Week 4: Kingsbury Grade to Armstrong Pass
The only thing I can remember is getting to the end and there was nobody around… most importantly… Katie Chappell’s mom, our ride home!
But let’s start at the beginning. This was our day. We had a ride, a day clear of meetings and babies and a week of rest behind us. No thunderstorms in the forecast but the wind were definitely blowing. One step out of the car and we knew it was a long-sleeve day, especially with a max elevation expected to be close to 9,700 feet, it wasn’t going to get warmer. Again, Katie Chappell was caught without the essentials… it wouldn’t be right if we remembered everything… no long-sleeved shirt in her pack. With a quick stop at the closest sporting goods store, problem solved. We were on our way back to the TRT to head up that stairway and start stage 4 of our adventure.
With a drive-by drop-off on the side of the road on SR 207, there we were, at the base of what came to be our “Stairway to Heaven” and soon turned into the “Stairway to Heaven(ly)” as we entered into Heavenly Ski Resort. Up, up, and up we went through a thick forest of giant trees. Not the top yet, but we ran into a sign that stated the elevation to be 7,777 feet. Must have been our lucky day! From there we started to see the chairlifts of Heavenly Mountain and started to wrap around the mountain gaining endless views of the Carson Valley. We must’ve been gaining a lot of elevation at this point as we both started to slow down and feel a little loopy, especially as we were looking even higher to our destination: Freel Peak sitting at 10,886 feet.
It was time to take a break and hug the biggest tree we could find. Aaahhhh, that felt better, okay, back on track and just in time for the trail to turn into a stairway for more up, up, up. At this point we were looking for Star Lake, thinking that this was the half-way point. At every turn or roll in the trail we thought it would be right there. Just when we lost all hope… there it was! An amazing mountain lake sitting right next to the trail with 12 miles behind us, and 5 miles ahead of us (so the sign said). Very relieved that we were more than half way, we stopped and enjoyed a snack by the water.
It was slow to get the momentum going again as we hit several snow patches, waterfalls across the trail (beautiful), and crazy wind on this side of the mountain. At this slower pace we noticed crystal-like rocks that we haven’t seen yet on the trail. They seemed out of place, but really cool and scattered all over for the next several miles.
And finally, with one last snow crossing, the summit (well, our summit, just below the tip of Freel Peak) was amazing terrain, the ground was all sand and looked like the desert with really cool rocks and trees, and Lake Tahoe behind us. The wind was howling so we started the descent without sticking around at the top for too long. This was a serious 4-mile downhill as we looked way, way down at Lake Tahoe and a small little meadow with mountains towering on both sides. We crossed little oasis waterfalls, wound our way down the switchbacks, and kept on rolling. All the way down to Armstrong Pass where the trail splits with the option to head down to various parking lots. This was the end of our section for the week where we will return once more to pick up the TRT and continue again next week.
From here we needed to take a one mile trail down to a dirt parking area off the 051 dirt road where Ann Linnett will be meeting us. With 18 miles behind us, we made it to the end of the trail. Only problem is… there was nobody in sight and no cell service. With a hundred scenarios running through our mind, we decided to head down the road towards what we think is the direction of HWY 89. About 1 mile down the road, we ran into a bicyclist who has no idea how far HWY 89 is, but does confirm that it will be a 765 foot elevation drop, and that this was indeed the road that will take us to the HWY 89 junction. As we worried about what Ann was thinking and where she might be and thinking we heard or saw a car around every bend, we continued down the road (more, down, down, down). Finally, it was real; there she was… the black car waiting for us at the bottom of a much pitted loose section of road that was clearly impassable. We were so happy to see each other. Group hug, happy all are safe and sound after 21 miles. And she even brought us beers! Thanks Ann!
For all those elementary and middle school girls and all the volunteers that make the “Girls on the Run” program so great, you are a complete inspiration, and got us through every step of this part of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Thank you and we will be sending you a celebratory donation! www.girlsontherunsierras.org
Next week we will be running for “The League to Save Lake Tahoe”. As our mouths hang open in awe of Lake Tahoe on every run and we almost trip and fall as we gaze out into the water, instead of keeping our eyes on the trail, it is very important to us that we do all that we can to preserve that deep blue water. As we run from Armstrong Pass to Big Meadow, we will be thankful for those who continue to look out for jewel of the sierra, Lake Tahoe. Www.keeptahoeblue.org
Wish us luck!