Tahoe Rim Trail a labor of love
STATELINE, Nev. – Though I ascended more than 1,000 feet across five miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail from Spooner Summit to South Camp Peak, it was the view that was breathtaking.
From a windy but comfortable rocky lunchtime perch, I sat directly across from Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay. Starting from the north and turning southward, there was a clear view of the Cal Neva Resort, Squaw Valley, Homewood, Mount Tallac, Pyramid Peak and the Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood ski resorts.
Farther south I could see the vast Gondola fire damage, a 2002 blaze sparked from a tossed cigarette. The view of the burned area is much different here than from lake level.
The hike back was easy because it was mostly downhill and someone with a chain saw had cleared the trail of downed trees I had to step and climb over earlier. That someone was volunteer Clay Grubb, who I spoke to near the halfway point between Spooner Summit and Kingsbury Grade, a spot where my dog found a patch of snow to roll in and cool off.
It was a windy winter, Grubb said, and a lot of trees fell across the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. John McKenna, whose day job is serving as a Carson City-County supervisor, cleared the other side of the trail that day from South Camp Peak to Kingsbury Grade. Other areas were cleared by the U.S. Forest Service and a volunteer, Jim “Buzzsaw” Backhus. There is a lot less snow on the TRT this June compared to 2011 and 2010, and the only areas where the trees haven’t been cleared is around Barker Pass between Gilmore Lake and Tahoe City.
Grubb’s altruism resonated, so the following Saturday I tagged along with about 20 Tahoe Rim Trail Association volunteers at Stateline’s Van Sickle Bi-State Park.
“I’m not sure I remember you, but I remember your dog,” Grubb said.
Depending on their background, volunteers wore green, blue or white hardhats. Crews will work Tuesdays and Thursdays through mid-October on the Daggett project, which includes a 6.7-mile loop and connects to the Tahoe Rim Trail at Kingsbury Grade’s Highway 207.
Designed by Grubb, the Daggett Summit Reroute will turn four miles of pavement into 14 miles of trail.
“The (Tahoe Rim Trail) loop opened in 2001 but the trail is not finished,” said Grubb, one of the volunteers who has taken the bad areas and rerouted and rebuilt them.
More than 100,000 hikers and bikers use the TRT each year, and there are 1,275 who are documented to have ever covered the entire loop – 165-mile club members. Not only are the TRT views singularly spectacular, the summertime temperature is generally moderate and there are neither poisonous snakes nor poison oak. The biggest danger for users is dehydration, and this summer will be a dry one.
Yellowjackets are a concern for the volunteers, Grubb told the group as he gave trail-building advice.
“Foundation and finishing work is important,” he said. “Get water off the trail and people on it. … The crew leaders have the first aid kits and radios.”
Computer programer Chris Garcia, a South Lake Tahoe resident, was one of the crew leaders, and he told his team how to handle tools on the trail: “It’s better to get sliced than punctured.”
Garcia’s hardhat was blue.
“The blue helmets are the master trail builders who are referred to as the Jedi,” Grubb, who has the deadpan delivery whether he’s joking or serious.
Like the others, Garcia became hooked after his first day as a volunteer.
“I feel very privileged to live here,” he said. “It’s good exercise and I like giving back to the community. I get a sense of accomplishment.”
Kate Herbert drove from Kings Beach to volunteer.
“You get a little dirty, but it’s not so bad,” she said.
On National Trails Day a week earlier, Chris Strohm, a former South Tahoe Public Utility District board member and competitive distance runner, oversaw a crew of 100 build 4,500 feet of the Gondola Water Line Trail. The Van Sickle connection trailhead is just south of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s parking lot. A 15-minute hike rewards trail users with a lake view.
“I spent a thousand hours training and running the trails; now I’m making them and having just as much fun,” Strohm said. “You never look at a trail the same way. Van Sickle was very difficult.”
Strohm used his third roto hammer, having worn out two others on the Daggett project. Numerous $200 drill bits were used.
Up the trail, Grubb stopped the group at a stream crossing. Next to a sign which read “Please don’t move rocks or logs,” someone had done just that.
“His ignorance is only exceeded by his arrogance,” Grubb said. “Sombody built a dam.”
While an unidentified hiker had used a large rock for a stepping stone, he had also created what would have been a a flood zone at times of a high stream flow.
Jedi Oliver Lieder and white hat Robert Johnson use a giant steel bar to deal with the rock after the rest of the group moved ahead.
“We have volunteers of all ages and ability levels and everyone can contribute,” said Morgan Fessler, a TRTA trails director. “You can do some maintenance work. Maybe just clearing some brush out of the way. People who want to bulk up can come out and move rocks around and build trail that way as well. And if you’re not able to be a volunteer out building trail, we are always looking for volunteers in our (Incline Village) office. We have people stopping by all the time looking for information. We can always put folks to work.”
The TRTA’s slogan is “A trail like no other,” but longtime volunteer Phil Brisack, who used to have a Hallmark card store suggests: “When you care enough to build the very best.”
A former Navy man, Brisack gets credit for inspiring Grubb, a retired Marine.
Grubb was jogging on the trail near Kingsbury Grade when he came upon Brisack and two others who were cutting out a tree.
“What’s it take to become a volunteer?” Grubb asked.
Brisack, who wore a Navy shirt noticed Grubb’s Marine shorts, replied, “If you have a strong back and a weak mind, then you are overqualified.”
Grubb took the bait.
“He’s been making me pay for it ever since,” Brisack said. “He has been the man on this Daggett project. He’s the reason we’re building this trail.”
The last couple of volunteers to head up the trail were Mike Maddox and Tim Casagrande. They were tasked with maneuvering a cumbersome wheelbarrow full of tools up the mountain.
Two descending hikers passed the volunteers, and one said, “Good work, man. We appreciate it.”.
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