Updated: Dec 19, 2021
Last summer, I aimed to hike up to Incline Peak, by myself, on a regular basis with the goal of beating my previous time to the top. In the end, I was able to hike this route 5 times. It's not a hard hike, but it's definitely not easy, and with over 1,200 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles up, it's a good cardio workout if you go at a good pace (I hike fast, but I don't trail run).
My first hike up there last summer took place on July 24, but I ran into another solo hiker on my way up and we stopped and chatted for a good 45 minutes, and of course I did not pause my tracker, so my overall time to the top is not completely accurate. But doing some quick math, it took me around an hour and a half to get to the top that day.
My personal best time to the top was 49:44 in October 2020.
A lot of our pre-summer hiking attempts are foiled by the fact that snow hasn't yet melted at upper elevations, which not only makes the hike harder physically, but sometimes you end up losing the trail, too. So, we typically avoid snow-covered trails until later in the season after they've melted – except when your friend who's moving to Texas wants to hike Shirley Canyon one last time while Squaw Valley Ski Resort is still open.
But today was something different. Heck, it wasn't even Thursday and we found ourselves on a serious hill hike.
My husband thought we could start out by Incline Lake and make our way as far as the snow would allow up to Incline Peak. Just to see how far we could make it.
I'm here to tell you that on June 1, 2021, we hiked up to Incline Peak. That's 53 days earlier than I went up for the first time last year.
Was there snow on the trail?
This, friends, is a good old-fashioned post-holing event.
Yes, we had to cross some snow in the shadier portions of the lower trail, and we were able to hike around some snow patches, but then as it got steeper as we neared the top, we didn't have much of a choice but to carefully hike through a lot of snow.
But once we made it that far, it seemed really silly to turn around, because we were so close to the top! And the peak was completely clear of snow. So we decided to just keep pressing on.
Because we hiked this so early in the season, we got to see the creek and waterfall cascades in full effect (after a mild winter). By July, this creek is usually dried up.
A little ways beyond this point, we came across a young guy and his two enthusiastic dogs coming down the trail. We asked him how far up he made it and he said he stopped at around the saddle because he'd lost the trail and wasn't sure his dogs could weather the deep snow safely.
Hearing that didn't give us a lot hope, but maybe it also inspired us to keep going.
We survived the aforementioned post-hole incident and kept climbing up through snow to the point where we guessed the trail to Incline Peak would normally cut in from the left. And we headed that direction and were forced to contend with yet more snow.
It might not look like much in this photo, but when you're hiking along the spine of a mountain, you don't have a lot of wiggle room to walk around large patches of snow safely, so the only way there is through the snow.
This was one of the last steep sections that was covered in snow before we got to the snowless peak. It was tough on our legs, but I was not about to give up at this point.
Then, boom. We made it through all of the snow and were coming up to the peak. To this iconic view of north Lake Tahoe. I had my arms raised like Rocky after a victory the entire last stretch to the top. We did it in 1 hour and 27 minutes, and having started below Incline Lake, that added at least an additional mile to my usual route that takes me under an hour when hiking on dirt (with no snow).
This is the "rock chair" that I usually rest on while having my well-deserved snack at the top.
Honestly, the hike back down was physically harder than the hike up. Descending the steep, slippery, unpredictable snow-covered terrain is really hard on your knees. But we made it and I can't believe we hiked up to Incline Peak on June 1. It felt like a great accomplishment. And now I'm confident I can start hiking up there for another round of personal competition this summer!