Fine place to take visiting flatland hikers

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This is not a hike for those who love the silent grandeur of the Sierra. Too many people, too little challenge. But for visitors and others seeking an easier route, this can be an easy way to get acquainted with hiking the Sierra Nevada.

The hike is at Heavenly Mountain Resort, right off Highway 50 West in Stateline about 30 miles from Carson City. You can't miss the "trailhead," just before the California state line. It's the gondola, Heavenly's newest way of getting skiers and snowboarders up the mountain. Heavenly keeps the gondola running in the summer for the benefit of the thousands of visitors to Tahoe.

The resort offers three trails from the gondola, ranging from easy to difficult, so you can fit the trail to the visiting hikers.

Parking "legally" is at the garage, just around the corner along the highway past the gondola. That costs about $10. If you have friends at Harrah's, you might be able to park in the casino lot and walk the couple of hundred yards to the gondola base. Be sure and take water and sunblock for your guests and try to get them to keep their shirts on. Watch for signs of altitude sickness - dizziness, vision problems and nausea. Better for your guests if you give them at least a day to get acclimated to the heights.

Gondola tickets are $28 for adults, $24 for seniors and reduced rates for kids. At the base are several shops and on weekends rockers play at an outdoor stage. Entrance to the gondola is right around the corner from the ticket office.

The ride up is worth the tariff for your visitors, old hat to you perhaps, but if you've never taken the gondola the ride can be fun. About two-thirds of the way up the cabs swing into an off-loading spot at the viewing plaza. A great spot for photos and perhaps the best view of Lake Tahoe. Snacks and outdoor gear are also on sale here. Getting back on the gondola is easy, as the cabs slow down here.

At the 9,136-foot summit, off-loading is just a step out the door with an attendant on hand to help. Steel stairs lead down to the base, where a giant map outlines your position. There's also a bear skin and bear skull on display there, and a guide will discuss the local bears with you.

You have a choice of three trails, two of which most guests can handle fairly well. Those are the green and blue trails. The Black trail could be too much for most visitors as it is rocky and steep, ending at Sky Meadow, the base of the Sky Express chairlift. That is a 2.2-mile round-trip.

The Green trail starts at the gondola base and goes to East Peak at 9,591 feet, and is a three-mile round trip with the section that runs past the Upper Bonanza Lookout about a one-mile round trip. The section past the lookout gets a bit steep, but is on a construction road so it's easy going, perhaps moderate at most. Views here are magnificent.

The blue trail starts close to the green and continues to the Comet Lookout, peering down on the Comet lift. Next stop is the Lower Bonanza Lookout with more fine views. Ahead is the Saddle Lookout before descending to the East Peak Lake at 8,700 feet. Just before you descend, there's a cutoff trail to the left that takes you over to the Stagecoach Lookout. The East Peak Lodge there is closed for the summer. The lake itself is a blue gem, although it does dry up and leave a muddy shoreline.

If you've got your guests this far, it would be a nice place to have a picnic. Usually there are some picnic tables scattered about.

That's the hiking at Heavenly, at least the legal part of it. Yes, there are other trails, but Heavenly and the rangers would be happier if you would ignore them. You might want to point out the ski and snowboard trails, a jumble of trees and rocks that are hidden during the winter.

There's a lot of action at Heavenly on the weekends. Last Saturday, there were hundreds riding the gondola and wandering about. There's a popular climbing tower near the gondola base and a nice outdoor restaurant serves sandwiches and beverages. If your guests need something stronger there's a Roundabout Bar.

Incidentally, if you think your guests may be up to a little more demanding hike, point out Cathedral Rock to the right on your way down the gondola. It's impressive, jutting out of the trees there. That's not a demanding stroll and the views from the top of the rock are impressive. You can reach that trailhead off North Benjamin on Kingsbury Road.

• Contact Sam Bauman at 881-1236 or


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