Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pacific Crest Trail: Carson Pass to Ebbetts Pass

The fog rested heavy on Lake Tahoe, as we cruised along its west shore heading south. Having lost the who’s-driving ro-sham-bo, I was now steering my Subaru through the early morning chill, one hand on the wheel, the other wrapped tightly around an insulated Tahoe Rim Trail coffee mug. Sarah and Camille warmed their hands on identical mugs, while Sarah browsed through several notebooks of CD’s for some tunes.

“So, how far will this be?” I glanced at Sarah in the rearview mirror.

“Um, I’m not really sure. I found a site on the internet that said it was 23 miles.”

The day’s plan consisted of running the Pacific Crest Trail between Carson Pass, on Highway 88, and Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4. Although I had hiked it once many years ago, as part of the entire PCT, I had no recollection of what it was like. Sarah and Camille had never been there, so all three of us felt like we were setting off on an adventure.

Sarah leaned up from the backseat and slipped a CD into the player.

“We have all these maps of the Sierra,” Camille explained to me, “but this area sort of falls into a black hole. None of our maps cover it.”

I apologized for not even thinking to look at my well-worn guidebook. So much for advance planning!

The growing tones of the music elicited a smile when I recognized the beginning of Where the Streets Have no Name.

Joshua Tree,” I nodded in approval. “Nice choice.” Quite possibly the best album of all time, and I hadn’t listened to it in years.

“It’s a classic,” Camille agreed.

And we let the music, and the joy of impending adventure, carry us the remaining 90 minutes to the trailhead.

The small visitor’s center at the trailhead supplied us with a map for $10, and some vague information that it might actually be more like 28 miles to Highway 4. Although it was already 9:00 am, a small cold front had hit the area recently, and we stood shivering beside the car while we packed and sorted gear. We started out with long sleeves, hydration packs full of water, food, map, extra clothes, purifier—everything we might need for a day in the Sierra high country.

Almost from the very beginning we were stunned by the views. We spent the day with our mouths hanging open, for around every corner and over each peak there was something newly spectacular to see. I, of course, took a ridiculous amount of pictures.

Conversation oscillated between plans for Camille’s upcoming wedding, and the standard runner discussions of bodily functions. It’s pretty awesome to have girlfriends with whom you can discuss both frilly dresses and poop. Seriously, these things should not be underrated.

The peaks were mostly volcanic, and as such often loomed rather surreal. Once in a while we whipped out the map to try to identify some of the surrounding peaks by name. We had a recurring and ardent debate over which landscape feature could be the one designated as “The Nipple” by the map. It seemed a rather obnoxious name, until we looked around in utter amusement and realized that at least a dozen peaks could qualify for that description.

There were plenty of lakes and spring-fed creeks, so even in August finding water was no problem. Wildflowers were abundant, and as we neared Ebbetts pass, the surroundings took on an almost other-worldly quality. Certainly there must have been some Sci-Fi movies filmed there, because it felt like another planet.

We reached Highway 4 exhausted and happy, still unsure of our total distance for the day. (The PCT guidebook later confirmed it as 28.8.)

The drive back to Carson Pass only took two highways, so we had planned to hitchhike rather than drive an extra vehicle to set up a lengthy car shuttle. It turned out to be even easier than expected, when Neil, a footloose Aussie on vacation, pulled over with an empty car and an uncertain destination.

Three stinky, dirty women piled into his clean rental car, and he drove us all the way back to my car, even though half of it was the wrong direction. Thanks Neil!

Burgers in South Lake Tahoe capped a perfect day. We parted ways with Neil, and drove through the night in opposite directions. Tired limbs and light hearts filled our car with a sense of serenity and satisfaction. Bono still crooned, “I have climbed highest mountains, I have run through the fields…and yes I’m still running


  1. You know, you had sold me on this run even before you posted this report ... now you've got me all drooling. These photos are absolutely amazing, as are your descriptions. This is the coolest post I've read anywhere in a long time.

    Next year, we're on. Let's figure out some way to do a car shuttle, though - the hitchhiking thing kinda freaks me out.

  2. Wow!! Amazing pictures! Great post!

  3. What an awesome day! Thanks for the inspiring pictures.

  4. Ooooh! I wish I could have gone out with you~ you have a great talent for finding beauty in nature and capturing it on camera (which the rest of us are grateful for!). :) Thanks for sharing Gretchen~ and we should get together on a Sunday for some training, and to discuss those Reno trails. Which school are you working at next year?

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  6. Last great U2 album!

    Looks like a beautiful run and sounds like a fun day!

  7. What a nice run with the ladies and great photographs, I can imagine the continuing beautiful scenery around the shots.

  8. Do you and Leslie have to pay Bono for the U2 Quotes you both use on your Blogs?? I know you always comment on how jealous you are of our running scenery...but one look at this post makes me want to head turn to be jealous!

    One of these days we'll all run together....up here or down there!

    Or come ski touring this winter...


  9. Donald- Sounds like a plan. I promise not to make you engage in any risky behaviors. Car shuttle it is!

    Amber- Yes, let's run! I'll email you.

    Lisa- You didn't like Rattle 'n Hum? Or Achtung Baby? Practically defined my freshman year. I really haven't heard anything decent from them since 1991 though.

    Keith- I was totally laughing when I saw that Leslie quoted U2 as well. I'm pretty sure Bono doesn't mind.
    You guys are welcome here any time. day. Ski touring would be more up Andrew's ally than running.

  10. Nope, they sold out after Joshua Tree. They started believing their own hype. It's my one music snob opinion, given my self-acknowledged crap taste in music. And I know they defined your freshman year, I lived next door to you ;)

  11. Hi Gretchen! This looks like a fabulous run! I just got this CD-ROM that shows EVERY SINGLE trail in the Sierra Nevada from Tahoe to Sequoia. It's ridiculous and soooooooo fun!

    So, I'm on the up and up when it comes to injury so I wanted to reach out and say hello to my running neighbor. We don't live too far from each other, so if you'd like to get together for a long run some weekend, I would be totally game.

    Hope you're well!