are looking for a hardy workout, you can continue on to Silver Peak (elevation 8,424 feet). There are beautiful views of Lake Tahoe. Folks often climb and ski Silver Peak. From this trail you can also ascend Tinker Knob and continue on to Sugar Bowl or cross over into Shirley Canyon and ski down to Olympic Valley. If you venture into the back country, do so only if you are prepared for winter conditions and have taken an avalanche awareness class.

About 20 minutes into our hike, I stripped off layers — clearly I overdressed. I tied each article of clothing around my waist. As we approached Pole Creek, I was down to my tank top and light silk base layer. The cold no longer had power over me. I was sweating and getting a good cardio workout.

There were few people on the trail. We bumped into a young couple from Guatemala on the way up and as we returned down the hill, a back-country skier was heading out to get a run in before dark.

A light snow began to fall making this trek feel all the more magical — it was just another reason I live here. Pole Creek is a lovely trail and I plan to head up there again.