This was the first weekend since July where we had clear enough/healthy enough air to be out hiking. About 20 miles south of us, the Caldor Fire has reached 65% containment, despite dry, hot, windy weather conditions – and some lightning this week – working against the firefighters' progress. But all of the National Forest areas throughout California, including lands managed by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, remain closed, so our options for hiking nearby are few.
Even still, we found a trail that wasn't in a closed area. And oddly enough, it's less than 10 miles from our house. So, we headed down Hwy 431 and when we arrived at the trailhead, it was less busy than we'd expected given the lack of accessibility of most every other trail in the region right now. The sun was shining, and the skies were bright blue, accented with very white, puffy clouds. One of the best things about hiking later in the season like this is that the temperature is perfect – not too hot, not too cool.
We knew this loop route would be around 10 miles total and would require over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, so we brought light snacks and plenty of water. Starting out at 6,216 ft., which is a lower elevation than that of our home, we started up the well-traveled dirt trail, surrounded by lots of trees – mostly pines but, unexpectedly, some deciduous as well. Early on, we came across a few casual walkers with their dogs and a handful of hikers.
Oh, and several of these lizards would pop out from between rocks and brush alongside the trail. We think they are Great Basin Fence Lizards. Personally, I think their markings make them look a little too snake-like for my taste.
Within the first 1/8 of a mile, we already started climbing.
After over a month of expansive views obstructed by wildfire smoke and haze, it was awesome to finally see across the valley. I love the stark contrast between the lush green pines in the foreground set against a background of the brown high desert foothills. And the blue skies are pretty neat, too.
What a view from the trail!
For some reason, the first mile seemed to take a long time. About 2 miles in, we started descending slightly until we approached a substantial trail junction where our route paralleled Whites Creek for quite a while. And it wasn't a trickle. In fact, we couldn't believe how much water was still flowing at this time year.
This section of the trail that followed the creek was pretty amazing overall. The sounds of the clear rushing creek. The numerous little cascades. Moss-covered rocks. All surrounded by trees. It was just awesome.
We continued on our route and then I spotted a wooden footbridge off to the right. We confirmed that our planned route did not go that way, but that did not stop me from checking it out and then turning around. I love bridges. And this one happened to be very sturdy.
Lucky for me, we ended up having 3 log bridge water crossings not long after my little detour over that bridge.
And even as we climbed up higher, the creek was never far away.
You can see the log bridge we used to cross the creek, yet again.
The vast views of the Sierra throughout Mt. Rose Wilderness were simply incredible today.
And then, we had to continue climbing some more. We really did a lot of climbing with little reprieve on this hike. Most of the trail looked like this:
But then you'd get to vistas like this:
In addition to all of the pine trees, we also saw several groves of aspens, and we agreed that this would be a beautiful hike in the fall when their leaves start changing to their bright golden yellow hue.
Once we finally reached the "top," we had to decide whether or not we wanted to take the spur out to Churches Pond or start the descent back to the trailhead.
As we were standing at the intersection deliberating, a guy who looked to be too old for trail running (and we're pretty sure he was on lap #2 around this 10-mile loop we were on) was approaching us from the spur. We greeted him and asked if it was worth going out to the pond. Without stopping, he answered us, "Yeah, what's left of the pond. But it's worth it. It's always worth it."
Hmm. Okay. So, we decided to take a jaunt down the trail spur to the pond, with pretty low expectations yet still optimistic. The trail there was a series of ups and downs and dirt to loose rock terrain to get there.
For the record: It was not worth it.
The pond was...swampy. The landscape surrounding it was beautiful, however.
Look. You don't even notice the gross pond, right?
I paused. This was the first time during the hike I realized I was hungry. Not having taken time to eat lunch before the hike, I stopped for a couple of short minutes to devour my protein bar snack. My husband had already started his way back to the trail intersection and soon I was close behind.
At this point, we'd climbed nearly 2,400 feet of elevation (not even our maximum elevation gain hike to date!). We were looking forward to the descent in front of us.
And the views on this side of the loop definitely did not disappoint!
For as challenging as the 2,400 feet of climbing was, non-stop descending for around 3 miles is equally as hard. Both of us were quite happy to return to the trailhead today. Our legs definitely got a workout. AND we were done before dark. 😬 In fact, it wasn't even 5:00PM yet! The day was young!
One of the luxuries I've learned to allow myself following a long, sweaty hike is changing into a clean, dry shirt afterward. It makes a huge difference for me, especially if we have a long drive ahead of us or plan to be "out in public" before heading home. And we did have to run a few errands in Reno after the hike, so I was glad I remembered to plan ahead this time.
I even rolled up my pant legs. That is, until I realized my post-hike legs looked like this 😂:
Jones/Whites Creek Trail