Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hiking Squaw Valley California: Shirley Canyon Trail

I am not a hiker. I don't like to sweat. Bugs buzzing in my ears drive me mad. That said, I do appreciate nature, and I do like being out there once I'm there. Luckily I have a very good motivator to get me to put my sneakers on.

Earlier in the week, I went on a .3 mile hike up to a waterfall. It was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and crisply cold. Lounging on a flat rock nearby was just what I needed, and I was actually excited about going on a bigger hike later on in the week.

The beginning of this bigger hike up the Shirley Canyon Trail started out like any hike with lots of wildflowers, such as Indian paintbrush and mule's ear and many ancient, towering evergreens. The broken tree branches scattered on the forest floor looked like sleeping snakes hiding away from the blazing sunlight. There were four of us trudging though the terrain with the creek on our right and the Lake Tahoe mountains (home of the 1960 winter olympic games) on our left. The day was perfect with not a cloud in the sky and a cool breeze to provide relief from the sun. We were doing exactly what we set out to do: go on a leisurely hike.


Four turned into three when we stopped at a small waterfall to drink the last of the one bottle of water we had between two of us. While the guys lounged like lazy lizards on the rocks, I noticed that the water was flowing over the smooth rocks like yards of clear silk down the side of the mountain that we had just breathlessly climbed. That quiet moment of reflection didn't last long, however, because soon we were off again in search of a lake. 

The next stretch was going to be the most difficult according to what our local guide, Melinda, had told us before she left. When we got to the steep granite cliff faces (I thought of them that way, but they were really just large rocks I'm sure), I saw a chipmunk and was motivated by his agile movements over the rocks. With a burst of energy I scampered up the stretch of steep rock feeling quite proud of my catlike movements. It didn't last long, however, because the incline never ended. "A few more feet and we'll be at the lake," I kept telling myself, but a few feet turned into a half a mile and then another half a mile. Each time we saw a fellow hiker that was the reply. I was beginning to think that there was no lake at all. 

Eventually we came to the lake which actually looked to be no bigger than a pond. While beautiful, it wasn't worth stopping for more than a couple minutes. What we were really thinking though was that if we stayed any longer we weren't going to make it up to the top of the mountain. Fatigue was starting to set in and we still had at least another mile to go. We were hoping that we would have some relief and some more level ground, but we were not so lucky. We soldiered on. 

The older man, Alan, the mathematician who was with us, seemed to be faring much better than me. At least two decades my senior, it was a bit embarrassing to have to be the one to initiate the breaks to catch my breath. With biting flies coming close to my ears, buzzing around my head, we continued to climb the 45 degree incline. 

Wheezing, sweating, dehydrated like I had never been before, we finally reached the summit. Standing  proudly at a par 3 frisbee golf flag (there couldn't possibly be real golf up here) to smile for the camera, we had made it in one piece. That small feeling of triumph quickly faded as we crossed to high camp. 

Just as I thought, a beautiful hike filled with all things nature was quickly dashed by the smell of chlorine and the sound of resort life. The giant pool and tourists clouded the victory, so we descended down a flight of stairs to find a water fountain and a place to sit before we could catch the next tram down the mountain. 

After a slightly scary, but lovely cable gondola ride to the base of the mountain, we said goodbye to Alan and dragged ourselves to the pizza restaurant to have a celebratory beer and "mountain top" pizza. Then, with muscles aching and slowly tightening, we shuffled back to the room like two elderly people.  After a dehydration-induced nap, Tim went to get fluids and came back with coconut lime juice and a coke. Perfect. Stretching ensued (in an effort to be able to move in the morning) on the floor after many protests from me. Shots of coke were had and the work of the night, reading manuscripts, resumed.