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Would anyone dare to take Hiking Diva backpacking? Closet Granola did…and lived to regret it. Granted we had already technically camped at Wildflower when he did his triathlon, that was car camping complete with a brand new enormous tent that all our friends nicknamed the Palais Royal, an air mattress, a canopied area where I could cook Cuban Steak and Skillet Pasta in a Calphalon nonstick pan on a table stove, and bathrooms (disgusting as they were, they were still bathrooms).

Before the first snowfall, Closet Granola and another couple, J and EJ, decided that they better go backpacking before it was too late. And since J and EJ have a 10-year-old Sheltie named Forbin who was going along, there was no way I would leave my precious dog, Bianca, at home. She’d never been camping, or even hiking other than Land’s End, but it’s only 5 miles to the campsite, so how hard could it be?

Well, it was record heat and that doesn’t mix well with a Samoyed or with a Hiking Diva who hates to sweat. And the dusty two miles had a not-so-nice effect on Bianca’s beautiful white coat. Carrying a 35 pound pack was just too much for me, especially since it was slightly too big. It’s very important for a backpack to sit comfortably on your hips. Mine was just a tad big for my hips so the weight was on my shoulders. And poor Bianca! She didn’t have to carry anything, but each time we stopped, she plopped down on the ground on her side, panting heavily and looking like she was ready to die. I was very worried that she might die of heat exhaustion.

The path was very exposed, or perhaps it just felt that way since it was so hot, and rocky, which made for slow progress. It took about 4 hours to make the 5 mile trek from the parking lot to Lake Tamarack. But it was so worth it! The lake was stunning - crystal-clear waters surrounded by granite rock with a small island in the middle. When we arrived, we set up camp and were the only people there. The dogs roamed around the lake and Bianca even walked into the water to cool off her paws. Unfortunately, this just made her white paws messier.

After we (well, actually I didn’t do anything) set up camp right next to the lake and had some snacks, I wanted to take some pictures. The sunset over the lake was virtually non-existent, so I went off in search of a better view. I found it and lost track of time taking pictures. I tried to find my way back to the campsite, but took too sharp an angle, and got a bit lost. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find your way back on a lake. You just keep walking and eventually you run into your campsite. But I did give Closet Granola quite a scare!

When I arrived back at camp, we cooked dinner. I was skeptical of dehydrated food, but our Mountain House packs of Beef Stroganoff and Chili Mac ‘n Cheese made me a believer. Not only was it edible, but it was delicious! Highly recommended from a food snob like me.

As is typical with camping, we went to bed early and given the heat wave, the temperature was pretty comfortable at night. Unfortunately, the sleeping mats weren’t as comfortable as an air mattress and Bianca was a bit restless. She had never spent a night away from her home in the suburbs, so sleeping in a tent without her sister, Sorcha, was definitely a new experience for her. We didn’t sleep well that night, so woke up early. The view of the lake was spectacular. The magic it lacked at dusk, it more than made up for in the morning. The reflection of the granite rocks in the water made the lake look like a mirror. I’ve never seen a reflection so perfect.

After breakfast, the boys went off for a hike to a nearby lake, and EJ, the dogs and I hung out at the campsite, napping and reading. When it was time to pack up camp, that’s when the drama started. Forbin, the Sheltie, all of a sudden couldn’t walk. He was in so much pain. His back was arched and he looked like he was in shock. By the time we finished packing up camp, he still couldn’t walk, so Closet Granola built a stretcher out of my tripod and a sleeping bag, and the boys carried Forbin out while carrying 50 pound packs. It took us even longer to get out, stopping every quarter mile but we have a motto, “No dog left behind.”

After we got out, J and EJ took Forbin to a vet in Placerville. The poor doggy got a catheter and drugs and was transported back to San Francisco. It took a few more days to discover the cause of his pain…a tear in his bladder through which urine was leaking into his abdomen and causing his kidneys to fail. After surgery, Forbin made a full recovery.

Bianca also didn’t come out unscathed. She was on bedrest for a couple days as she rested her paws, which were raw and red. My poor baby! In the end, both dogs and four humans made it out alive, but there were moments when it seemed like a wilderness drama on Fox where it’s 4 city dwellers and 2 dogs vs. nature.

Tip #1: You can rent backpacks and other camping equipment from REI . Next time, I’ll do that instead of wearing a backpack that is too big.

Tip #2: There’s an REI in Folsom on the way from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, so if you need last minute supplies, you’re covered.

