Friday, November 25, 2011

Vacation - Squaw Valley

This is a bit overdue but I finally noticed that I had never posted it. It is from mid September and the funny thing is that 2 weeks after we left they got 10 inches of snow. It was a great time for us to visit as the weather was great and the tourists were not there in force, I can't imagine this area in the winter or summer and what a congested mess it could be. On to the post.

This year my wife and I did something we haven't done in many years. We went on vacation with no kids. Our kids are 24 and 18 and weren't all together happy that they didn't get to go but it wasn't just a vacation, it was an anniversary present to ourselves. Last summer when we approached our 32nd anniversary, my wife and I decided a trip was a good idea.

She did the research on location, I was open to anywhere except for a cruise and preferred to stay in the US. She came up with Lake Tahoe. I knew very little about Lake Tahoe before the trip but it was a great place to go. We hiked, we biked, we boated, we went horse back riding, we watched the tough mudders and we had an epic last hike.

Our first hike was from Donner Pass towards Anderson Peak, we debated hiking back to Squaw but hadn't made the arrangements in advance so decided against it. We instead enjoyed an 11 mile out and back.

Our next day we rented bikes and rode from Squaw along the Truckee river towards Lake Tahoe. We rode into Tahoe City where we turned south along the lake towards Sugar Pine Point State park approximately 32 miles round trip. I loved this sign at the park: We took off our shoes and went into the lake, I would say it felt a lot like a normal Minnesota lake, odd I have never seen this sign up in Duluth.

We were a little concerned about the ride and how we would feel on the way back to Squaw. As it turned out it was a nice scenic easy ride.

The next day we rented a boat and took in the lake. I even went for a quick swim in the lake. The clarity of the water is unbelievable and the color is unique. We drove the boat back into Emerald Bay which is gorgeous, actually everything about the lake is.

Day four we took in the towns (Tahoe City, South Lake Tahoe, Kings Beach) and went horse back riding at Camp Richardson. One of the highlights for me were the restaurants we ate at, Karyn had done research and they were all low key places (not tourists traps) with great food.

Our last full day, we took the gondola up to High Camp. They had the Tough Mudder event going on and it was an interesting event to see first hand. A few of the participants looked like they had no idea what they had signed up for but the majority were smiling and having a blast. If you have a few minutes take a look at pictures from this years Squaw Valley Tough Mudder event, one thing that is safe to say is that these are not the same folks who show up for ultra events.

After walking up the hill from High Camp toward Emigrant Peak we planned to hike out to Granite Chief. It was funny as we weren't sure where to pick up the trail, a Squaw Valley Ski Resort employee who was monitoring the touch mudders, swung up and started telling us everything we ever wanted to know, the only problem was he didn't know what he was talking about. We were standing near a monument and we thought it might be the Watson Monument but he said it was a few peaks over. Who knows there might a Watson mountain but this was the Watson Monument. He pointed to where the trail was, (wrong again) as he sent us up to the top Emigrant Peak but form there we thought we saw the trail so we descended down. It was not a trail, a bit rocky but when crossed over a gully we saw the trail and headed towards Granite Chief. The trail was hard to keep track of and we kept getting off of it (at least we thought we were) so after an hour or so of some interesting trekking we turned around and headed back.

We decided to hike down through Shirley Lake to get in a few more miles of hiking. Of course we didn't check how many miles it was nor the type of trail it was. Turns out it was an adventure, the trail was barely marked in many sections and there were a few sections where you simply were scaling boulders and granite faces. If only we had looked at this description, I think we might have been a bit calmer during the hike or we may have take the Gondola back down..

High Camp to Shirley Lake; down Shirley Canyon (approximately 4 miles) 
This is a great half day hike through a mountain canyon that passes by waterfalls and spectacular granite boulders. Hikers begin on either the Shirley Lake trail (a dirt road) or the Solitude trail (a narrower single track trail). Once the trails meet and you reach Shirley Lake hikers can either hike back up to High Camp and ride the Cable Car down or hike down the canyon. Please Note: This trail may sometimes be hard to follow, so remember the general rule is to keep the creek on your left side and follow it down until you arrive at the base of the mountain. There are also some steep sections to negotiate through the granite so hiking boots are strongly recommended.

But alas we did not, there were blue markings occasionally that marked the trail, we weren't aware of that but some people on the trail advised us. There were times though where we couldn't find any blue markings and just kept moving down next to the creek. By the end of this descent both Karyn and I were worn out more mentally than physically. I had visions of being lost on this trail into the night and kept thinking do we turn around and head back to High Camp. Karyn had slipped multiple times, her running shoes did not make good hiking shoes, my trail shoes did better but that hiking boot recommendation sure makes a lot of sense now.

We had a great vacation and will remember Lake Tahoe until we get back at some future point, maybe when we go back to run Western States :-).

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