Spooner Summit to South Camp Peak

It has recently been declared that I take one day of furlough leave per month. This affects many people in the Carson City area, but a few of us are making the most of it. What better way to spend your day off without pay than out riding your bike?

Tahoe Rim Trail
TRT Trailhead at Spooner

We’re currently in the hottest part of the year right now, so the best place to ride is at high elevations where the temperatures are much cooler than down here in the valley. Kristy and I dropped the boy off at school, and then shuttled the bikes up to Spooner Summit at 7150 feet above sea level. While I have explored the Genoa Peak area quite a bit, I’ve never ridden the section of the Tahoe Rim Trail from Spooner Summit to “the bench” on South Camp Peak. It was a good day for exploring.

Tahoe Rim Trail
The first mile of trail has several switchbacks

There is currently construction going on at the rest stop at the top of Spooner Summit, but the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is still open, accessed by a temporary trail that borders the construction zone. We followed the temporary path around to the TRT trailhead, picked up a map, and began our ascent.

Tahoe Rim Trail
TRT wandering through the brush and trees

Forget warming up! Like many of the trails up at Lake Tahoe, there is no direction to go but up. The trail makes many switchbacks, and the climbing is fairly steep for the first mile. Thankfully there is a lot of shade, so it makes the hard effort more enjoyable. Once we got up a bit higher, the climb mellowed out a bit, but it was unrelenting. Very little elevation was lost on the way to South Camp Peak, with very brief descents before the next long climb. We took frequent breaks in the cool shade of the big fir trees.

Tahoe Rim Trail
Snack break before ascending South Camp Peak

Until you get near the top of South Camp Peak, there aren’t too many views of Lake Tahoe. You only get glimpses here and there when the trees thin out. This area was heavily logged after many of the trees got sick from the beetle infestation a few years ago. Thankfully, there are thousands of new fir trees growing to replace the missing trees. Many times, it appeared we were riding through a Christmas tree farm, with perfectly formed baby fir trees everywhere.

Tahoe Rim Trail
Mini Fir Forest

Although the terrain on this section of the TRT is pretty mellow, especially when compared to the section between Kingsbury and South Camp Peak, it’s not as easy as it looks. There are no steps or ledges to go over, and there are very few boulders; however, the trail is pretty narrow from all the brush, and the constant climbing saps your strength. There is a lot of loose shale when you reach South Camp Peak as well. The shale took some careful navigation. We had to steer around the jagged rocks while fighting for traction at the same time.

Tahoe Rim Trail
Atop South Camp Peak with Emerald Bay in the distance

Once past the steep jagged rocks though, the trail flattened out, and we rode easily along the top of South Camp Peak with open views of Lake Tahoe from up at 8858 feet above sea level. There are several rock outcroppings along the west slope, each with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. The northernmost rocks had the best view of north Lake Tahoe, but we continued on to “the bench” on the southwest side of South Camp Peak. The bench is nice to sit on, and allows you to gaze across the lake at Emerald Bay, Mount Tallac, and Pyramid Peak. To the south, Jobs, Jobs Sister, and Freel Peaks are visible. There’s even a big rock here that makes a nice lounge chair. Even though South Camp Peak is exposed and sunny, the temperature was cool, and there was a strong breeze blowing. It was a good place to be on such a hot day.

Tahoe Rim Trail
“The Bench” on South Camp Peak – One of the best views of the Lake

Tahoe Rim Trail
Enjoying the View

Tahoe Rim Trail
Jagged rocks mimicking the jagged peaks in the background

For riders looking for more mileage, you can continue south on the TRT from here all the way to Kingsbury Grade. The trail changes dramatically though. There are many ups and downs, steps to climb up, and small drops to launch off. It’s a wild ride, but rewarding for those willing to give it a go. Another possible side trip from the bench is the road up to the top of Genoa Peak where the radio tower equipment is located. There are some outstanding views of the Carson Valley from up there. From the bench, look to the southeast to see the nearby Genoa Peak.

Tahoe Rim Trail
Natural lounge chair

After having lunch and taking in as much view as we could, we began our descent back to Spooner. The tired legs were happy knowing that there was very little climbing involved to make it back to the trailhead. We took breaks mostly to rest our braking fingers!

Tahoe Rim Trail
Returning north atop South Camp Peak

During some of the breaks, I would test Kristy’s bike out on a section of trail to see how it performed. Kristy was on her 5 inch travel, fully suspended Stumpjumper, and I was on the rigid 29er single speed. Although both bikes were very effective on the trail, each handled the trail obstacles quite differently. The plush travel on the Stumpjumper pretty much absorbed all the bumps, while the big 29er wheels on the rigid frame and fork easily rolled over the top of the obstacles. One bike felt like you went through the rocks, while the other felt like you went over them. The single speed also liked a bit more speed on the climbs, so it could use its momentum to get up and over. Both bikes were a blast to ride, and each provided a unique experience on the trail.

Tahoe Rim Trail
Looking down into Glenbrook Bay and northwest Lake Tahoe

So at the end of the furlough day I’m out a couple hundred dollars, but the riding, views, and time with Kristy were priceless. We can always make more money, but time seems like something we can never get enough of.

More pictures from the ride can be found on Flickr HERE.

4 thoughts on “Spooner Summit to South Camp Peak

  1. I will take a day off with pay anytime for a ride like that. But if they want to pay me to ride, I’m good with that too! Only wish I had more time while I was out there to do more exploring and riding. Beautiful place. Maybe we can ride that one next time!
    P.S. Talking with a guy here in the shop a day ago and he is on his way out there to ride Flume with a buddy who lives in Truckee. Told him to watch out for the crazy guy in the beer jersey and steer clear if he should spot you! :^)
    P.S.2 Hi Kristy! Glad to see your riding 2 wheelers for a change!

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