All photos by Barbara Matthews

Monday, July 7, 2014

Training Hike-Loch Leven Lakes Trail

Loch Leven Lakes Trail
Tahoe National Forest
Sierra Nevada, CA

For the 4th of July my son and I decided to try out a new trail, the Loch Leven Lakes trail in the Sierra Nevada near Donner Summit. Beautiful views along the way and lovely lakes at our destination. We also added our loaded packs to the routine.The lakes are beautiful! A short but steep hike of only 2.5 miles to the first lake followed by a short and steep hike back out on the same trail. 

Here is a look at trail conditions. In one word, rocks-big, small, loose, and slabs.  I saw many folks with dogs of all sizes on the trail. Be aware that the relatively short distance is deceiving. We were traveling with loaded packs, since this was a training hike for us, so obviously it took us longer than the average day hiker. It took 2 hours 40 minutes to go up and close to the same time to go down. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful lakes. There are a few brushy areas of trail but at an altitude above 6000 ft ticks and poison oak were not a worry. Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes though. We started at the trailhead at 8 am so the hike up was warm but not too hot. It was in the 80's and sunny on the way down. It is very exposed and very dry so come prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen. I had 3 liters of water just for me and I drank it all. Be aware that the railroad tracks are very active and some of those trains are going pretty fast. I would advise keeping a hold of  dogs and kids once you cross the bridge just to be safe. Plenty of nice camping spots up there, fire restrictions are in force and you need a free "campfire permit" if you plan on using any type of camp stove, campfires are not permitted.

Our destination was only 2.5 miles in so it should have been pretty easy. It turned out to be pretty challenging for me. The hike was pretty much steep rocky uphill, strenuous and fun. The only trouble I had hiking in was the occasional steep step up on big boulders. I can not just simply take a big step up at this point, the useful range of motion for my knees needs improvement. So it was a good opportunity to figure out what works for me when it comes to climbing up. I don't think I would have made it without trekking poles, they are a knee saver! I was thrilled that I had no hot spots or signs of blisters. My backpack with 25 lbs in it rode comfortably on my back, the only place I noticed the weight at all was in my leg muscles and knees.

The trip back down that steep trail was a bit more challenging. We were on a time frame because my son had to get to work. First of all, the steep downhills were tough on the knees, trekking poles were handy to defer some of the downward force though. Climbing over and down some of the larger rocks required figuring out a different method. I found that side stepping down or backing down was a good alternative for some of those big step downs, and for the really challenging ones there was no choice but to sit down and slide down. I walked in a switchback pattern going down some of the slabs of granite, that seemed to help take the pressure off my knees too. I don't feel nearly as surefooted as I did prior to the knee surgeries. By the time we reached the car my knees felt like they were on fire. At home some ice and ibuprofen helped.

It was a great way to spend the 4th and a very useful training hike to identify some areas I need to focus on, especially balance and knee/leg strength. I've got 249 days left to work on it.   

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." - John Muir

The start of the hike to Loch Leven Lakes

Typical trail bed, rocks of all sizes, a test for the knees

Trail weaves through open granite and glacial erratics. It can be easy to lose the trail in a few places especially when coming back down to the trailhead.  Keep a look out for rock cairns which are the only trail indicators. Beware of side trails that disappear off steep ledges. 

Granite slabs were easier going up than coming down. Beautiful sweeping views too.

The first pond is not one of the lakes, and a but provides a brief level spot. On the way back we rested here for a few minutes and witnessed a tree spontaneously fall on the far side of the lake. 

Cole "Whitehawk" crests the first ridge line and celebrates the view.

Areas of the trail had many rocks and roots that required focusing on footing.

The foot bridge indicates nearing the railroad crossing. 

Railroad Crossing, keep and eye out for fast moving trains. 

A series of long switchbacks made walking a bit easier.

Lower Loch Leven Lake. Plenty of nice campsites, check with Tahoe National Forest for current regulations and permits.

Another view of Lower Loch Leven Lake
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