One evening in December, my boyfriend, Elan and I were hiking on some local trails. I’m not sure how we started talking about through-hiking, but eventually, it wound itself into our conversation. Elan told me about his time on the John Muir Trail and immediately a desire to do something of that nature became apparent to me. Being a novice to the trail system, I asked him if he wanted to do another trip like that and he replied in a manner that didn’t shock me at all, “absolutely”!
It’s with great hope that my recap of our time on the Tahoe Rim Trail will inspire a future adventure for you, provide helpful insight, and most of all, offer a slice of entertainment at the trials and tribulations Elan and I endured in an effort (and success) to hike all the way around the lake.
Location: Lake Tahoe, CA
Distance: 165 miles (give or take)
Total elevation gain: 27,453
To see the data from our trip, check out Elan’s strava where he recorded the whole expedition!
While preparing for the hike, I read numerous blogs and articles on what and how much to pack. I loved reading how other hikers approached the task in front of them, not only what they did to prepare, but their musings on what they packed (or similarly left at home) and why. Elan and I hiked together and decided to divide the weight; I carried all of the food and most of the cooking equipment while he carried the camping gear. Although, if he’s reading this, he’ll argue that he carried most of the cooking equipment (which is probably true).
- 1 pair quick dry running shorts (Target brand!)
- 1 pair hiking specific The North Face shorts
- 1 pair Salomon tights
- 1 flannel from The North Face
- 1 quarter zip/breathable long sleeve
- 2 breathable t-shirts ; I find the Flight Series by The North Face to be really comfortable and perfect for longer physical efforts (especially when you don’t have access to a washing machine!)
- 1 sleeveless tank top
- 1 down/puffy jacket from The North Face
- 1 cozy + warm beanie
- 1 pair of gloves/mittens
- 1 pair of wool socks
- 3 pairs of socks (I adore stance socks!)
- 1 bandana
- 1 buff
- 1 hat
- 1 scrunchy, a handful of hair ties,
- 1 headband
- Goodr Sunglasses
- Salomon Sense Ride Trail Shoes
- Handheld water filter
- 3, 16 oz water bottles
- **Elan and I carried our own water, he took about the same as I did, only instead of a 2-liter bladder, he carried 3 liters
- 1, 2-liter bladder
- Jetboil + gas tank + utensils
- **splurge on the collapsible cups, and bowls. I bought the cheapest bowls and they ended up being a pain to try and pack into our packs!
- Lighter + matches
- Bear Box
- We debated over which food storage mechanism we should bring and ultimately decided on both a box and a sack. The TRT doesn’t mandate you bring a bear box as other trails and national parks too, however, the bear box is great because it doubles as a camp stool
- The bear sack is nifty because once you eat all your food, you can fold it up and it stores easily, unlike the box where the shape is (obviously) solid so won’t compress
- Tent + tent stakes
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- **This was game-changing…for Elan. I argued and insisted we didn’t need one, so he bought one and I went without. Because he’s the sweetheart he is, the final two evenings he let me use it
- Baby wipes
- BRING BABY WIPES. While soap will leave you feeling more “clean,” if you’re not always camping by a lake, it won’t be useful. Because Elan and I never camped by a large body of water, the baby wipes were the perfect “shower.” Easy to use, fast and left our bodies and faces feeling as clean as possible. They also double as good hand-wipes, dish cleaning agents, and overall help the hygiene levels stay extremely manageable
- Bug spray
- Hand sanitizer
- Microfiber towel (to clean dishes)
- First aid kit
- *Elan hooked this onto his backpack so we could charge the watch and if need be a cell phone for the eveningSolar panel + portable charger
- I used the Osprey Ariel AG 75 and absolutely loved it. I highly recommend going to your local REI to get fitted for a pack to make sure it’s the proper size and fit. My pack was about $330 and if I were to suggest one thing, it would be a splurge on a good back-pack and try and buy the rest for cheaper
My comfort ordains that I have more food than necessary. Ironically enough, while preparing for the trip I underestimated how much we’d eat on the trail, and found the two stops in town to be saving graces for refueling. We hiked at a difficult pace each day and found our bodies needed extra fuel for the miles. While every metabolism is different, I would air on the side of caution. If by the last few days you have too much, offer your leftovers to friends on the trail (and by friends I mean other hikers).
