General Creek (Lake Tahoe, California) 19-Aug-2020

Our last hike in the Lake Tahoe area illustrated why guidebooks (online or hard copy), even fairly recent ones, don’t always capture important details. The hike along General Creek from Sugar Pine Point State Park starts along an old road and later becomes a single-track seemingly favored by mountain bikers. We chose it because it started close to our rental cabin and went to two small lakes (Lost & Duck) that offered swimming possibilities. What the guidebook failed to mention is that there is no day-use parking near the trailhead. Walking to it added an unexpected 1.2 miles to the hike. And then there was the smoke. It was so thick during our short drive along Lake Tahoe to the park that we couldn’t see the shore across the lake. Visibility was down to probably a couple of miles. But how much worse could it get? Buoyed on a cloud of false optimism, we pressed on… 🙄

The old road portion of the hike starts across from Campsite 148 in the General Creek Campground on the far west side of the park. The road is here because this was once the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. It’s a road but nonetheless a pleasant walk through a forest.

Along the road

About a mile-and-a-half from the campground, the road swings back via a big curve and the now single-track General Creek Trail continues directly west. This too is an easy trail (at least the parts we were on) which seemingly has become popular with mountain bikers. In fact, the only three people we saw on the trail were bikers.

Starting along the single track
It’s a squirrel’s breakfast…
The trail uses a Waddell “A” truss bridge

About 2.8 miles from the car, we came to a junction with the spur trail to Lily Pond. Reaching the pond, we found the emphasis to be on “lily” rather than “pond” since the entire water area is cover with lilies and other aquatic plants. Some maps no longer show it as a waterbody but as a marsh.

Lily Pond
Old-growth at Lily Pond
Part of Lily Pond has become meadow

After visiting this nominal pond, we went back and continued west on the General Creek Trail. I don’t know if we were just oblivious or in denial, but we didn’t notice how there seemed to be less and less sunlight. And the sunlight there was had a reddish tinge to it. But onward we marched…

Along the General Creek Trail
An aspen among lushness along the trail
An Aspen Abstract

Just short of six miles in, we came to a spot where the trail crosses the creek. There were some nice pools here but we decided to push on to the lakes. The trail got much rougher but we kept on until we had a view down the valley. Only then did we fully realize that we’d been hiking through a thick cloud of smoke – one that seemed to be getting thicker. Later we would learn that this was smoke from the huge wildfires blowing-up to the west near San Francisco. But we thought a fire might have started closer to us. That, combined with an opalescent sky, decreasing visibility, and throats scratchy from the smoke, convinced us to give up on reaching the lakes. So, back down to those pools for a quick dip and a snack, followed by a scurry back to the trailhead.

Our view eastward down the valley
If this doesn’t say “TURN BACK, YOU FOOLS!”, nothing does
One of the pools in General Creek
More pool
Heading back across General Creek

Since the smoke was coming in from the west, it’s density decreased somewhat (or at least seemed to) the closer we got to the lake.

Returning through a pale of smoke
The Waddell bridge in action
A thistle at end of season
Fall is only a few weeks away…
The road forms a loop so we followed its other leg on the way back
On the other leg of the old road
On the ADA-compliant trail through the camp ground

The guidebook had said that it was only 10.8 miles round-trip to the lakes. But you have to allow another 1.5 miles or so from parking to the trailhead (if you aren’t camping or haven’t arranged a drop-off), which brings a hike to the lakes closer to 13 miles. We managed to make 10.2 miles (plus that side trip to Lily Pond) before bailing because of the smoke. Getting to the lakes may have been anti-climactic in that they were likely heavily obscured by smoke. 😦 On the way back to the cabin the smoke was so thick that we couldn’t see more than a few hundred yards out over Lake Tahoe. 😥

Our hike to Lily Pond (L) and the upper reaches of General Creek

The next day was the end of our brief – but happy 😀 – visit with Wayne and Diane. It was time to head home. Overnight, the wildfires to the west had worsened and smoke was thick over the lake. We drove home via Highway 395 to avoid wildfire-induced traffic congestion in the Central Valley. Reno was buried in thick smoke and we were not out of it until almost the Oregon border. Our friends Ken and Julie have been evacuated from their home near the Napa Valley and are waiting to hear if it’s still there. So what was a good trip for us came at a terrible time for others. 😥

Thank you for visiting Mordor. Sauron appreciates your business! 😦
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