Mountainsmith ambassador AJ Marino grew up and lives in the Lake Tahoe area and has proven himself to be a promising young photographer. With one more year of high school left, he made the Tahoe right-of-passage of hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail, and recounts the story here on the Mountainsmith blog. 

AJ Marino carrying his Mountainsmith Descent AT chest mount camera pack on the Tahoe Rim Trail
The first day, with my Descent AT with me for the whole trip.

2 months ago Alec Bowman and I completed the 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail(TRT) within 10 days. For those of you not familiar; the Tahoe Rim Trail follows the ridge tops of the Tahoe Basin. Walk around Lake Tahoe on the shoreline twice, then add another 20 Miles, and you hiked the 165 mile distance of the Rim Trail. Alec, and I set out on a quick 2 night backpacking trip in Desolation Wilderness in early summer. While we were hiking on a segment of the Rim Trail; we started talking about hiking the entire TRT. At first, I thought it was a crazy, stupid idea; but by the time we got back home; plans started to go into effect. We decided on a 1o-day period before Alec left for College. So on August 9th, 2014 we headed up to the Echo Lakes Trailhead to start the journey. Here is my journal and photos from the trip. Enjoy!

DAY 1

Echo Lakes to Round Lake: 10.5 Miles

A swimmer dives into showers lake
Alec diving into Showers Lake

Today was pretty mellow, good first day. We settled into our hiking grooves, and made some inside jokes that will probably last the rest of the trip. I had never been into Miess country prior to now, and I have to say it’s absolutely gorgeous. We made our way up to Showers Lake, took a quick dip, then headed down into Miess Meadows. This used to be an old family summer retreat, and what is left from the late 1800’s residence is a small house and a barn made by hand. That was cool to explore! From there it was another 3 miles to Round Lake; our home for the night.

Miess cabin and barn
Miess cabin and barn
Trail head of the tahoe rim trail
Heading to the trailhead

Day 2 

Round Lake to Star Lake: 17.5 miles

Hiking through Big Meadows
Hiking through Big Meadows

Woke up with some blisters, that sucked. We got to an area with cell service and I checked the weather, rain for the next 3 days. It was a beautiful morning though. We made it through Big Meadows, it was pretty big, hence the name. Then started climbing up to Armstrong pass; there was a mountain bike race today so we had some company. We ran out of water at Armstrong pass, and that was an issue. Alec also informed me, while we were at the pass, that his biggest fear was lightning. We headed up towards Freel Saddle, one of the higher more exposed spots on the trail.

AJ Marino's photo from the Tahoe Rim Trail
Into the storm

We stopped 3 times to wait out the rain, and every time we thought we were good, we weren’t. It would just keep getting worse. The fourth time we stopped;  I thought it would be the last.  We found a place to sit, and hoped we wouldn’t get struck by lightning and die. The lightning was getting so close, at least 500 feet away at some points. I looked over at Alec and his hair was sticking straight up. I sat there and waited to get struck. I was almost fearless and accepted the fact that if it was going to happen it would. On one of the closest strikes, Alec started digging himself a hole to get lower. I just sat there; head in between my knees, until it slowed down. Quarter size hail started pouring down on us. At this point I was more afraid of being hypothermic than the lightning. It was the coldest I’ve ever been. Soaked and scared, I looked over to Alec and said “we got to start moving or else we will die here” he agreed. So we got up and hiked to the top of Freel Saddle in hail storm. When we got to the top; the landscape was white, covered in hail. Relieved that we were still on this Earth, we hiked down to Star Lake for the night. We dried out our gear, caught 11 Brooke Trout, and made too much creamy mashed potatoes. What a day.

Lightning strikes on the tahoe rim trail
The first strike

Day 3

Star Lake to past Castle Rock: 18 Miles

Hiking through Heavenly's Killebrew Canyon
Hiking through Heavenly’s Killebrew Canyon

I woke up to the alpen glow making its way into camp and decided to fall back to sleep after that. We were kind of bummed out watching the clouds build over our heads during breakfast. The realization that we were going to have another day like yesterday was not heart warming. However, it turned out to be a beautiful morning. We stopped at Monument Pass for a snack and enjoyed the view of Carson Valley, and the Lake Tahoe basin together. After that we dropped to the backside of Heavenly ski resort which is some pretty familiar terrain to myself; having spent many winters skiing there. Right after lunch we experienced our first rain sprinkles; which ended up being a funny game. Every time it started raining we would have to get out our rain gear; it was summer and hot; so every time it stopped raining we would get super hot in our jackets. But evertime we put our jackets away it would start raining again. It progressively became a heavier downpour. After blaming the reason we were still hiking on Will Smith (don’t ask me why); we made it to Kingsbury grade.

sunlight over lake tahoe
The first sunlight in hours, before the heavy downpour

This would also be our first food drop. Soaked, and surprised with “In n Out” burgers, it was nice to see the family and share some stories. My Dad was almost positive that we were going to quit right there, not because we couldn’t do it, but because we were miserable and wet at that point. Not nearly ready to give up, we got back on the trail, just in time for the strongest parcel of the storm to hit. We hiked through the downpour for about 4 miles until the lightning got too close and Alec’s worst fear set in. So we set up camp right off trail and waited out the rain. We didn’t eat dinner, too wet and tired to cook.

Storm building over Heavenly mountain
Storm building over Heavenly

Day 4

Kingsbury to Marlette Peak campground: 21 Miles

The view from the "Bench" a memorial bench built high up on Tahoe's ridge line.
The view from the “Bench” a memorial bench built high up on Tahoe’s ridge line.

We woke up at Castle rock, wet and miserable. The storm prevented us from cooking dinner the night before, and breakfast wasn’t going to happen. Morale was really low; Alec and I really thought it would be our last day. The thoughts of seeing family and real food were getting to me. Being home was the only thing I could think about. The rain stopped but we fought another battle: wind. When we got to more exposed sections of the trail, the wind would push us off the trail. Now we were wet and cold.

The view from Snow Valley Peak. Marlette Lake in the foreground, and Lake Tahoe in the background.
The view from Snow Valley Peak. Marlette Lake in the foreground, and Lake Tahoe in the background.

We ran out of water by the time we got to Spooner Summit. Thankfully, Sue (Alec’s mom) was kind enough to drive some gallons of water to us. The blisters have reached their worst point and I had about 7 of them on my feet. We hiked through the woods after Spooner Summit and began to get delirious until we reached Snow Valley Peak.  The views opened up,  and morale improved. We made it to Marlette Peak hiker campground after that. All the luxuries you expect: a table, bathrooms, bear boxes and a well!

Walking through the Lupines on Snow Valley Peak
Walking through the Lupines on Snow Valley Peak

Day 5

Marlette Peak campground to Mt. Rose Campground: 15.9 miles

Hanging out at Mt. Rose Campground
Hanging out at Mt. Rose Campground

We woke with the realization that we were half way through the trip and maybe it’s really possible. We were well-fed and rested. The first 5 miles of the day went by like nothing. We stared at a branch thinking it was an eagle for about 10 minutes. When it was not flying away our hopes of seeing wildlife died. We walked another 10 miles from there around Diamond Peak,  then over to Tahoe Meadows, and on Mt. Rose Highway. We spent the rest of the day with family at Mt. Rose campground; enjoying another food drop. We sat by the fire and went over some stories from the trip so far. We got our food for the next 3 days then headed to bed for the big day.

The story continues on in the next post on the Mountainsmith blog!

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