- Quick cook oats (1 cup per person per day)
- Seasoned ahead of time with cinnamon, cardamom, flax seed, chia seeds and sea salt (mixed into a ziplock bag with the oats)
- Nuttzo nut butter
- Single serve Starbucks Via instant coffee
Snacks: we ate either 2 or 3 bars a day depending on the mileage
- Cliff Bars
- Bobo’s Bars
- Luna Bars
- Tahoe Trail Bars
- Trail mix: homemade with almonds, walnuts, cashews, coconut, pumpkin seeds, golden raisins and chocolate chips
- Mango Chimes Ginger Chews
- GUM: while this seems counterintuitive, having minty breath and something to do on longer sections of the walk was absolutely worth the few ounces in weight I had to carry
- Gluten Free Pretzels: Elan and I aren’t gluten-free, but we both just enjoy the taste of them better to regular pretzels! The saltiness was divine
Anything we found appetizing enough to put in a tortilla wrap: usually it was nut butter with raisins in the middle, or cold rice folded in
- Good to Go Dehydrated meals: these were game changing! With real food listed in the ingredients, no preservatives and easy to cook, this company based in Maine offered a delicious way to end each day
- Quick cook ready-made rice as an easy way to bulk up meals
- Quinoa flakes to bulk up meals
- Smashmallow cinnamon sugar marshmallows (roasted carefully on the open jetboil flame)
- Hot Cocoa (purchased as an impulse to save for our last night!)
Logistically, the Tahoe Rim Trail proves not too challenging. While the high points of (elevation on) the trail are indeed high, it’s not subject to torrential weather as other notorious passes are, say in Colorado or on the John Muir Trail.
Elan and I decided to hike clock-wise, parking our car at the Echo Lake Chalet, one of the few lots you can leave your car (safely) and return to it however many days later. In order to hike the trail, you need only one permit for the Desolation Wilderness section. If you’re planning to map each day ahead of time, make sure to order your permits at least two weeks ahead of time so as to ensure there is enough time for you to receive them in the mail. A little late to that information, Elan and I bought our permits the morning of, as soon as the office opened at 8 AM. The office is located in South Lake Tahoe, (35 College Drive, South Lake Tahoe CA 96150) conveniently not far from a cute little coffee shop called, Freebird Cafe where we enjoyed our last cup of strong coffee and two nourishing smoothies before hitting the trail. We knew we wanted to complete the hike as quickly as possible (without running), and to do so it would require we average about twenty miles a day.
The loose structure gave us a little more wiggle room on a day to day but also left a few variables up to chance like where to fill up water, and a (safe) place to camp each night. Depending on your personality, planning out each day on the trail would not be that difficult but it would simply require a bit more work.
Our hike began at Echo Lake Chalet. At Echo Lake there is an adorable shop open to day hikers, lake goers, PCT hikers and a gamut of outdoor enthusiasts. While it would be a welcome delight to pass through and be able to refuel supplies and food there, it’s where our hike began and ended. Depending on where you begin, Echo Lake has everything you need (and more) to refuel properly and continue on your adventure. For us, it provided necessary nourishment after our final day upon which we indulged in sandwiches and diet cokes under the sun, in a state of disbelief that our journey had actually come to an end. It proves to be a necessary location as the next 32 miles of the trail are remote and the most difficult (in my opinion). From Echo, the next available place to refuel is in Tahoe City.
Tahoe City felt like a godsend. After having gotten my period** on the second day of being out on the trail, I felt like I needed civilization more than ever. Luckily, you need to pass through town in order to hit the trail on the other side, so Elan and I had zero protestations about stopping to enjoy it. From Barker Pass and Twin Lakes Peak, it’s a gradual descent into the city, about 10.5 miles or so. Tahoe City has everything; from Alpenglow Sports to buy any gear related equipment, to Save Mart to buy more tortillas and tampons, to Syd’s Bagelry and Espresso, every second of the two hours we spent in town were worth it. Having written that, it’s hard to plan a trip perfectly. There are a lot of moving pieces to a through hike so having the peace of mind that you’ll pass through a town and can stock up or throw away necessary/ unnecessary items was very helpful to a newcomer like me. For that reason, I’m glad we hit the town after a few days of being out in the wilderness as opposed to beginning there.
**To all my ladies out there, when that time of the month comes, sometimes when you least expect it, I would advise bringing a spare tampon or pad just in case. Luckily in Tahoe City lives the glorious Alpenglow Sports wherein upon which I bought the most comfortable pair of hiking underwear that felt truly miraculous.
