Beginner's errors leads to being lost

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As someone who has been hiking around the Sierra Nevada for about a decade, I usually feel pretty comfortable wandering alone in the hills. So it was just another hike to me when I headed for Highway 89 through Minden and up Highway 88 for Picket's Junction.

I had heard earlier about a trail that led to Star Lake where there was an abandoned quartz mine. I thought that would be worth seeing after my friends Robin and David Rittenhouse of South Lake Tahoe told me of their overnight jaunt there.

About two miles up Highway 89 I saw the ungated road on the right as described. It's a bumpy, dirt road with plenty of pits and high rocks but nothing too off-roadish. I followed the road marked 051 to its end, avoiding the many branching roads.

There were two other cars already at the parking area but no indication of a trailhead. But there was a metal stake peppered with bullet holes, so with map in hand I started climbing at about 8:30 a.m. And climbing. Detoured around a deep ravine that took me higher and higher. Occasionally I would see a cairn and encouraged press on. But there wasn't a defined trail.

I had figured that the hike to Star Lake was about 6 miles after reaching Armstrong Pass. I had hoped to make the round trip in a day but by a little after noon I was lost. Freel Peak and Job's Peak were on my left but another deep ravine cut me off from them. I finally reached what I thought was Armstrong Pass but the view was of Carson Valley with large irrigation circles and a town I figured was Minden.

I knew there was no way I was going to make it to Star Lake by then so I turned around and with compass in hand followed a dry stream bed, figuring sooner or later I would cross 051. No trail, just wide patches of yellow pea gravel that sat me on my butt time after time.

I finally reached 051 about 3:30 p.m. and knowing my car was at the end of the road, thoughtlessly turned left and started hiking. About 45 minutes later I noticed that according to my watch-altimeter I was about 250 feet vertical from where I parked the car and realized I was heading downhill.

That error resulted in a backtracking of a couple of miles then another mile or so up to the car. I was home in Carson City by 7 p.m.

While hiking for the road I realized that I had committed a series of errors that only a beginner should make.

So here's what I did wrong:

First, I didn't listen to Robin Rittenhouse when she said to turn off 051 at one point. That turnoff would have taken me directly to Armstrong Pass which was in fact the beginning of the hike. Error one.

I had a compass but I didn't use it to check my directions when climbing. Had I checked it against the map I would have known instantly that I was heading in the wrong direction. Error two.

My map showed that the Rim Trail to Star Lake was on the west side of Freel and Jobs Sister peaks. I was obviously on the east side with Jobs Peak to the east. A moment's thought would have shown my mistake. Error three.

When I finally reached a pass that I thought was Armstrong, I was actually in Jobs Canyon and looking down on Highway 206. Culmination of errors.

While trudging back to the road on what was to me terra incognito I realized that it had been a cool day; for the first time ever hiking in the summer I had sought patches of sun rather than shade to pause. I was in shorts and a T-shirt; I had an almost empty full-sized pack. If I were truly lost and had to spend a night on the mountain I risked hypothermia. Another error. In the future I'll bring a windbreaker, sweatshirt and sweatpants when hiking alone.

I had two full water bottles to start, a ham sandwich and a small packet of trail mix. I used almost all of the water, the sandwich and some of the trail mix. I could have stuck a couple of energy bars, an apple and a candy bar in the pack with little penalty.

And while I'm in decent hiking shape for my senior status, my ham strings were sore thanks to the steep climb and descent, something that had never happened to me before, even when going up Horsetail Falls.

Now at my desk with the map in front of me I know what I did wrong: didn't start at the right trailhead, didn't compare terrain with map, continued cross country when there should have been a trail, didn't try to retrace my path. And didn't make safety preparations.

I did agree to check in with Robin when I got home and I did. At least I did one thing right.

Note: If you're going to try Star Lake, it's 4.5 miles to the end of 051; the road on the left about a mile before the end of 051 is the turn you want. I don't think it's a one-day round trip hike for most of us. And wear hiking boots!


The people at the Sporting Rage in Carson City are joining with Get Outfitters to sponsor a kayak outing Sunday. The nice thing is that they encourage first-timers to take part. Meet at the Sporting Rage at 4338 S. Carson St. at 9 a.m. for sign-in, coffee and refreshments and car pooling. Fee is $69 and includes equipment, lunch on the beach, and smart guides.

And if you decide later that you might just want to buy a kayak, Kevin will be glad to help you. Make reservations no later than 6 p.m. Saturday - 885-7773.


Mt. Rose Ski Resort and Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe have come up with a novel freebie. Stay at the Hyatt five consecutive nights between Oct. 1 and Dec. 20 and receive a free season pass for the rest of the season. They have spent about $27 million revamping the Hyatt and Mt. Rose has added more snowmaking so it could be a great deal. If not for locals, maybe for locals' friends from the Bay Area. Spread the word. Call (800) 233-1234 for details.


If you've taken the new Gondola at Heavenly you've no doubt noted the long barren stretches around the lift. Heavenly management has too and is embarking on a tree-planting program with employees planting more than 2,000 tree seedlings in the old Fire Break area. The program started yesterday.

Hikers have noticed a temporary 4,000-foot-long irrigation system set up by Heavenly to insure that the seedlings survive the summer drought. This is part of a five-year re-vegetation program. And it gives evidence that whatever the problems at American Skiing Co., Heavenly is looking at the long haul.


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