Snowshoeing in Cold Stream Canyon

Like I said before this is my sixth winter in Tahoe, but somehow I’d never been snowshoeing. Since our Sugar Bowl passes are blacked out for the holidays, we couldn’t go snowboarding/skiing at the resort, and we decided to try something different. I decided it was finally time to try snowshoeing.

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Greyson got out his backcountry set up and lent me his snowshoes, and we headed to the nearby Cold Stream Canyon. This is a popular area with lots of snowshoers, cross country skiers, sledders, and people accessing backcountry skiing and riding. We were able to park pretty close to the gate and started the walk in.

Cold Stream Canyon Trail

I was worried that snowshoeing would be pretty miserable, slogging through the snow in an inefficient manner (these pre-conceived notions were the main reason I had never tried it before), but I was surprised by how easy it was. We started off on a very packed down fire road, which made things easier. I had a difficult time adjusting to using the poles – I ended up just carrying the poles on the hard packed sections, and only using them when we got to the untracked sections and steep downhills for balance.

Cold Stream Canyon Profile

The Cold Stream Canyon trail started with an ~180 foot climb over 0.4 miles, the only significant climb of the whole trail. It wasn’t too hard, but I worked up enough of a sweat to strip to my capilene base layer which was perfect for the rest of the hike.

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It was a gorgeous day, and the views were beautiful, snow sparkling on the trees and clear views to the peaks in the west. The temperature was around 33 degrees, perfect in the sunshine! We walked on the frozen pond, which has been restored from a polluted gravel mining remnant, and parallel to it before reconnecting with the main fire road and heading back to the parking lot. (Cool side note – if you continue on the main Cold Stream Road, which is not drivable in the winter, you’ll reach The Lost Trail Lodge, a backcountry lodge. You can rent it and stay there, winter or summer. I’ve never been there, but it’s on my bucket list!)

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While the parking area had seemed full, we only ran into a half dozen or so people and a few dogs on the trail. We made it nearly back to the parking area before we got to any sort of a downhill. Greyson stopped to remove his skins and set up for the (.4 mile, 180 foot downhill) while I trekked on on the snowshoes. This area was definitely more well trafficked, and the snow was packed down and a little icy. I found myself using the poles a lot for stability on the downhill.

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Before I knew it, Greyson came whooshing by me, and we were back at the gate. It was a perfect introduction to snowshoeing – great weather, gorgeous scenery, hard enough to feel like I was working but not miserable. I doubt that snowshoeing is something I’ll get really into, but it’s definitely a fun way to get into the backcountry.

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P.S. Greyson got me this amazing shirt for Christmas. I wore it today on our adventure, even though I was on snowshoes instead of a bike.

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How to Get There: Cold Stream Canyon is just a couple of miles from downtown Truckee. From downtown Truckee, head west on Donner Pass Rd for ~2 miles. Turn left at the four way stop on to Cold Stream Rd and park near the gate. Note: you can park further up the road if the gate is open, but the gate might be closed and locked by the property owners. I don’t think it’s worth the risk and park outside.

 

Resort Report: Sugar Bowl

This is my sixth winter in Tahoe! I can hardly believe it sometimes. It feels like I was just finishing grad school in Santa Barbara, like, last month. Over that past winters, I have been able to snowboard at five of Tahoe’s resorts, and I hope to try a couple of new ones this year.

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Photo by Greyson Howard.

All of Tahoe’s resorts have their pluses and minuses, and I thought that I could do a Resort Report with a local perspective.  I decided to start with my favorite: Sugar Bowl Resort.

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I was only introduced to Sugar Bowl a couple of winters ago, when I started dating Greyson, and I started hanging out in Truckee more. It quickly worked its way up to the top of my list! I’ve written before about some of my fun days at Sugar Bowl.

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First, a few facts:

  • Sugar Bowl is one of the oldest ski resorts in California. It started running its lifts in 1939, and celebrated its 75th Anniversary last year. One of Sugar Bowl’s initial investors was Walt Disney, and Mt. Disney and the Disney lift are named after him.
  • California’s first chairlift was built here, and lift tickets were originally $2!
  • Sugar Bowl has 4 peaks, 103 trails, 1,650 skiable acres, 1,500 vertical feet, with 17% beginner, 45% intermediate, and 38% advanced terrain.