Tip #3: You’ll need a permit to camp at Lake Tamarack, so call ahead.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

It’s always interesting to see what someone or something looks like without all the adornment - the fancy clothes, the makeup, the accessories, or in this case, snow. The naked Squaw Valley looks very different and less magical than the winter version with its beautiful white coat. Although, to be fair, Squaw looked a lot better than the other ski resorts like Homewood or Northstar.

Reflection

Reflection

After three hikes over two days and being so exhausted I could barely speak (and that’s true exhaustion for you!), Closet Granola said he would, in his words, “take it easy on me”. We would do a short hike before we headed back to the Bay Area. He chose a hike that was just 2.5 miles each way on an out-and-bike hike to Shirley Lake in Squaw Valley. On our way there, I read the description and practically hit the roof. His idea of “taking it easy” was to climb roughly 1,300 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles over rocky granite cliffs. This hike could barely be classified as a hike…it was more like rock climbing. I know I spent a good deal of time on all fours climbing over the rocks.

Shirley Lake Trail

Shirley Lake Trail

The first part of the hike was rather well-shaded, walking through a forest, climbing over fallen trees. In the spring, I would imagine that the creek would be full, but by September it was rather bare. In the winter, I would bet that this looks like one of Robert Frost’s poems about snowy woods on the way to grandmother’s house.

On our way out of the woods, we could hear a solo hiker mumbling about where the trail was. We soon learned why. The trail on the rocky section was extremely hard to find. I got my first lesson on looking for cairns (little stacks of rocks) and paint to find the trail. It was kind of fun and I was really bad at it, getting us completely off the “trail” many times. Good thing this wasn’t a night hike like Eagle Lake! While climbing up the rock, even if you’re scared of heights, don’t forget to turn around and look at the view. We could see Squaw Valley Resort at the bottom and it looked so small.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

After 1300 feet in elevation, we arrived at Shirley Lake about an hour before sundown duringthe magic hour. The reflection of the granite boulders in the lake was perfect for photography. We spent about half an hour taking photos and hanging out watching the chipmunks before heading back down.

Tip #1: Labor Day weekend in Tahoe is a great time to stop at Tahoe Dave’s. They offer great discounts on demo skis from the last season. If you’re lucky, you’ll get great skis for a fraction of the price.

Tip #2: Stop by the Starbucks at Squaw Valley before heading out and you’ll have enough energy to get up the mountain and back.

I was in the prime of my hiking career, having spent the last six months or so hiking all over California (or so I thought). Since we were up in Tahoe for Labor Day weekend, I was going to make the most of my time up there and get in as much hiking as we could. Perhaps then, Closet Granola’s need to be outdoors would be satiated and we could spend the next few weekends shopping.

What a great idea, I thought, to do two hikes in one day. After all, we were staying up in Truckee and a drive down to Emerald Bay took about an hour. Always one for efficiency and ambition, we decided to do the Eagle Lake Hike in Desolation Wilderness after the Emerald Bay hike. The entrance to the Eagle Lake trail is right across the street from the Vikingsholm entrance to the Emerald Bay hike. How incredibly efficient!

When we finished the Emerald Bay hike, Closet Granola was a bit skeptical of whether we could handle another hike. Sunset was in one hour and it was a new moon (which I learned was the opposite of a full moon), but I reasoned that it was only a 2.5 mile hike and there’s usually light long after the sun sets. He reluctantly consented, but said, “I’m stupid to go along with this, and you just don’t know any better.” I just waved off his conservative attitude and said, “We’ll be fine.” So off we went, with one headlamp, the remainder of our water from the Emerald Bay hike, two cameras, and two tripods.

Shortly after the beginning of the hike, we reached the Eagle Lake Trail Vista, where we stopped to take photos. We could see the sun setting over Emerald Bay and the colors were absolutely lovely over the lake and the trees. We also set up the tripod to take photos of the two of us…great picture spot but I won’t be sharing the personal photos!

After that, we tried to race to Eagle Lake as the sun set. There’s not much elevation gain, but the trail is very rocky. By the time we made it to Eagle Lake, there was just enough light left to make out the lake. Completely serene and desolate (there was one tent on the lake), we sat for five minutes to enjoy the peacefulness of the lake before heading back. We were on a mission to get out of there before we couldn’t see anymore, but we didn’t quite make it. After many near falls and broken ankles, I decided to use the headlamp. For some reason, Closet Granola could handle the darkness much better than I could. Even with the headlamp, it was still rather scary, creepy, and lonely out there (Desolation Wilderness is a very apt name). It was not an ideal trail or hike for a night hike, but that’s what happens when a City Girl convinces a Closet Granola to throw caution to the wind. Famous last words, “We’ll be fine.”

