Eccentric millionaires and their Tahoe estates

Turrets & stonework

There is a lot of quirky history to be found here.  Whether it’s the eccentric millionaire who built an enormous stone lodge on the east shores of Lake Tahoe, or the millionaire who built an enormous summer home on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, there are as many interesting stories as there are old mansions.

Perhaps the most visible out of all of these is Vikingsholm, located at the base of Eagle Falls in Emerald Bay.   Built by a possibly eccentric millionairess, this estate is popular by dint of its scenic locale.  Lora M. Knight wanted to recreate a traditional Scandinavian home at Lake Tahoe, and spared no expense in doing so.  Built in 1928 or so, it’s a unique looking mansion with an equally unique story behind it (and the crumbling teahouse on nearby Fannette Island).

I’ve walked around the outside, but despite a regular summer schedule of tours offered by the California State Parks, I’ve never been inside.  Until last month, when Vikingsholm offered an evening of living history with one of its volunteers, Dr. Helen Smith, a woman who spent her childhood summers at the estate (and who also happened to be one of the first women to work for the California state parks back in the day).  A few friends of mine agreed to come (and drive – thanks C!), and not only did we get an ‘insiders’ tour, replete with special rooms that aren’t included on the ‘regular’ tour (which I’m not allowed to talk about here), but we got to hear Smith talk about what summers were like at Vikingsholm. Perhaps best of all, we got drive to and from the mansion on a special one-lane road with amazing views of Emerald Bay that’s closed to the public.  Oh, and there was wine and cheese in the courtyard of the estate afterwards, with the backdrop of Maggie’s and Jake’s behind us.

I have to say, it was a pretty painless way to learn something more about local history. And help a local icon that could always use more support.  As part of a California State Park, Vikingsholm’s future isn’t as secure as once thought, thanks to the California state budget issues.

Living history at Vikingsholm

If you’re interested in learning what summers on Lake Tahoe were like back in the 1930s and 40s, and maybe help a local state park cover its maintenance costs, you’re in luck, as there are two more of these evenings left this summer – one on July 28th and the other on August 4th.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

And don’t come back some other day.

This latest storm system has come in wet and warm, a real pineapple express.  While a few resorts are crowing about their ‘top to bottom snow’ (I’m talking to you, Kirkwood), even that’s borderline snain/sleet at the bottom of the mountain.  Yesterday’s foray to Kirkwood was quite the test of our ski clothes waterproofness.  My bitchen new Holden jacket held up well, but my beloved Patagonia drop seat pants failed miserably.  And with N still fighting this ‘malaise’ and with me feeling on the cusp of catching it, we didn’t stay long.  Instead we spent the afternoon re-waterproofing and drying out ski gear.  Fun!!

So it’s with a bit of nostalgia that I’m looking at my photos from Saturday, when I skied Jake’s Peak again with friends (minus N, who was not well enough to slog up 2,000 feet on skis).  We hit things early before the clouds arrived, and it was the perfect Tahoe winter day – blue sky, powder snow and sunshine. Even bumped into a friend on the descent (it’s kind of a popular backcountry location what with its awesome views and easy roadside access). <sigh>

Views of Emerald Bay

I know winter will return at least once more.  I’d just like to see it stick around longer than a week.

Spring in January

It’s been a hectic week, coming back from traveling and trying to regain some semblance of control at work and at life.  A couple of surprises, with such key things like employment and health insurance, added uninvited excitement.  Because of this I wasn’t all that focused on the snow, but I was surprised at the oddly warm temps we encountered when we got back home.  While N kept telling me snow conditions at Heavenly were still wintery in north facing aspects, I found that hard to believe when I was sweating at lake level just walking from my car (though maybe the down jacket, gloves, hat & scarf were overkill).

Since conditions are at that in between stage at anything not north facing (not quite corn and most definitely not winter snow), we had agreed that ski touring was the call for Saturday, if only to get a bit of exercise.  N had been trying to ski tour with a friend of his, and he and his girlfriend were free.  We don’t usually ski tour with others, primarily because of most of our friends either don’t live near us or are parents of small children.  So it was sort of a novelty to meet and ski with another couple.

We ended up going up towards Emerald Bay to ski Jake’s Peak, a mountain at the north end of the bay.  We’d skied it once before, but had never done it from the south side.  It ended up being a rather athletic climb, as it was steep in places, and firm enough to require either ski crampons (which I had) or experience skinning (which I did not have). Due to the boniness of the originally planned descent, we ended up skiing across the ridge of Jake’s to another slope that had more snow, garnering some cool views along the way.

The payoff for the uphill work was on the descent, which was on a slope that appeared to lead directly into Lake Tahoe. That snow conditions were optimal (an inch or two of soft snow on a consolidated base) only made the descent better.

Given my overall ski fitness thus far this season I think I did pretty well.  That I was able to go home afterwards and make an awesome chocolate raspberry cake (thanks to Clotilde’s book) and a tasty chicken lima bean mushroom stew for friends was the surprising thing.  We’ll see how early I wake up tomorrow though…

Desolation Wilderness Shuttle Hike

It’s days like this that make me very glad that I call Lake Tahoe my home.  My friend J – hiking pal, ski touring abettor and probably the closest outdoor play friend I have – and I did a shuttle hike today in Desolation Wilderness, something totally new for us.  One car was dropped at the Bayview trailhead (near Emerald Bay) and we then drove to the Glen Alpine area of Lily Lake, behind Fallen Leaf Lake.  The plan was to hike up and over Dick’s Pass, lunch at Dick’s Lake and then head back to the car, a respectable 16 mile jaunt.

Dicks Lake

It was a sunny warm day, made milder by the strong winds (which apparently had the area on red flag alert – very high fire danger).  We saw only 2 other people in the first 9 miles, and made such great time to our lunch spot that we agreed to extend the hike by another few miles to hike past one of our favorite lakes, Fontanellis.   This is one of the less visited lakes, which is fine by us,  but it’s also a wonderful hidden azure gem, abutting  the Crystal  Range.  It was only after our  faux-fording of  a  creek by the Velmas (faux in the sense that we kept our shoes on, but I was the one who got one foot fully wet.  J’s foot was only moistened by my overly exuberant dog) that we began to see the people-trains of  weekend backpackers all heading towards  Middle Velma and Dick’s Lake for the night.  A couple of groups of what looked to be boy scouts, some college students and a family, all wearing headphones, passed us  as we headed out.  When asked where we were coming from,  most of the time we had to explain and the very few who knew where Glen Alpine were appeared impressed.

Three lakes in a row

My favorite part of the hike was the descent from Maggie’s.  Not only is it all downhill (and a mere 2 miles to the car), but it’s probably the most scenic views of the day, with 3 lakes visible as you trek down some fairly steep but smooth switchbacks.

Emerald bay views

Overall, 7 hours, 3,550 feet of climbing and 16 miles hiked in total.  And all of us are still walking (dog included)! Not bad for the second hike of the summer.