The Mountain Won
One of the benefits to living in the Reno area is our close proximity to Lake Tahoe and all that comes with. A quick 30 minute drive into the mountains and there are literally hundreds of miles of beautifully maintained trails for all skill levels and abilities. I love to hike. In fact, it was my love of hiking that made me think running would be fun. To this day, given a choice I will always race scenic trail runs (hills and all) over their urban counterparts. Saturday promised to be a nice, crisp fall day and my schedule at the dog show left the afternoon open with good friends visiting from out of town. We all love to hike and have some mad hiking skills and as the local it was my job to select an adventure for us up at Tahoe. Sweet!
I am not exactly sure how I have not actually hiked Mount Rose in my 15 years in the area but I haven’t. I have hiked Relay Peak (the highest point on the Tahoe Rim Trail at over 11,000′) dozens of time and they literally share the same trailhead. Once I even ventured a few miles toward Mount Rose on my way down from Relay but ended up with a dog with an injury. So with experienced and fit hikers to go with, I decided that this would be the day I finally conquer Mount Rose. Yeah…that’s it.
Here is the deal about Mount Rose. The self named ski resort below the peak is usually the first to open and last to close for the season. Why? Because it is cold, windy and about 1,500 feet higher than other resorts in the area. In fact, on October 1 it had not one but several bands of snow near the summit from the year before. How exactly does that happen in a region where summer temperatures are in the high 90’s? Remember the Donner Party? This region is sort of all over the place like that.
The trail starts at 8,811′ and ends at 10,776′ for an overall gain of 1,965′. And they don’t take into consideration hiking down into a small valley before you go back up. It is theoretically 10.6 miles round trip. The peak is so windy there are protective shelters. They call it strenuous. I call it a good casual outing with great dogs and good friends. And really, how much more challenging could Mount Rose be than Relay, which features what I can only describe as the ledge of death the last half mile or so? People hike Mount Rose all the time! It was decided: early Saturday afternoon after the dog show we would head up take on Mount Rose. AWESOME!
Saturday morning, we all headed out to the Bonanza Kennel Club show to do our dog show thing. This has nothing to do with the hike except we were all showing so deal with it. It was a nice morning. We visited with friends, the dogs did well and Comet even managed second place in Rally Novice Obedience B – which is no small feat for a TERRIER. And when we had eaten lunch and wrapped up the swimsuit competition (aka conformation), we set out for Mount Rose.
We had hoped to be on the trail at 1 PM. We didn’t get on the trail until 2:30 PM due to traffic, necessary potty breaks and the like. I had allotted 5 hours and 2:30 would have us in right at sunset. Tough but doable.
Here is where I have to note a few things: There are very few photos of this hike and they were all taken with my point and shoot. We were on a mission to conquer a mountain, not photographically document our adventure. I know…this is odd coming from me…the woman who packed 20 lbs of camera equipment everywhere in Europe and took photos of everything…EVERYTHING. I was in a time crunch so bare with me.
Back to the hike…it was 2:30 when we started up the granite steps that lead to the nice wide trail which meandered slowly upward and away from Lake Tahoe into the trees. The trail grew more narrow and was well shaded.
And then there were more trees…
And before I knew it, we were at Galena Falls which were far more impressive than these photos imply.
The trail splits at the falls. Head west to the Tahoe Rim Trail and Relay Peak. Head north to the falls. Head east toward Mount Rose. Any guess which was we went? East. The trail slowly ascends down into a brush covered valley divided by a creek.
Note to my fellow hikers: When you come into this little valley, the trail naturally sort of moves to your left up the side of the creek. What you REALLY want to do is cross the creek to the trail marker hidden in the brush. I’m just letting you know so you don’t hike a quarter mile back up hill, look back across the valley, realize Mount Rose is behind you. Fortunately I saw a couple hikers paused in the bushes studying something rather intently few hundred feet north of the creek turn off. After a valley wide discussion of who was where, we realized wanted to be where they were and they wanted to be where we were. Yeah, it was special.
So we hiked back down the trail, crossed the creek and continued up the more direct route to the summit. At this point, the trail was crossed several times by small creeks and running into the larger creek. This meant mud. Terriers love mud. They played in it a few times.
The trail got a little more narrow and started steeply up the side of Mount Rose with a nice healthy drop off on one side. And suddenly, my high elevation acclimation just cut out. You see, there is this magical point for every person where their body suddenly says, “Hey! Not enough oxygen up here! WTF?” For me, that magical number has always been around 9,500 feet or so. (I learned later that my high elevation hiking companions were feeling it around 8,800’…you know, at the start of the hike. Ugh!) Suddenly that nice 14 minute mile pace was like 24 minutes. We were stopping, alternating between gasping and trying to look tough.
Determined, we reached a nice flat area to rest and recover for a moment. The terriers were of course rock stars. They weren’t even remotely ready to slow down, though they accommodated our breaks with some form of patience. Secretly, I think they were using the breaks to scope out prime chipmunk hunting opportunities because they seemed to know where every single rodent on the mountain lived on the way back.
Anyway, after a break we started up again. It was cold, windy and we could see snow. So it was pretty freaking awesome:
Other mountains were below us.
And the sky was very blue.
The Mount Rose Ski Resort below us looked pretty darned nifty.
We could see lakes other than Tahoe.
And suddenly we were even closer to the snow.
We could see a fire burning a few hundred miles away beyond Carson City.
Despite the slowdown, we were still on pace to get to the summit and trailhead on time but alas, my companions were satisfied with their view from here. Really, I think it was the combination of high elevation and the fact that we were staring straight up at the summit with less than half a mile to go that did it.
I am sure it also didn’t help that we saw people carrying dogs out (Eva and Comet actually mocked one of them in a terrierish way) or that those just leaving the summit look wind beaten, exhausted and determined to get back to their cars for hot cocoa and marshmallows, saying things like, “I can’t believe we made it.” It’s not that bad, people! It’s not like we’re hiking Half Dome here.
But I love my peeps so we turned back. So close, yet so far.
Back to the valley!
When all was said and done, we hiked over 10 miles and made excellent time. And of course, when we reached the car and it was still daylight there was a little remorse on their part (thank you very much!) for not just pushing up that little bit. I am sure it also helped that they could breathe again and that excited successful hikers were comparing notes on the summit. We could have had that, peeps. We could have had that!
No, I am not bitter. I love my friends and sometimes you set out to conquer a mountain and fail. It happens and it is better to know your limitations than set yourself up for a serious problem. We enjoyed a lovely dinner of Pad Thai and went off to the dog show again the next morning, feeling quite refreshed even if a little sheepish. Well, I wasn’t sheepish. I was determined to kick the mountain’s ass before the end of the season. No such luck for me. It snowed two days later. It’s going to be awhile before I can get back up there but don’t worry…I will. And I will take more pictures.