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  • Since Sugar Bowl is located on the Western Slope of the Sierra, it often gets hammered by winter storms. It averages ~500 inches a year, the most in the Tahoe Basin (so they claim).
  • It’s Godzilla El Nino, and Sugar Bowl has the most snow of any resorts so far. 152″ this season!
  • Sugar Bowl also has a cross country ski area, Royal Gorge. Last year, I got to try fat biking there!

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Now, here’s my take on Sugar Bowl:

Pros:

  • Sugar Bowl has the shortest lift lines of any of the big resorts! Even on a “busy” powder weekend day, I’ve waited in line a max of ten minutes. Compared to Heavenly, where you can wait in line for an hour+ when things are busy, Sugar Bowl lift lines are amazing.
  • Related, Sugar Bowl is not usually crowded. It feels much more like a “locals” resort. Even on busy tourist weekends, Sugar Bowl has a much mellower feel.

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  • There are incredible views! From the top of Lincoln, you can look towards the Sierra Crest, towards Castle Peak, down on Donner Lake, and, if it’s a clear day, you can even see the Coast Range!
  • Sugar Bowl is a great resort if you want to advance from an intermediate to an advanced rider/skier. I found myself getting a lot more comfortable riding off piste once I started riding here.
  • I was used to riding at resorts that had mostly two settings: easy to fairly easy groomers and difficult tree & mogul skiing. It’s hard to make that jump! Sugar Bowl has a fair amount of terrain that will ease you in. They don’t groom every run, so there’s plenty of places where you can practice your off-piste technique.
  • There’s also a ton of advanced terrain and great access to the backcountry. I haven’t gotten to ride any backcountry yet, but that’s a goal for 2016!
  • Sugar Bowl is not usually very crowded, so it’s also a great place to learn. I know that when I was learning, other people stressed me out way more than steep terrain, so Sugar Bowl seems like a great place to learn.
  • They have the best Bloody Mary in Tahoe. Sugar Bowl also has their own beer, Sugar Bowl Pale Ale. Their food prices have gone up in the last couple of years. You used to be able to get a beer for $5! It’s still pretty reasonable compared to most resorts.

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Cons:

Obviously, I love Sugar Bowl, and I think there are way more pros than cons. It’s my favorite resort in Tahoe, but I look forward to exploring more to compare.

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How to get there: Sugar Bowl is off of old Highway 40. If Highway 40 is closed, you can get there via I80. The resort is about 20 minutes from downtown Truckee, 90 minutes from Sacramento and under 3 hours from San Francisco.

Where to eat: Here are my favorite Truckee restaurants.

Snorkeling in Donner Lake

A couple of weeks ago, I hinted on Instagram that I have a new adventure coming up:

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I’m getting SCUBA certified! In the late winter/early spring, Greyson and I are going on a trip to Indonesia with his family. They’re big into SCUBA diving, and have been on a bunch of SCUBA trips all over the world. SCUBA diving is something I have always been interested in, so this seemed like the perfect excuse to learn. My parents got me the certification course for my birthday, and, hopefully, my mom will get SCUBA certified at some point too! (All photos following by Greyson Howard!)

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I’m doing the SCUBA certification course through a dive shop down in Reno, and I bought the “SCUBA beginner” package when I was down there signing up for the class. I now have my own snorkel, goggle, fins and booties! Greyson and I decided to get some practice with my new gear, so we headed down to one of the small beaches on Donner Lake.

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It’s been pretty warm out, but I decided to wear my triathlon wetsuit since the lake temperature isn’t that warm. It had been awhile since I put on my wetsuit, but luckily it still fits! I’ll be renting a thicker, long sleeve wetsuit for the open water training dive in Lake Tahoe this fall, but mine was fine for summer messing around.