Overall Rating: Flip-flops during the day, Trailblazers at night

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: If you plan on doing two hikes in one day, be sure to start the first one before lunchtime.

Tip #2: Headlamps can be a girl’s best friend on a night hike. They’re inexpensive, light, small, and will help prevent you from breaking your leg and not being able to wear heels for a long, long time.

About two weeks before Labor Day weekend, we started the process of discussing where to go for the holiday. First on the list was Yosemite, but being just 2 weeks before Labor Day, all hotels were booked up, except for the $350+ nightly rate rooms. So I suggested camping as Craigslist had a few campsite for sale. Here’s how the conversation went:

City Girl: Maybe we should just camp. Otherwise, it’ll cost $1,000 to see dirt, trees, and dried up waterfalls.

Closet Granola (after a few seconds of speechlessness): Camping? I thought you said you would never go camping. I don’t know about this…

City Girl: Oh, it’ll be fine. I’d rather camp than pay that much money. Maybe it’ll be romantic.

Closet Granola: Ummmm, okay. Let me do some research.

City Girl: But I have a few questions first.

Closet Granola: Oh boy.

City Girl: Where do people take showers or baths? Do I have to share a bathroom?

Closet Granola: Maybe but people don’t usually take showers.

City Girl: What?! But you get all sweaty and dirty on the hikes, how can there be no showers?

Closet Granola: <<silence>>

City Girl: Well, how about food? How far are the restaurants? Within driving distance?

Closet Granola: There are no restaurants. You have to bring the food to the campsite and cook it there.

City Girl: What? No restaurants? What kind of food can you cook at a campsite? Can we bring a large cooler to plug into the car and keep food fresh? We can bring cheese and wine, some cold cuts, fruits, meat. We could bring some pots and pans and cooking utensils and a coffee maker or French press and a table stove…

Closet Granola: We’re not going camping.

And that’s how we ended up in Lake Tahoe, staying at a not-so-nice hotel but with running water and restaurants within walking distance. We ended up hiking all three days, despite the promise of easy days floating on a raft down Truckee River which was never realized.

Our first hike was in Emerald Bay on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe. It is, in my opinion, the best and prettiest of the hikes that we went on with postcard picture opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s not a well-kept secret and there are plenty of tourists at both the D.L. Bliss entrance and the Vikingsholm entrance. As you can imagine, the parking is a nightmare. After being turned away at D.L. Bliss due to a full parking lot, we drove further down to the Vikingsholm entrance. Due to some great parking karma, we found a spot immediately.

Although some guidebooks recommend doing the hike from Vikingsholm to D.L. Bliss, I think the views are prettier and the elevation gain easier coming the other way. So if you’re going to do this hike one-way and then take the free Emerald Bay shuttle back to your starting point, then I would highly recommend D.L. Bliss to Vikingsholm. Of course, taking a shuttle back is cheating in Closet Granola’s eyes and therefore we had to do the hike out-and-bike. Luckily for him, the hike was pretty enough that I didn’t mind. At almost 10 miles roundtrip and only 500 ft in elevation gain, it’s definitely doable if you have the time.

The hike alternates between being high above the lake and beach level so there are many different angles to take photos from. The water in the lake alternates between a sapphire blue and emerald green, which is just stunning…what girl doesn’t like sparkly sapphire and emeralds?

Vikingsholm is named for the house at the bottom of the trail originally owned by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight. It is apparently one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the West. I think it’s rather cute. Mrs. Knight also owned the only island in all of Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island. From the Rubicon Trail, we could see where she hosted her tea parties at “The Teahouse.” Oh, to be rich and eccentric…

Other than Vikingsholm and Fannette Island, the only “thing to see” on this hike is Emerald Bay itself. But despite the fact that you’re looking at the same thing for 10 miles, it’s still stunning with the mountains behind it, with dogs swimming or riding kayaks, with people lunching on the rocks or drinking cocktails on their boat.

I cannot recommend this hike enough for Lake Tahoe, although I don’t really want more people on this hike. The funniest part of the hike was when we saw a girl walking up from Vikingsholm with heels on! They were kitten heels, but heels nonetheless. Closet Granola and I just looked at each other, rolled our eyes and snickered. I wish I had gotten a picture of that! Perhaps I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.

Overall rating: Flip-flops (not even kitten heels)

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip: Staying in Truckee? Grab coffee and a lox bagel to go from Wild Cherries. We stopped by there every morning!

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