Friday Solo Hike: Incline Peak & Gray Lake
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
I made it up to Incline Peak in 1 hour. Over 1900' elevation gain, topping out at 9411'.
Today I decided I wanted to hike to Incline Peak again, even though I just did it last Friday, mostly because I wanted to see how fast I could get to the top. Last week, I had some distractions on my way up… taking some photos, meeting and chatting with a neighbor originally from Long Island, NY -- and after 18 years of living here still has his accent.
I was determined today and I got a much earlier start in the day than last week. One of the first things I noticed as I started out on the trail was what looked like fresh horse prints and a few batches of fresh horse droppings. My heart skipped a beat a little bit with the prospect of seeing a horse on the trail, so I picked up my pace a little in hopes of catching up to them on the trail.
I did have to stop and step off the trail three times on my ascent to allow other hikers to pass by with social distance, so that affected my time, I’m sure. But I made it to the top in an hour! The sky was so blue and not a cloud in sight, save for the smoky haze from nearby wildfires.
Since I nearly always hike to the same spot at the top, I decided to venture out a bit farther than I have been in the past. I found a boulder to rest on and eat my snacks. And then I just took it all in for several minutes.
I gathered up my gear and started back down the trail. At the T, turning right heads back to the car. Turning left goes towards the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) and Rose Knob, etc. I knew it was still pretty early in the day, and my legs were feeling pretty good. So at the T, I turned left.
Horseshoe prints! The trail is pretty easy with a few sections of small inclines and declines, so the additional miles aren’t really bothering me. I pass the next trail intersection where the spur up and to the right connects to the TRT, and I decide to continue straight. I pass a shrinking Mud Lake and shortly after I get to another intersection. This one with a signpost marker that shows “TRT” and “Gray Lake”. Hmm… Gray Lake sounds good. I neither have an idea how many miles it is to Gray Lake nor if the lake will be dried up this time of year.
As best I can, I survey the upcoming surrounding terrain and don’t really see anything that looks treacherous coming up, and my legs are still feeling good and it still feels “early” in the day, so I head down the trail to Gray Lake. It’s a gradual grade down, so it feels easy, but I am not in a hurry, because I have no idea how many miles this will turn into before I reach Gray Lake and I may end up turning around at some point. The terrain is mostly dirt with a few sections of small rocks. I keep my eyes peeled to see if I can catch any glimpses of this lake before I hike too far.
Eventually, in the distance I see a very green grassy meadow outlined in trees with what looks like a swamp in the center. I stop and roll my eyes to myself. Gray Lake? More like Swamp.
But then I wonder if what I am seeing is merely an outflow or backflow or something for the main lake, which is out of view, behind the trees. So I optimistically continue for a bit longer, but still a little skeptical.
I stop again, because I think I hear moving water. It’s either trees blowing in the wind or water. I go with “water” and continue down to the next trail intersection with a signpost that reads “TRT” and “Lake Loop”. I look to the left and see a rocky terrain that isn’t all that close to the water/lake, so I go right, towards the grassy area. I hear the moving water and I’ve got my eye looking at the meadow and what appears to be a stream cutting through it.
“Woah. Hi. I didn’t see you there.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think you did, so I wanted you to know I was here.”
So, there’s this youngish guy chilling in the shade on his backpacking mat, boots and socks off. We chat briefly as I make my way towards the stream. Oh! It’s beautiful. Green and lush dotted with wildflowers and just the tiniest of cascades that bring about a lovely rushing water sound. The water is so clear. Not very deep, but so clear you can make out all of the rocks on its bottom. What a lovely and unexpected surprise. I feel like I haven’t seen green grass like this in the mountains ever. I hop across the stepping stones and try to take some photos that might do justice to this little piece of paradise.
The backpacker tells me the water is “delicious” and I notice his water-filtering apparatus near the shore. I decide it would be weird to walk in the water after knowing he’s drinking from it, so I just bend down and dangle my fingers in it. It’s chilly, crisp, fresh.
I decide I should probably start heading back to the car, so I pick up my gear and start back towards the trail. I notice the backpacker is reading a book in his hands, The Prophet. A book I remember seeing as a kid on a shelf in a bookcase beneath the stairs. I remember the pencil sketch of the man’s face on the dust cover. The backpacker’s version was clearly modernized, but it still read “The Prophet” on the cover.
I ask the backpacker a few more questions about his voyage and I notice his hat has the shape of Oregon on it and he’s kind of a cross between a young Kirk Cameron and Zack Morris. He says he’s hoping to complete the entire TRT and he’s on day 2 with 8 more days to go, aiming for 18 miles each day. I asked him if he came across any horses on the trail today, and he said yes, a woman with two horses. I guess I missed them. We dance around deeper topics about life and the current status of the country, etc. He tells me he’s from Portland.
Wow. That’s a mess. No wonder you’re here.
We chat a bit more and then I see his eyes avert to something behind me and he kind of says under his breath, “We have a visitor.” Not knowing if that meant a bear or a person, I slowly turned my head around to see what he saw. It was a slight man with dark wavy shoulder-length hair, cutoff shorts and bare feet walking towards us. The backpacker says, “Maybe you should get going.” I take his advice and head back towards the trail, but not before I turn around and say, “I’m Brianna, by the way.” He replies, “I’m Nick.” I say, “It was nice to meet you.” And off I went.
About two-thirds of the way back to my car, I’m approaching sort of a switchback and I suddenly see this parade of fit dudes without shirts, all wearing black shorts, running up the trail. I jump off the trail to allow them to pass and as the first guy in the group is equal to me, I say with exaggeration, “You guys are CRAZY. Who runs uphill?!”