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I practiced getting into the gear, and I discovered that it’s really, really hard to walk in fins. Note: always put them on while already in the water, then walk backwards. We swam around, and I practiced going under water and clearing my ears. Kicking with the giant fins on is definitely different than the lap and open water swimming that I’m used to.

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While Donner Lake is super fun to swim in, it’s not the most interesting for snorkeling. I saw a lot of: rocks, pinecones and garbage. It was really fun to see a side of the lake I don’t normally see though. I’m really excited for the SCUBA certification class, which starts soon. I’ll be writing about the process on the blog, and I’ll hopefully have fun SCUBA adventures to share in the future!

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Donner Summit Canyon in Truckee, California

Earlier this week, Greyson and I checked out a fairly new local hiking trail near the Donner Summit area in Truckee.

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Donner Summit Canyon trail is yet another awesome trail built by the Truckee Donner Land Trust (the organization behind the amazing Wendin Way Trail. The trail is open to hikers and mountain bikers, and we explored via hiking this time. We decided that we were glad we did, because the trail is a pretty steady uphill gravel path that turns into a narrow and rocky trail.

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From Truckee Donner Land Trust

Though the trail is uphill the whole way, the climb felt pretty easy, and we weren’t working too hard. About a mile into the trail, there’s a sign pointing left to a scenic view point – definitely follow that detour. You’ll get a nice view of Donner Lake, and there’s even a picnic table for a quick snack or picnic lunch.

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After the scenic detour, we headed back to the main trail, and up the trail, heading higher towards the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. We hadn’t planned to hike all the way to the PCT anyway, but we ran into a creek crossing where the bridge was missing! We’d gone about 2.3 miles at this point (including the detour to the scenic overlook), so we decided to turn back instead of risking getting wet.

The spot with the missing bridge had great views, with Donner Peak above us and Donner lake below, so we enjoyed the view for a few minutes before the wind got too cold, and we headed back. The whole trip was just under 4 miles, and took us about an hour and a half with our stops for scenery and attempts at wildflower identification.

Donner Summit Canyon Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Not technically a flower.

While it’s not the most rugged or challenging hike, and there are some with better views, this is a great quick hike (or gravel grind on your bike). If you’re looking for an easy hike with great views in the Truckee area, the Donner Summit Canyon Trail is perfect.

 

My Favorite Restaurants in Truckee

Truckee Restaurants // tahoefabulous.com

My Favorite Restaurants in South Lake Tahoe is one of my most popular posts, so I thought I’d do a similar post for another place that I frequent – Truckee! Greyson lives in Truckee, so I end up spending a lot of time up there. Though I love South Lake Tahoe, I think of Truckee as South Lake’s slightly more charming neighbor to the north. The Truckee River flows right through town and is parallel to Truckee’s adorable historic downtown. These choices might be a little more well known that my South Lake favorites, but they’re great and I’ve hopefully exposed a few (slightly) hidden gems.

Best Happy Hour:

Pianeta: This upscale Italian restaurant has a fantastic happy hour on weekdays from 5:00 – 6:30. You have to sit at the bar, and it can get crowded, so I suggest showing up right at 5:30. They have $3 microbrews, $5 house wine, $5 well cocktails, $6 martinis and a few other cocktails on special. They also have happy hour appetizers that are generously sized – we often go in groups and split a few plates. I love the bruschetta duo and the caprese.

Best Mexican:

Taco’s Jalisco: South Lake is definitely lacking in the Mexican food arena, but Truckee delivers! Truckee has several great Mexican restaurants, and Taco’s Jalisco is by far my favorite. I love their veggie burrito, burrito bowls, and chicken tacos.

Best Hipster Coffee Shop:

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters: I’ve mentioned that I can be a bit of a coffee snob, and I love Truckee’s newest coffee shop! It’s a great place to hang out with a slightly funky vibe. Dark Horse is not at all style over substance – all the coffee I’ve had is to die for, the homemade chai is delicious, and they even do their own vanilla syrup. There’s also a Dark Horse in San Diego.

