PCT 2019: Day 119, South Lake Tahoe and Echo Lake to Tentsite at Mile 1071.6

And it's too late, baby now, it's too late

Anxious to get back on the trail as soon as possible, Sunkist, Bluejay, and I were first in line this morning for our motel's free continental breakfast. We had to wait a few minutes before the staff finished preparing the breakfast room.

DateMonday, September 2, 2019
Weather Variable cloudiness with a high temperature in the low 70s; windy in late afternoon through evening with gusts up to 20 mph
Trail ConditionsLong climbs to above or near 9,000 feet, sometimes with rocks or gravel
Today's Miles20.7
Trip Miles1752.3

When we were done eating, we requested an Uber driver to take us back to Echo Lake, the same place we left the trail yesterday.

The Uber driver who picked us up said he thru-hiked the PCT in 2015, so we had a lot to talk about on the 25-minute ride back to the trailhead.

The parking lot in front of Echo Chalet was only a few steps away from the trail. We were hiking by 9 a.m., which was a much later start than most days. Nevertheless, we were aiming for our usual 20 or more miles.

Today's hike started with a half-mile climb, then descended 1.2 miles to U.S. Highway 50.

The highway spans the country from West Sacramento, Calif. to Ocean City, Maryland. At an elevation of 7,382 feet, this spot was the highest point on it.

For the next seven-tenths of a mile, the trail ran alongside the highway. With many tourists out on this holiday weekend, the road was busy and noisy.

While walking on this section, I met a hiker named Gina, who told me she was with the Pacific Crest Trail Association. She said she was checking out a new section of trail that was being constructed higher up a ridge. When completed, this trail reroute would move it out of sight of the road.

The PCT was still following the same footpath as the Tahoe Rim Trail and would do so for another ten miles.

While walking this section, I saw several backpackers who were heading to Echo Lake. Most were finishing an extended weekend hike.

Where the trail left sight of the highway, it passed Echo Summit. This spot has some historical significance.

A temporary running track and other facilities were constructed here for track and field athletes to train for the 1968 Summer Olympics. This location was used because it closely matched the elevation of that year's games in Mexico City.

The effort turned out to be a great success. U.S. athletes won 24 medals and set six world records.

Soon, the trail began a steep climb of 1,200 feet, going up to an elevation of 8,755 feet in two miles.

At that elevation, I could see between rocks and trees the city of South Lake Tahoe and the lake.

I caught up to Sunkist after 1 p.m. She was finishing her lunch, so instead of stopping to eat my lunch, I decided to walk with her for a couple of miles.

We crossed a long, grassy meadow on the slope of a ridge. Snow clung to its upper edge.

Before long, wildflowers in the meadow caught my eye, so I stopped more than once to take some photos. I lost sight of Sunkist after that and never saw her nor Bluejay for the rest of the day.

Among the flowers I photographed were some brilliant slendertube skyrocket blooms. This variety is similar to the scarlet gilia flowers I saw three days ago.

I also took pictures of a big patch of lupines. I tried to figure out what variety these were but discovered there are hundreds of subspecies. In fact, botanists can't agree on how to organize the taxonomy of this wildflower.

After finishing my photos, I continued walking up the ridge. The trail climbed to nearly 9,000 feet, and from there I got one last view of Lake Tahoe. The shoreline was more than 12 miles away.

The trail only stayed at that elevation for three-tenths of a mile before making a 1.6-mile descent to a pretty little lake called Showers Lake. I stopped near here for a late lunch at a stream flowing from the lake.

Leaving the lake, the trail resumed its descent for another mile, then leveled out in a wide and scenic meadow.

A shallow stream crossed the meadow. Although it didn't look like a river here, this was the Upper Truckee River. The river flows for more than 20 miles before reaching Lake Tahoe and is the lake's largest tributary.

Wildflowers, such as spreading fleabane, were plentiful again. These attracted several great spangled fritillary butterflies.

I had to tread carefully as I walked because several butterflies were sitting directly on the trail.

Another climb began at the end of the meadow. This one went up to about 8,780 feet, where more patches of snow appeared.

Rounding the top of the climb, a unique mountain came into view. I admit, however, I didn't see it the same way as the person who named it must have seen. The name was Elephants Back.

This mountain was 9,585 feet above sea level and stood on the other side of Carson Pass, which was where the trail was heading.

A northbound hiker told me trail magic could be found in the visitors center at the pass. He said he didn't know what time the visitors center closed, but I hoped I could get there before it did.

If I were lucky, I thought, it might be open until 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Maybe it would help that today was a holiday.

Near the road at Carson Pass, I saw a sign that reminded me of one of my first days on the PCT. On day 3, the trail passed a sign warning of unexploded ordinance near a former military bombing range.

This sign near the pass warned that explosives might be nearby that were intended for snow avalanche control.

My hopes for trail magic remained high when I saw cars in the parking lot of the visitors center. Those hopes were soon dashed, however, when I reached the front porch. A sign said the center had closed at 4 p.m., a little more than an hour earlier.

Leaving Carson Pass, I began to see several day hikers heading back to the visitors center. That explained why I saw cars in the parking lot.

About two miles beyond the pass, the trail passed Elephants Back. The volcanic mountain still didn't look like an elephant's back to me, but maybe I was looking at it from the wrong angle.

After rounding the mountain, a full range of mountains came into view. Seeing the rugged peaks, I knew I was now in the Sierra Nevada.

Besides the long-distant views, I was also looking at the ground. Several wonderful wildflowers demanded attention.

I was intrigued by one-seeded pussypaws. They were missing many of their petals, but that made them more eye-catching when viewed up close.

Another wildflower that stood out brilliantly on the descent from Elephants Back was whisker brush.

I probably shouldn't have stopped to take photos because I didn't have a lot of daylight left. The time was now well past 6:30 p.m. and I still had about two miles to go.

The trail descended into a valley, then began climbing again.

I stopped for water at a small stream on the way up the other side because I knew there was no water source near the campsite.

Sunset came at 7:30 p.m. Looking east, the setting sun's colorful rays of light were caught by clouds and a 10,000-foot volcano called Hawkins Peak.

Because I had stopped for more photos and to filter water, I didn't arrive at the campsite until nearly 8 p.m.

A waxing crescent moon hung over a nearby ridge as I quickly set up my tent. Sloping ground made the site less than ideal, but it was too late to search for a flatter spot.

Stayed in bed all mornin' just to pass the time
There's somethin' wrong here, there can be no denyin'
One of us is changin', or maybe we've just stopped tryin'

And it's too late, baby now, it's too late
Though we really did try to make it
Somethin' inside has died, and I can't hide
And I just can't fake it, oh, no, no

From "It's Too Late" by Carole King and Toni Stern


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.