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Mike Sweeney
07/10/2014 3:08 PM

One of the many gifts we enjoy living in Amador County is our proximity to one of the outdoor wonders of the world — Lake Tahoe. People travel for days to visit this outdoor icon, but we can get to this largest alpine lake in North America in an hour-and-a-half. Consider these Tahoe facts: 1,645 feet deep (deepest lake in the US after Crater Lake); 22 miles long and 12 miles wide; 72 miles of shoreline; fed by 63 tributaries with only one outlet, the Truckee River. The Lake Tahoe Basin was created millions of years ago by seismic action that uplifted the Carson Range, to the east, and the Sierra Nevada Range, to the west. The actual lake was formed by glacial action about a million years ago. The area around Lake Tahoe is the ancestral home of the Washoe tribe of Native Americans. Today, it is a year-round outdoor recreation magnet drawing millions of tourists who come to ski and play in winter snow; and to fish, boat, hike and bike in the summer.

We recently spent a couple of nights in a cabin above the lake near Echo Summit, which is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Highway 50 on its long journey from Mexico to Canada. The PCT continues north from Echo Summit, high above Tahoe’s western shore, and for 50 miles it is also the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165-mile hiking route that circumnavigates the lake. It is wonderful sleeping comfortably in a gorgeous old cabin built in the 30’s, but you can’t help but feel the pull of these two trails as you drift off at night. I was especially intrigued with the Tahoe Rim Trail as it is relatively new, and so close to home.

The Rim Trail is the brainchild of Glen Hampton, a US Forest Service employee, who, in 1977, dreamed of a trail connecting the towering granite peaks above Lake Tahoe. He researched trail options that included Washoe footpaths, Basque sheepherder paths and the routes of early pioneers. In 1981, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association was founded, and in 1984, construction of the trail began. Over the years, hundreds of volunteers worked steadfastly to construct the trail. It was finally completed in September of 2001. (A trail like this is never really “complete,” however, as maintenance is an ongoing task.) Today, more than 100,000 people enjoy access to this spectacular outdoor resource annually.

The Rim Trail is a challenging trek, with over 30,000 feet of elevation gain

and loss, and long waterless stretches along the northern and eastern sections. As you might imagine, the scenic payoffs are huge. You see meadows filled with wildflowers, thick forests of fir, hemlock and pine, and best of all, miles of vistas that take in the extraordinarily deep blue waters of Tahoe.

If hiking with a backpack is not your idea of fun, there is another carless way to get around the lake that might be more to your liking. On our recent Tahoe visit, our cabin host, longtime Amador resident Bruce Peccianti, organized a kayak trip on the lake. While we were paddling, Bruce told me about his goal to someday circumnavigate Lake Tahoe. The 72 miles can be comfortably kayaked in 6 or 7 days and

you can either camp, stay in hotels along the shore, or shuttle vehicles to return to your base each night. When I got home, I Googled this idea, and found out there is actually a group dedicated to providing information about kayaking around the lake. The Lake Tahoe Water Trail Association has an excellent website that breaks the 72 miles down into seven sections. They also publish a map of the lake with information on lodging and launch options. Their website includes: information on day trips; kayaking safety and etiquette; environmental considerations; and typical lake and weather conditions for each season of the year. You can also read trip reports submitted by paddlers who have actually completed the trip around the lake.

This summer, I plan to finish the trek around the lake that I started when I hiked the PCT in 1987. However, I have to say, the thought of kayaking Tahoe while looking up at the 10,000-foot-plus peaks surrounding the lake without a pack on my back sounds wonderful. Bruce and I are making plans to at least start the kayak trip this fall. Summer can be a bit hectic, with all the boats on the water, so a paddle after Labor Day might be the way to go.

The grandeur of Lake Tahoe has melted the heart of even cynical types like Mark Twain. In 1861, Twain proclaimed that the lake “must be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.” Nobody who has gazed upon this wonder of the world would argue. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association can be found at tahoerimtrail.org. They recommend a trail guide by Tim Hauserman, published by Wilderness Press. The Lake Tahoe Water Trail Association can be found at laketahoewatertrail.org. Their recommended map can be ordered from adventuremaps.net. Whether you hike or paddle around it, or sit and enjoy a peaceful view of it, Lake Tahoe is an outdoor recreation paradise.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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