Updated: Aug 1
I had just returned from a two-week trip to visit family in the Midwest, so yesterday included all-day travel and getting to bed after midnight. Thus, I was not exactly feeling high-energy for a hike the very next day. In fact, I specifically recall setting a boundary that, "I'm not up for, like, a 6-mile hike." But the weather was beautiful and I hadn't been on a hike for two weeks. Never mind the unpacking, laundry, and prep for the week that was waiting for me.
After church, we decided we could fit a "short" hike in and take advantage of the nice day. I threw in some laundry before we left and we hit the road to Fallen Leaf Lake. The road in is paved, but it is narrow and rustic and unmaintained. We took the fork to the left and continued on to the forest road that would lead up to the trailhead, where we would enjoy about a 3-mile roundtrip, easy-rated hike over Angora Ridge to Angora Lakes, a destination we've heard others talk about, but we'd never been.
When we arrived at the intersection of the forest road to the trailhead, the gate was locked. Cool. So, we parked the Jeep across the road and found the "pre-trail" nearby. The sign read 3 miles to the Angora Lakes Trailhead, which means we'll be adding 6 miles to this "short and easy hike," making it over 7 miles total. Sigh. This is clearly going to exceed my 6-mile threshold I set before we started and push us out of our window for daylight. But... We were already there and already committed, so we agreed we would hike until we either felt like turning around or it started to get too dark.
The first section of this hike was nice, but a little unremarkable. Once we started getting closer to cresting the ridge, however, we got glimpses of a wonderful view overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake in the foreground with Lake Tahoe tucked in behind it.
We climbed some more and watched as the sun slowly descended in the evening sky. It was already noticeably darker out and the temperatures were beginning to drop, little by little.
After 3 miles of steady climbing to reach the ridge, we finally intersected with the forest road and arrived at the "actual" trailhead to Angora Lakes, which is where we had to make a decision. It was getting dark. It was getting chilly. But, the same old conflict bothered us: We've made it this far. Why turn around now? What's the worst that can happen? We end up hiking out in the dark? That is nothing new for us.
So, we kept going. Shortly, we reached the deserted campground area that I assume is extremely busy and probably difficult to reserve in the summer months. I picked up my pace a little bit, even though I was feeling out of practice and slightly more out of shape than I'm used to.
Not long after, we reached the first of the Angora Lakes. It was pretty, yet not really what I had envisioned, with its rocky shores lined with cabins.
Then we hiked a little farther to check out the second of the lakes. This one seemed slightly more remote, yet it was surrounded by a rustic resort that offered several different cabins on the grounds. We agreed that it seemed like it would be a unique place to stay, but it wasn't quite like the hikes to alpine lakes we're used to.
It was getting darker by the minute and I could feel the evening chill settling in, so we didn't spend too much time here and I didn't end up taking very many photos. We just didn't have the time.
To minimize the potential for injury on the uneven hiking trail on our way down, we decided it would probably be less risky to hike down the forest road instead. It was wider and had more even terrain – two qualities that make hiking in the dark slightly less dangerous. One of the specific things I dislike about hiking in the dark is that it slows me down. I can't really keep my normal pace when I can't see as well. But I hiked as fast of a pace as I was comfortable with, and at some point, I conceded and turned on the flashlight on my phone.
As we followed the forest road, we saw several road signs warning of possible hazards along the road due to the Angora Fire. On Sunday, June 24, 2007, a fast-spreading wildfire started by an illegal campfire during a red flag warning torched through 3100 acres in 8 days, destroying 254 homes in its path. We were hiking through the burn scar and the signage from 2007 was still there. Kind of eerie.
About 2/3 of our way back to the Jeep, in addition to how dark it had gotten, we noticed how quiet everything was. Any creatures had snuggled in for the night. And just then, we heard an owl hoot ahead of us! It was difficult to see, but we think there were two of them perched at the tippy top of two neighboring, towering pine trees. This was the first (and only) time, so far, that we have even heard an owl hoot while living in Tahoe or while hiking in the surrounding areas. What an unexpected treat that was!
As we neared the end, we dodged some lowland mud puddles in the dark on our way out. Given the fact that we hiked more than twice as far as we were expecting, and we were out way past dark, and it was pretty chilly outside, I was certainly glad to arrive safely back at the Jeep after this one. But hearing the owl was definitely a highlight of this hike!