Horsetail Falls offers Sierra at its best

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One of the pleasures I look forward to when the hiking season sets in is a visit to Horsetail Falls, one of the most popular treks in the Desolation Wilderness area. And now that the snow has melted away it is time for a visit.

Access to Horsetail Falls (so named because a white horse tail is what it looks like from the highway) is easy for Carson Valley folk. One way is Highway 50 through South Lake Tahoe and past Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area for perhaps 10 miles. You'll see the falls as you pass Camp Sacramento and begin a descent.

A new parking area has been added just past the old parking lot, which is still in use. A couple of trails start up the valley, but first sign in at the base for even a day hike. For camping you'll need a permit which you can pick up at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Center in South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89 after the Y intersection.

Altitude at the trailhead is 6,100 feet; at Ropi Lake above the falls the height is 7,600 feet. At the Lake Aloha spillway it's 8,116 feet and Pyramid Peak in the distance is 9,983 feet.

This is not a demanding hike. The first segment to the base of the falls is 1.3 miles with a vertical rise to 6,800 feet. If you stay to the left you'll find big slabs of rock for easy walking. To the right is a trail that borders the Pyramid Creek and offers shade on hot days.

No trail maps are available. The trails do seem to disappear at times but keep an eye out for cairns and you'll pick the route up again. Whatever you do give the creek respect; annually someone falls into the creek and gets swept along. Dogs, who should be on a leash, have been known to jump into the creek and be swept to their deaths.

About a half-mile along the trail you'll come to the Desolation Wilderness boundary sign. Another half-mile and you reach the base of the Lower Falls where the water tumbles 200 feet into a froth of beauty. Look to your right and you'll see Mt. Ralston and towering walls of rocks polished by glaciers 10,000 years ago. On your left is a moraine covered with brown and green vegetation.

For visiting flat landers, this is far enough. From here you can look back down the valley and see Lovers Leap, one of the best rock climbing areas in the Sierra.

It's a nice place to picnic as well, with the falls thundering and the water rushing on its way to the American River.

If you decide to continue be sure you have water (don't drink from the creek as Giardia lambia is there) and good boots.

Following along the falls can be tricky. There are several paths and the ascent can be steep. Less demanding is a trek signified by a green painted arrow on rocks to the left 50 or 75 yards. Be warned that this can be a demanding trek with giant rocks to surmount.

But it's worth it at the top. The wide open area is dotted with lakes, as well as Avalanche Lake. Nice pools for bathing and shady spots for lounging. Farther on is Lake Aloha, but that starts to suggest an overnight stay.

The view of Pyramid Peak and other mountains surrounding the site is magnificent and well worth the effort. This is the Sierra at its best.

Take it easy descending, a slip could be painful. And back at base, you might tip the hat to those who have protected the Desolation and maybe to a ranger if you see one.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of hikes for this weekend:

Saturday, the Rubicon Trail.

Hike along shore at Lake Tahoe from Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay. Begin at trailhead near beach at Bliss State Park. About 9 miles round trip, 500-foot elevation gain. Beach time after hike if so desired. Parking fee. Leaders: Craig, 786-7742, Richard 826-8634

Sunday, Truckee River Ramble

Travel along Truckee River at California/Nevada boarder near Verdi.

Hike along closed road and walk to river rock climbing area. About 7 miles round trip, under 1000 feet of gain. Leaders: Ross 826-0932, Vicki 829-0932

From the Sierra Club:

Wednesday, Wolf Creek Trail. Wolf Creek Trail to the junction of Bull Lake and return; about 10 miles round trip. This is a moderate trek along the mostly shady Wolf Creek. Trailhead is reached off Highway 4 at Centerville Flat north of Markleeville. Leader: Terri Sutor (775) 267-5366. Call for time and meeting place.

Also Wednesday, an evening conditioning hike. Join us for a fast paced, short hike to get into condition for longer weekend outings. About 2-4 mile round trip, with 500-1,000 foot gain. Boots, water and windbreaker recommended. Leader: Holly Coughlin (775) 331-7488). Call for time and meeting location.

Thursday evening conditioning hike. Join us for a fast-paced, short hike to get into condition for longer weekend outings. About 2-4 mile round trip with 500-1,000 foot gain. Boots, water and windbreaker recommended. Leader: Ridge Walker, Ed Corbett, (775) 853-8055,; co-leader: Jackie Walker (775) 358-1952. Call for time and meeting location.

Season Passes

Heavenly offers some real deals on season passes for next season. Buy now and save, like $299 for midweek adult. Lots of various categories, including a $199 for seniors. Alpine Meadows comes in with adult midweek pass at $550 through July 31, $825 after, adult full pass $930 through July 31, $1,240 after. One of the pleasures of a season pass is hitting the slopes for an hour or two before going to work.

More Kayaking

Sporting Rage is at it again with a kayak trip to Emerald Bay on Sunday. Fee is $69.95, includes breakfast stuff and a lunch plus all gear and expert instruction. Reserve a spot by calling 885-7773 by 6 p.m. Saturday. Beginners welcomed.

Sam Bauman is the Nevada Appeal Diversions Editor.


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