 

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California

Best Sandwiches:

Full Belly Deli: This place is pretty well known, but for a good reason – the sandwiches can’t be beat. This is a super popular lunch spot for locals, so be prepared to wait during the lunch rush. The sandwiches are worth the wait, and there is outdoor seating for the nice weather days. I love the Cuban sandwich or build your own on the asiago bread.

Best Barbecue/Brunch:

Smokey’s Kitchen: Barbecue was the food I missed most during my 5 years as a vegetarian, and Smokey’s does not disappoint! I love the pulled pork sandwich and the garlic fries, but prepare to be garlicky for hours afterwards. They also do awesome (huge) brunch meals with a decent beer selection and big screen tvs, so it’s an off the beaten path place to watch football in the fall.

Best Grocery/Convenience Store:

Sticks Market: So you’re hanging out on Donner Lake’s awesome public docks and you run out of beer/chips/sunscreen/gourmet cheese. What are you going to do? Luckily, there’s Sticks Market. This adorable little market has pretty much everything you could need for a day at the beach and a great beer selection too! Note: I bought so much Deschutes Fresh Squeezed there this summer that the owner started (good-naturedly) teasing me about it.

 

I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!
I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!

Climbing at Green Phantom, Truckee, California

While we don’t have any snow yet in Tahoe, it’s started to get plenty cold. I’m afraid my outdoor climbing season might be over for the year. But I did manage to get one more day of climbing in last weekend when I was up in Truckee, in a great spot for people new-ish to outdoor climbing (like me!) and their more experienced climbing partners (Greyson).

Climbing Green Phantom, Truckee, California // tahoefabulous.com

We were up on Donner Summit in an area known as Green Phantom which has a variety of routes from 5.6 – 5.10+. We didn’t end up climbing on the actual Green Phantom this time (there were other people on it and we were freezing), there are several other bolted top rope routes available for climbing. We like climbing in this spot as it’s a quick and easy to access (you can hike down from the top or rappel) and is usually way less crowded than the other busy Donner Summit spots.

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The Mountain Project describes it as

“… almost directly below the old arching bridge at the top of the Donner Summit climbing areas. The cliff is not that tall but is excellent granite quality with great views of Donner Lake. There exist about 8 routes ranging from 5.8 to 5.10+, with other toprope possibilities. 3 of the routes are sport routes, while the rest are toproped. If you want to jump on some moderate face routes and don’t have a lot of time, this is a good place to go.”

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Green Phantom is made fairly obvious by its green coloring, and the other top rope routes are located to the right on the shorter faces. We usually warm up with an easy (5.6 according to Local’s Guide Rock Climbs of North Tahoe) route on the left corner of the shortest, furthest right face.

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There’s also a 5.9 crack climb (Fine Line) that’s obvious on this face. I made it up this one for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I was so excited! This time around, it was so cold that we only lasted for two short routes each before calling it quits.

I’ve played around on the middle face, not making it up a route with a tough undercling (Undercling Thing, I think), and going up a fairly easy route (which I don’t think it was an official route). I’m excited to tackle the Green Phantom when it warms up again this spring!

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The top of the climb is rewarded with views of Donner Lake

Not only are these fun, fairly deserted climbs, but the view is killer! You’re looking down on Donner Lake and up to Grouse Ridge. You’re also pretty protected from the wind, but in the shade most of the day. If it’s a hot day, this is nice, but can really make for cold fingers on a late fall day. Make sure you also check out the view from the Donner Lake Overlook.

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Grouse Peak, another climbing and bouldering area in Truckee.

What: Green Phantom, Donner Summit, Truckee, California

Where: Head west and up Donner Pass Road (along Donner Lake) and park in the Donner Lake Overlook parking lot. Cross the road and walk under the bridge. You’ll end up on top of the routes. Turn right to find the anchors; turn left to head down the (slightly overgrown) trail to the bottom.

After: When you’re done, you should head into town and find my favorite new addition to Truckee – Pho Real – a pho truck! I’d recommend the pork pho, but the veggie also looked amazing for vegetarians and those who are not soy averse.

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