Searching for Solitude on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Early morning view of Freel Peak from just below the Freel Saddle.

Heading out into the mountains seeking solitude in Tahoe in the summer can be a challenge. You won’t find it on many of the trails, but I managed to find some along the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) about 10 miles from anywhere between Kingsbury Grade and Big Meadow. In fact, I went 18 glorious hours without seeing another soul, quite an accomplishment.

The Kingsbury South trailhead certainly doesn’t look like a gateway to solitude. It’s located at the base of Heavenly’s Stagecoach chairlift amongst the condos at the top of Kingsbury Grade.

After a mile or so on the TRT, however, I stopped seeing hikers and instead began to have the trail pretty much to myself except a few mountain bikers. This trail is a challenging bike ride not only because there is a lot of climbing, but also because the path is littered with boulders and steps that make many riders get off their bikes time after time. I saw two types of riders on my two days on the trail: expert riders who were not intimidated and were having a blast and a larger group who wondered why in the hell they were trying to ride this trail and were trying to figure out the best way to get off it.

Cold Creek rolling
through the meadow between Freel Peak and Job’s Sister

Meanwhile, I just kept on walking with 30 pounds on my back in the 80-degree F heat and developing the first signs of blisters. Apparently, it is possible to have blisters in three different places on the same foot. But the trail is so well built and pretty that I did try to forget about my feet. Eventually I made my way past Star Lake, to what I believe are the best 2 miles on this section of the TRT. The route is lined with glitter, in the form of white quartz and distant views of Tahoe can be seen. But what makes it for me is the high-altitude remoteness. Here at 9,000 feet there are enormous whitebark pines in the foreground and the massive summit of Freel Peak in the background.

At 10 miles from the Kingsbury trailhead, Cold Creek lives up to its name with icy crystal-clear water coming from a spring between Freel Peak and Job’s Sister. It’s narrow, swiftly moving and bordered by a ribbon of grass and yellow arnica. It’s the epitome of a beautiful alpine stream. I wandered off the trail about one-quarter of a mile and set up camp on a beautiful flat within ear shot of the creek

My tent was up by 3 p.m. and I had nothing to do for the rest of the day but lie around, filter water, do some writing, gaze at the clouds and listen to the creek and the Clark Nutcrackers. Of course, this doing nothing thing is a bit of work for those of us who are busy most of the time doing something. Sitting in camp by yourself with no electronic device is the authentic do nothing. Try it sometime, it starts out unnerving and then becomes quite refreshing and mind opening.

Part of my doing nothing involved wandering up stream, where I found a hidden oasis of mossy lushness in the deep vale between the slopes of Freel Peak and Job’s sister. I remember hiking up with my daughter to this spot about 15 years ago and how finding that off-trail piece of paradise was the high point of her trip. (The hail pounding our tent in the midst of a horrific thunderstorm was the low point).

Campsite near Cold Creek;

That night as I lay in my tent, I realized that most likely no one was within a square mile of me. How many people are within a square mile of where you are now? And how often are we given the chance to have a little piece of the world all to ourselves? It took work to get to the middle of nowhere, but I was reminded it’s a place I need to go to more often.

The next morning I was pretty excited to be on the trail at 7 a.m. My feet were hurting and I had 13 miles to hike, but the utter quiet of the mountains put a smile on my face — that is until a minute after reaching the trail I heard loud voices. There was a group of three guys already walking up the trail and gabbing away. One guy was a bit slower than the others, so they talked louder to keep him in the conversation. I stopped and sat next to a wildflower-engulfed stream for about 15 minutes to give them the chance to get out of earshot — which gave me the opportunity to again enjoy what I came here for: the sound of running water, wind in the trees, birds a flutter and, best of all, absolutely nothing. | tahoerimtrail.org