The weather began to change here last week, and once we got over the shock of not being uncomfortably hot during the day, figured it was the perfect opportunity for a longer hike.
Having dug out the zip-on bottoms to the hiking shorts and the warmer jacket, packed up some artisanal sandwiches and a few biscuits for the dog, we headed out to hike the Aloha loop with a few detours. We hit four lakes (Susie, Heather, Clyde and Aloha), with lunch on a rock overlooking Aloha as the dog chased after driftwood logs. Instead of just following the trail down the rocky and steep (and no longer marked on Desolation Wilderness trail maps) “Tamarack Trail”, we jumped off it to another trail that climbs up to an overlook on the top of Angora Ridge. The Angora Fire’s devastation was quite amazing from this vantage point, including the so-called ‘hot burn’ area. Ironically, this was the day the camera battery died before we’d even left the house.
The descent down the Tamarack trail is challenging, and while we rarely see anyone coming up or down, this time we did encounter a group of 5 backpackers clambering up over the steep ledges and pushing through the overgrowth as we descended. The terrain is unforgiving on knees, and by the time we got to the car, the three of us were all done for the day. And the evening.
In fact, we bailed on a film premiere we were supposed to go to that night and were in bed by 8:00 pm. One more reason why we’re not really the ones to come to for recommendations on Tahoe nightlife.
Today I drove through part of the Angora Fire burn area on my way home from hiking. I’ve seen part of it every day from my office window, but I have to admit that seeing it up close from the road shows just how devastating it really was. I only went over Tahoe Mountain Road from Fallen Leaf Lake Road – I did not pass through the residential streets simply because I have a deep loathing for lookie-loos – and that, frankly, was enough.
The ground has been treated with what looks to be wood chips (an erosion prevention measure?), obscuring any trails that were there before. The Gun trail turnoff was no longer visible from the road, and seeing that made me realize it will be a long time before we can ride that again.
About 20 fire engines just screamed past the office right now, and I can see smoke across the way above the high school in the burn area. Thankfully there is no wind today, but this sure doesn’t bode well for the next 4 months of fire season.
To celebrate Independence Day, N and I decided to escape the crowds at the lake and go hiking near Carson Pass. The first few miles of trail are quite popular, but we figured once we got past the wildflower section we’d have it mostly to ourselves.
What we didn’t bank on was encountering a truly retarded individual enjoying his morning campfire near Winnemucca Lake. When I smelled smoke I started to panic, but N saw it was a campfire. When he went up to speak with said sorry-excuse-for-a-human about the fact that a) wood fires are not permitted in the Mokelumne Wilderness, and b) everyone was on high alert because of the nearby wildfire in South Lake Tahoe, the twenty-something dude (it’s always a guy, isn’t it?) told N that ‘all the other fisherman around the lake had campfires all day yesterday’, so he figured it was ok to do that as well. This despite the large orange signs at the trailhead that clearly state “CAMPFIRES PROHIBITED”. Yaay for reading comprehension skills!
We didn’t hike much further in, primarily because I was worried that said dumb*** hadn’t properly extinguished his fire, and I sure didn’t want to be deep in the wilderness if flames began. So we hiked back, N checked on the campfire to confirm it was out (and reminded the dude of his idiocy once again) and briefly explored a side trail that took us towards Ebbetts Pass.
On the way out we stopped at the Carson Pass Visitor Center, where we saw how the current administration’s budgeting means that there are not enough rangers to patrol these highly flammable wilderness areas. N reported the problem to an older volunteer, and when he described the campsite, learned that not only was this idiot lighting illegal campfires, but he wasn’t even in a legitimate campsite so there was no way to properly identify him. And since there were no rangers or Forest Service staff on duty there, nobody could go and make an arrest or shoot him or whatever he deserved. I was so annoyed by this. Unless these jokers actually caused a fire (that would then require lots of manpower to put out), there was no way that the Forest Service could pay attention to this area. Anyone else see the irony? I believe we have the leadership of our brush-clearing President and his anti-environment, self-absorbed politicos to thank for that one.
100% contained as of this morning. Nice to see that they’re ahead of schedule on that one. Uber-fire restrictions are currently in effect, including a ban on outdoor smoking. Try telling that to the beefy guy who sat next to us in the patio of the Tudor last night, using the grass as his personal ashtray.
And while life goes on, I’ve been surprised this morning by the news of one swim friend who lost her house in the blaze, and another acquaintance whose house was barely spared. The need to help these friends will not go away anytime soon, as the whole rebuilding process, both physical and psychological, will take some time.
Winds are stronger this morning than yesterday, and while I can see some smoke over by Angora Ridge, it’s reassuring to see a return to normalcy here. After dropping off my tree removal permit application at TRPA (the fire was strong encouragement to get some much needed defensible space projects completed), I stopped by the Rude Brothers, a local bagel bakery, and was pleasantly surprised to see a full parking lot and lots of bustle inside.
And while many people are up in arms about the decision to go forward with the 4th of July fireworks on the lake, I’m of the mindset that tourism is what sustains this town, and July is the biggest month, so why not try and minimize losses by encouraging visitors to come and spend money here?
Happily the winds didn’t pick up to the scary wind advisory levels forecast today. Thus there is very little to report on the fire itself, as evidenced by the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s current reporting on such topics as bears with burned paws and the anger (misdirected or not) at the TRPA. The latter has been blamed for the fire, essentially for making it difficult for homeowners to remove trees from their property (to create defensible space) and recommending that flammable materials (bark chips and pine needles) be used to cover bare dirt in order to prevent erosion and sediment from ruining the clarity of Lake Tahoe. While the joke may be on them right now (what with all the ash and burned debris that is no doubt sullying our pristine waters), I’m not sure if it’s fair to mark them as a scapegoat just yet.
I went so far as to unpack one bag (the one with my iPod and running shoes), but until I hear the magic words – 100% contained and controlled – I’ll leave the truck as is. After all, I was a Girl Scout for 12 years, so that whole ‘Be Prepared’ motto is a hard one to shake.
I’m back home now, and by the looks of my drive over Kingsbury Grade, it’s hard to fathom that there’s an uncontained forest fire burning here. The sky is clear, winds are light, and there’s none of the anxiety I felt earlier this week. Heck, I saw people running and mountain biking, a sure sign that the air quality has improved.
That said, while the fire is holding at 55% containment, the areas around Lukins Way and 15th streets (across Highway 89) are still on mandatory evacuation, which I’m guessing is more preventative than anything. Winds tend to pick up in the afternoon, so it will be the next 6-8 hours that are the most important.
I’m feeling way calmer now, and am cautiously pragmatic that things won’t explode again.
More to come.
I decided to check out some mainstream media websites today to see how they are covering the Angora fire. While our local papers seem to be doing a fairly good job of reporting the events without unnecessary drama, Fox News (what a surprise) is all breathlessness and exclamation points about the potential doomsday scenario about to unfold here. To make it worse, they are relying on older news; today’s short online video, with the typical steely jawed reporter looking serious, focused more on yesterday’s slopover fire than on anything that’s happened today. Which is perhaps because there’s no real drama to speak of today, as the predicted high winds mercifully didn’t show up.
It’s no wonder that someone contacted me in a panic about this fire after having seen Fox News. From their reporting, it’s all really big and expensive homes that are at risk, and the whole place is about to explode into flame. And that makes me angry, because far too many people in this country rely on this channel for its ‘news’.