At about 9,000 feet, there was just enough snow on the ground to snowshoe up to the Ophir Creek Overlook and watch the full moon rise over Slide Mountain.
Looking around the North Tahoe Meadows trailhead off Mount Rose Highway, trip guide Steve Hale couldn’t remember seeing so little snow in mid-January in more than 20 years.
The retired U.S. Forest Service employee led the snowshoe trek Wednesday evening. It was one of many free recreation outings being organized this winter by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
Donna Maher drove up from Minden.
“I love snowshoeing in the winter and I love taking full moon hikes in the summer so I thought why not come out and do both?” she said.
Despite the small amount of snow, the outing did not disappoint, Maher said, adding that she will be attending more of the guided events.
The western horizon glowed orange as the small group embarked on snowshoes through the pines.
Standing on the rocky Ophir Creek Overlook, the group let out a string of oohs as a flood of moonlight broke over the mountaintop and spilled down across the Sierra landscape.
“It’s unusual to take a full moon hike in the middle of winter. As you can see with the people who went, it’s a unique experience,” Hale said.
Hale pointed out some constellations in the night sky and told stories of how they were seen by the ancient Greeks and other cultures, before the procession crunched its way back to the trailhead.
The goal of the TRTA events is to keep people active and get more people enjoying the outdoors, and ultimately to get more people involved with the rim trail and its upkeep, Hale said.
That goes for people who are new to the outdoors, for families and for seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.
“There are people coming out like tonight who would not go without a guide,” Hale said.
“That’s why we are trained as guides, to get people who are hesitant about getting out in a new environment and doing it in a safe way. Once that risk is lowered, their enjoyment level goes up and it encourages them to go out and do it again. Maybe on their own, or maybe to come back and do more guided programs.”
Events planned for this winter include beginner-level activities like Wednesday’s full moon snowshoe outing and a sweetheart sunset hike planned for Valentine’s Day.
Some events focus on history and education.
A Feb. 1 hike at Van Sickle Bi-State Park will introduce people to legendary Sierra mailman John “Snowshoe” Thompson. Other events in March will teach people how to track animals in the winter the basics of snow camping.
Others are more advanced and difficult, including eight-mile snowshoe outings to Meiss Lake and Martis Peak.
“Most of our programs are at the lower level, to invite people to join in,” Hale said.
“Then for the people that are really seasoned who have gotten past the easy trails and want something physical, that’s what those other outings are for,” he said. “They’re fun for those people because they get the challenge they’re looking for.”
A full listing of upcoming events is available online at http://tinyurl.com/TRTAhikes. People are asked to register for events and programs in advance.