TRT Day 3: Yet Unsurpassed Beauty

Mileage: 10.5 miles (16%)
Start/End: Gray Lake/Brockway Summit
Highlights: Gray Lake; the smooth tread of the Mt Rose Wilderness; Martis Peak fire lookout; View Spur campsite

Day 3 was a beautiful day. I rose at sunrise – like I usually do – and walked down to Gray Lake to fill my jugs.

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I was stunned at the sanctum that lies in that inconspicuous valley, though you’ll have to see it for it for yourself since I hadn’t brought my camera down. Flowing from a sheer grey escarpment, pure cold water pools in the languid tarn. The flow is of a surprising volume given the 9,100′ elevation and the late season.

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Inlet and outlet are crossed on stepping stones and the outflow gurgles in endless cascades as it disappears into the woods below, though this I would not know until I made up my mind which direction – clockwise or counterclockwise – to take to outflank this marsh. Encircling Gray, the unfurrowed Lake Loop is more a path than a trail with raised earthen tread through the inlet-side marsh, which curiously digresses to a severely twisty route through old-growth forest that would vehemently reject any horse or bike. This is the beauty of the Mt Rose Wilderness, for bikes, at least, are not allowed. (Though more than one track attests to someone’s having tested their technical skills and their luck with the rangers!)

I opted for the counterclockwise direction and stepped carefully along the marsh’s edge. On the stepping stones I squatted reverently and filled my jugs. I did not drink, nor did I clean the salt from my face, for the water and the morning air were far too cold and I needn’t risk getting sick, even in such a pristine setting. I finished the Loop with numb hands and, allowing a final gaze, began the climb back to the rim.

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Laden with a pack on my back and an eight-pound jug in each hand I steadily contoured below a ridge as the silken tread drew me along. The heavy handload would be necessary in order not to run dry since I was planning an ascent of Martis Peak and a dry camp that night. I said a wistful goodbye to the too-good-to-be-true wilderness Trail around 11:00 am, and crossed into California shortly thereafter.

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By noon I had set out my solar panel and stashed my pack for the walk up Martis Peak Road, a Forest Service road that leads to one of a dwindling number of manned fire lookouts. The Martis Peak Fire Lookout looks like an updated version of Colorado’s Devil’s Head Fire Lookout – it’s been wrapped in pine siding and outfitted with white vinyl double panes and a solar panel, so you’d never suspect that out was actually built almost 100 years ago.

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Perched on the western shoulder of the Peak the lookout provided excellent views of Squaw Valley Ski Resort, the Truckee River valley and of course Lake Tahoe. I envy the twenty-something Looker who mans the radio and the binoculars there; seasonal as she is she still has one of the best jobs in the world. We chatted and played with the Osborne Fire Finder and then I left her to her constituents, troop leaders, and for three hours I hid from the desiccating sun and practiced yoga and talked with boy scouts. The troop was camping at the summit on what was for most of them a first backpacking experience. One in particular was very smart and I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of backpacking with him. I wish I could remember his name.

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With the sun now low in the sky I strided loosely back to my gear and continued on. Near Brockway Summit I took the View Spur and setup camp, hanging my hammock from the jutting ends of a rocky ridge. I lay there and swing, and I couldn’t help but laugh. It had been a beautiful day.

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