Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay, Nov’14


A gust of wind, followed by few minutes of quietude, another gust of wind. Feet making crisp steps in the snow. Pine cones spread over the trail, may be because they were about to fall anyway or may be because the rain and the snowfall over the previous night brought them down. Tracks of a small animal starting out randomly in the middle of the snow covered trail and leading in to the bushes. Wind blows again – signalling that weather is far from being stable. Gain in elevation, as we go up and away from the crowded vista point half a mile below us. Just me and my buddy, making steps in the snowy cushion beneath our feet, on a trail that winds up and above the Emerald Bay. We pass a couple of humans, who are on their way down and  are very happy to see us (it happens to people when they camp out in the mountains, get caught in the snow and rain unawares, can’t find another soul around whom they can call on for help, finally pack up their tent and trace their way back, sometimes even sharing just one pair of hand gloves, and finally chance upon us). Their happiness reaches another level when we tell them how close they are from the parking area at the trail head. From then on, we have a fresh set of step to follow, like a guide book.

Finally, about 45 mins into the snow hike, we are at the lookout – watching over the beautiful bay. A  rainbow is stretched across the bay – it’s arc is bigger than any that I have ever seen. I had hoped that the deep blue shade of the bay would be rivaled by the azure blue of the sky but it is not to be so. The sky is grey for the most part – ready to pour on us at a moment’s notice. The panorama ahead of us beyond the cliffs is captivating; but we walk on, for the destination is still a little distance ahead. The steep hike is behind us and now it’s a flat walk towards a lake that is tucked away in the mountains, just below the twin Maggies Peaks. We have walked for only about 0.9 miles from the trailhead to the Granite lake, and the elevation gain has been of about 850 feet – An easy hike with great views from the lookout point that we passed 0.5 miles after leaving the trailhead. Once at the lake, views are limited and closed, but the feeling of isolation among the mountains gives the place a mysterious flair.

Lookout before Granite Lake
Lookout before Granite Lake
Emerald Bay as seen from the lookout on the way to Granite Lake
Emerald Bay as seen from the lookout on the way to Granite Lake
Lookout Point before Granite Lake
Lookout Point before Granite Lake
On the way  from the lookout to Granite Lake
On the way from the lookout to Granite Lake
At Granite Lake
At Granite Lake

These are the bits of information that I was trying to save in my head while hiking to Granite Lake, a place that’s on the way to Maggie’s peaks if one starts hiking from the Bayview Trailhead in Emerald Bay area near South Lake Tahoe city in California – okay, I know I have tried to give you too many geographical data points but basically, I was hiking in the southern side of Lake Tahoe area in the state of California when the snowflakes started raining down upon us and we raced back to our cars parked at the trailhead just in time. This was the second of our 4 days at South Lake Tahoe city (town). We had promised ourselves that since we are on a relaxed gate-away, we will not engage in any physically exerting outdoor activity as is the wont of most of our trips. Despite that promise, we had somehow pulled up the laces of our big, ugly trekking shoes once again.

As if the fabulous view of Emerald Bay from the Inspiration point, half an hour away from our hotel in downtown South Lake Tahoe was not enough, we had wandered away towards a better vantage point and a better vantage point it was! There’s nothing like looking up on a large body of water from a height – especially when the water is so beautifully colored and the land around you is glowing with snow. After the hike to Granite lake was over and we were on the way back to the hotel, we entered Alpina Coffee Cafe in search of some creamy, warm caffeine. With its rustic wooden decor and a peppy female handling the coffee counter, it turned to be a perfect coffee stop over on a wet, rainy day. While we sipped on our caffe mochas, snowflakes powdered the outside of the cafe.

At Alpina Coffee Cafe
At Alpina Coffee Cafe
At Alpina Coffee Cafe
At Alpina Coffee Cafe

Day 3 was spent in some touristy sightseeing at Zephyr Cove – a beach on the south eastern side of Lake Tahoe. All the water activities were off, the season being winter. Chill in the air was not very pleasant but the sight of the sandy semicircle of the cove, of a jetty going out in the water from the middle of the beach and the general air of calmness were surely very soothing. This beach was way more beautiful than El Dorado beach, along which we had taken a long walk a couple days earlier. El Dorado beach, being in the center of South Lake Tahoe, had a lot more people but the beauty of that beach was not on shore. It was rather in looking out on the shapes of the hills that surrounded the lake and shone in various colors in the morning sunlight.

Zephyr Cove Beach
Zephyr Cove Beach
Zephy Cove Beach
Zephy Cove Beach
Zephyr Cove Beach
Zephyr Cove Beach

Day 4, the last day of that long weekend holiday began with feelings similar to the ones that one has on a Sunday morning. I wished for that day to never get over. For some reason, we again went back to the Bayview Trailhead in Emerald Bay area.

According to me, Emerald Bay is the most beautiful part of South Lake Tahoe region. It has, as its name suggests, a bay, mountains overlooking the bay and serene alpine lakes in the lap of these mountains. Where there are mountain cliffs and water bodies, there are water falls as well. As a proper farewell, we chose to visit Cascade falls, an easy mile and half long hike from Bayview trailhead. While the trail to Granite Lake/Maggies Peaks pointed in one direction from the trailhead, the one for Cascade falls pointed in the other. 10 minutes of walking on flat ground was soon followed by a loss in elevation as we started going towards Cascade lake and falls. The hike was easy and nice, with mountain on one side of the trail and the lake some distance below on the other side. Halfway through the hike, weather began to deteriorate.  but it wasn’t so bad as to want to stop and head back. So we kept walking.

A father-daughter duo passed us – father apparently aggrieved at being dragged through bad weather and the daughter concurring with us as to how beautiful it all was. I definitely believed it was beautiful – the lake was kind of lost in the mist and the grey color of the weather. Fog had started to build up. Snow was upon us, but in a gentle way. We were thankful that it wasn’t rain – that would surely have forced us to go back to the car. We kept walking toward the direction of the falls but the trail got a little confusing in the end. We were almost at the falls but couldn’t really locate them. We could know that we were on the top of the cliffs where the falls were but the weather was getting worse every minute and we had to abandon our search for the exact destination. We were only a mile away from the trailhead, but the lack of visibility due to fog made us feel more isolated than we were. The lake had disappeared in the fog!

Cascade Lake before it vanished in the fog
Cascade Lake before it vanished in the fog
Snow-Capped!
Snow Capped!

We lost the trail a couple of times before finally taking a direction that led us to the trail after a few minutes. Another 20 minutes of treading on the trail brought us back to the trailhead. We were cold and ready for a journey that was bound homeward.

way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe
way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe
way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe
way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe
way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe
way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe
way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe
way back to San Francisco from South Lake Tahoe