Heavenly Resort felt as though we needed to literally climb to Heaven to reach. Starting our day at Spooner Summit campground about 20 miles earlier, we anticipated we’d only reach a high point (once) of 8600 before descending into town. This was not the case. A plethora of rolling hills and one final steep push brings you to an intersection in the trail where you can either walk three more miles into the town of Heavenly or continue to Kingsbury grade south and reach the resort. In my opinion, this part of the trail was not well advertised or written about. Elan and I had really no clue if the Heavenly resort would physically intersect with the trail, and took a bit of a chance in finding out as we didn’t want to add a total of six more miles onto our itinerary. If you want to stay the night in a hotel, make sure to book ahead of time as we got pretty lucky finding a spare room. There is one small market and one (delicious) restaurant up at the top, both of which helped us refuel physically and mentally. The day left us absolutely spent, and when we walked into the restaurant, The Fox Hound, both waitresses promptly sat us in a table by an outlet, gave us the wifi password and said to take a load off. I left a note for them and am looking forward to going back simply to say thank you for all their well wishes! Looking back on this stop, it was definitely needed, but the diversity of food and equipment is scarce compared to Tahoe City or Echo Lake. The resort is about a mile from the trailhead, so if you don’t see any hotels or form of civilization, don’t worry, it’s there, just keep going and make sure to follow the signs for Kingsbury Grade South!
Some Tips + Tricks
- Buy a lightweight pillow. Pack long underwear. Bring chewing gum. These three things, while I didn’t have them all for the entire hike, allowed me to sleep, kept me warm, and gave me a semblance to normalcy that was a great comfort.
- When you see a stream, fill up your water. Elan and I were shocked at how little water there was on the trail. While Desolation Wilderness has bountiful sources to fill up, the Nevada side of the trail is starkly dry. Between the two of us, we carried so much water that it took nearly an hour to fill up all of our bottles. To have enough water to cook, and stay hydrated requires a great amount, so don’t underestimate it!
- Ginger Chews. I have a pretty sensitive stomach, and due to what I think was overall fatigue, I got nauseous pretty quickly. Ginger chews helped remedy my malaise and were a delicious treat after lunch! They are worth their weight in gold.
- Hydration tabs. I packed along GU Energy Labs Tri-Berry Hydration Tabs to make sure our electrolyte levels never got too low. When you have limited access to water, you need to make sure you’re staying as hydrated as possible, and the sodium in the tabs helps prevent headache and fatigue!
- SNOW. Depending on when you go, you may encounter snow, and it will be a pain in the butt. If you somehow lose the trail while you’re out there, look for footprints, don’t try and push when it’s starting to get dark and ask fellow hikers how conditions are on passess.
- You’re not a mean person, you’re just hungry. Make sure you eat enough on the trail. Chances are when something doesn’t feel right, you’re probably hungry. Keeping your energy levels up is imperative for a safe and fun time. Our median energy bar consumption was three a day alongside three meals and sometimes dessert…who am I kidding, we always had dessert. When you’re through-hiking, you’re always in a calorie deficit so my biggest advice would be to pack as healthy and nourishing meals as you can, but don’t be afraid to also pack whatever else may sound appealing. Pro tip: put chocolate chips in your trail mix, they’re great. Second pro-tip: pack a lot of carbs. Carbs are great.
- There will always be somewhere to camp. Our goal was to finish walking every day by 7:00 with twenty minutes of wiggle room on either end. If we found a great camp site at 6:40, or consequently didn’t find one until 7:20, either would work. If I were to do it again, I would probably research possible camp sights or locations with assured water so as not to leave it up to chance. Most of my discomfort (all of my discomfort) on the trail came from the uncertainty of finding a good place to set up our sleeping arrangements for the night such that planning it out ahead of time can alleviate the anxiety. Having said that, a good camp sight is never more than thirty minutes away. Unless you’re on a pass covered in snow, chances are there will be a place to settle down not too far off and the saying that patience is a virtue will ring true.
- You might get a little gassy. As unglamorous as it is to read, sometimes being at higher elevation causes a little GI discomfort. If you’re hiking with a partner, I would suggest trying to laugh it off. If you’re hiking solo, than who even cares. Don’t get mad at them though because I’m 99% sure they have no control over it.
- Buy pickles when you can. Eat them.
ENJOY IT. While Elan and I did it rather quickly, don’t be afraid to stop and smell the roses. Jump in that beautiful looking lake! Take a siesta under that glorious looking tree. Doing an adventure of such magnitude merits that you do it on your terms. Make it what you want and you won’t regret a single second. The hike will be challenging and some of the summits were difficult for me to muster the energy to get up to, but the views are always incredible from the top. The Tahoe Rim Trail is an adventure I want so many to experience because it leaves you feeling abundantly grateful that such trails exist for our pleasure. It’s pretty well marked (with the exception of a few dodgy areas such as the ascent to Mount Rose, in which case my best advice would be to always ask fellow hikers for point of reference…even if you’re absolutely sure of your direction) and you’re never too far from civilization which makes this a perfect hike for your first time through-hiking.
Everything upon finishing will feel electric. From the first people you run into after proclaiming yourself done, to the first shower you take after getting home, nothing replaces the feeling of accomplishing a task as grandiose as the TRT. I hope that you cherish every minute, however hard or however easy because I speak only from experience when I say it was magical.
More Pictures from the hike.