Updated: Aug 1, 2022
Man. My legs are tired. Today's 10.48-mile hike had a whopping 2,228 feet of elevation gain. Part of my fatigue, I think, is due to the 10+ hours we spent in the car yesterday.
You see, on Wednesday, I caught wind that my great aunt and uncle were having a 70th wedding anniversary party at their house in San Jose, CA, on Saturday, and pretty much their entire family was coming. My gears were turning.
Many who know me know that I love surprising people. So, I asked my husband if he was up for a little road trip this weekend. I explained the scenario and he agreed that we should make it happen.
He also asked, "What time is the party?" I told him I wasn't sure – which earned a blank stare – but if we got there around 1 or 2 PM, I think that should be good.
"Shouldn't we RSVP?"
To which I responded without hesitation, "Nope. We are going to show up and surprise them. They will love it. Trust me."
So, we hit the road early Saturday morning. Five hours and some yucky big-city traffic later, we arrived in front of their cute little house. Let me just say it was awesome. The weather was beautiful. Our timing ended up being perfect. Everyone was so surprised and happy to see us, and I was thrilled to get to spend some time with extended family and celebrate this huge milestone of 70 years of marriage with a very special couple.
In addition to the delicious tri-tip served, the heartfelt "speech" made by my great uncle was definitely one of the highlights of the day. I guess, in his 99 years, he's learned a thing or two about what's truly important.
That's ok. Dry your tears. I'll wait.
Ok, moving on...
The weekend was ending fast, so we decided to fit a hike in today; after all, it was positively beautiful outside. My husband wanted to do a "longer" hike because it had been about a week since our last long hike. So he suggested a mostly familiar route that partially uses the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), where we'd hike all the way to Rifle Peak and then back to the trailhead on Hwy 431. Something around 10 miles. Seemed doable.
As we started the primary ascent, however, both of us recognized we were feeling more tired than usual, and suddenly, this 10-mile hike felt a little daunting.
We crossed paths with several other hikers during the first 3 miles of our trek. One descending couple, probably in their late 60s or early 70s, were hiking with their two cautious dogs. The woman was carrying a fully-loaded hiking pack. My husband asked her if they had done an overnight along the trail. She said no and explained that they were just getting themselves ready for an upcoming multi-day backpacking trek to Thousand Island Lake. We've not done that hike, but I've heard of it and seen beautiful photos of the lake. She also told us that 3 weeks ago, they'd hiked to Gray Lake (on this same route) with just crampons for traction. 😳
The last time we were on this trail, a mere 13 days ago, we had to cross sections of deep snow and my husband even post-holed up past his mid-thigh. I can't imagine what this couple had to trudge through a whole week prior to our trek.
Needless to say, we didn't quite know what to expect this time in terms of trail snow on this route. Surely, most of it has melted by now, right?
As it turns out, the majority of the snow we previously encountered on the trail was gone. So that was a relief, especially for our already fatigued legs.
As we approached the spur that takes you out to Incline Peak, I paused and asked my husband if we were going out there today. He said, "Let's see how much energy we have left on our hike back and maybe we'll catch it then." My legs were not going to argue with that logic.
We continued generally west on the TRT that wanes between dusty and rocky, past some patches of bright wildflowers. The sudden full exposure of the trail, however, exacerbated the strong wind gusts hauling up the ridge. The skies were blue, the sun was out, and it was warm, but the wind was wild.
Along a particularly dry and dusty curve of the trail, we came across another hiking couple, and the guy was like a doppelganger for "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski movie, except that he was wearing hiking attire and a Mt. Rose Ski Resort hat. For every word that came out of his mouth, though, all I could think of was The Dude. He sounded exactly like him.
He told us they'd hiked to "Mt. Rose Knob" and were on their way back. My ears perked up, as I've never heard it referred to as "Mt. Rose Knob" before, but I opted to let it go. I wasn't about to mess with The Dude. He asked if we knew where that was and we said yes, we'd hiked there last year. He then asked us where we were headed today. We told him Rifle Peak. He nodded. In addition, he lamented on how busy his favorite trail was (this one) and that he'd seen a whopping 8 groups of hikers so far. I do know what he means about wanting to keep a trail a secret for yourself.
The views along the TRT are incredible, so I can understand why it's popular. And it isn't hard to see why this is called the "Tahoe Rim Trail."
We eventually made it to just below (Mt.) Rose Knob (ha-ha), which was one of the most challenging hikes we did early last year, but we got some amazing photos. I had never seen the air so clear across the lake as I did that day.
This is a unique rock crag along the TRT. It's a lot bigger and more impressive in person.
As we kept on, we saw a few patches of snow on the back side of the ridge where the sun shines less. Here's the view from the TRT looking northwest. You can see a light blue sliver of Boca Reservoir peeking through on the left-hand side, just above the treeline.
Remember when I said how relieved we were that the majority of the snow on the trail was gone today? Well, we came across a minor trail obstacle.
Whoops. We basically made our way around it, but that's quite the snow mound. Imagine how massive it was before it started melting!
A little ways after this snow obstacle, we came across a solo hiker, a young adult girl from the Bay Area. We noticed as we approached that she had been looking at her phone, so we checked to see if she needed any directional guidance. She confirmed she was good and told us she was on Day 2 of hiking the entire TRT. She'd given herself 12 days to complete the entire 170-mile loop. My husband has backpacked some of the northern sections of the TRT, so he offered some tips on upcoming water sources and camping. She thanked us and we went our separate ways.
After about 5 well-earned miles, we finally made it to Rifle Peak. The wind at the top was so incredibly fierce, I didn't trust myself standing up there for very long, so I snapped one photo of the lake and made my way back down the pile of boulders to find a less windy spot to rest and have our snacks.
We made our way back down to the TRT and turned back toward the way we came. It was still really windy, especially in the exposed areas of the trail, and I'd even say it had gotten windier than the first time we came through.
I tried to keep up a decent pace, because we had a lot of interruptions on our outgoing route, plus, it wasn't getting any earlier and all I could think about was the list of things I had yet to get done at home today.
When we approached the Incline Peak spur once again, we met a small hiker group and a cute medium-sized dog all coming up the main trail. The dog was half obstructed by a small tree on the side of the trail, and so I stopped in my tracks and peeked around the tree. Well, as large and intimidating as I am, I startled that poor dog. She got over it quickly and made her way over to lick my hand. So, we're still friends.
Then it was decision time. I asked my husband if we were going to skip going to Incline Peak today. He told me that if we hike up there now, we'd exceed 2,000 feet of elevation gain on this hike. Well, now that you put it that way...
Hello, Incline Peak, my old friend.
I took one photo at the top and we turned around and made the final descent of the trail. Parts of this stretch are quite steep, so I started to feel the strain in my knees a little. But the creeks and little waterfall cascades were flowing and beautiful.
Though it's mostly a decline, before you return to the trailhead, it's a special treat to have to climb up a little bit more, just in case your legs weren't tired enough. When we reached the gravel road, which is the final section before the trailhead, my husband said he was going to rest for a minute. I announced behind me without stopping, "Not me! I wanna get the heck out of here." So, I just kept going. I can tell you it felt really great to get back to the Jeep.
All in all, it was a little exhausting, but we hiked to two peaks, scaled a massive snow glacier, and talked to some interesting people along the way.
Rifle Peak, Incline Peak via TRT