TKS-11: The Long Lake Trail

Route Designation: To most four wheel drive enthusiasts it’s something really ugly. But there is always an exception to the rule and this is the story of one such exception. Route Designation started as a way for the Forest Service (FS) to inventory the roads, trails and routes on FS property. They even asked that if the route wasn’t on their map, stop by and draw it on for them.

Well, a route was hand drawn on the Tahoe National Forest’s (TNF) map by an OHV enthusiast. It ran from the base of Cadillac Hill on the Rubicon Trail, north along the Rubicon River, towards Hell Hole Reservoir. The length was approximately a mile and a half. The TNF labeled the route TKS-11; we call it the Long Lake Trail.

This trail is a rarely used beauty. It’s rarely used because it starts towards the end of the traditional running of the Rubicon Trail. By the time drivers have reached the Long Lake Trail, they just want to get home. But between them and home is Cadillac Hill. Most drivers have no time to explore a side trail.

Turning north from the Rubicon just east of Miller Creek, the Long Lake Trail crosses some seasonal creeks as it winds through some pine trees, aspens and ferns. To the left, at a natural pool in the Rubicon River, is the trail’s most popular campsite. A little further along, the trail opens on to granite slabs as it follows the river north, a rock crawler’s dream. A mile down the trail it gets very extreme and there is evidence of vehicles making the climb up the boulders to the next ledge.

The Route Designation changed from just taking an inventory of existing routes to deciding which routes to keep and which routes to close. The right thing to do was to get FS boots on the ground and evaluate if each and every route meets the FS guidelines. Many routes across the region were closed without an honest evaluation. I have always had a great working relationship with the TNF. They listen to the forest users and work towards a solution, not a closure. The TNF was going to do the right thing in evaluating TKS-11. The problem was they couldn’t easily get there.

The Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo’s offered to drive as many FS personnel as were needed to the trailhead. This saved the FS personnel several miles of hiking, including a hike back up Cadillac Hill. The FS wanted three people to evaluate the trail, two botanists and an archeologist.

I have to give credit to the one FS employee who rode down Cadillac Hill in the Unimog. She was a trooper and never complained. If you’re not familiar with Unimogs, there is little suspension movement and even less padding in the seats. Going down Morris Rock, the back tires came off the ground more than once. She hung in there and made the trip; although I think she might have walked up the Morris Rock section on the way out.

Once at the trailhead, the FS people got out and walked. One botanist walked on either side of the trail and the archeologist bounced back and forth. At one point we discovered a very old campsite well off the trail. This was a thirty year old site and there was some trash around. I started picking it up without a problem but when I picked up the top part of a 70’s bumper jack, the archeologist told me that was a possible historic artifact and I needed to put it back. Not wanting to upset the man and get on his bad side, I dropped the jack where I stood. I believe that it is still there today.

The FS personnel did find an issue on the first part of the trip. The popular campsite near the pool in the river included a permanent outhouse nestled in some trees. They said the outhouse had to go. It was going to be a requirement that the outhouse be removed if TKS-11 was to be included in the route inventory. The FS has this thing against outhouses on FS property. I can’t say I blame them, especially if it’s been in the same place for years.
As we were winding through the trees, we crossed a few small seasonal creeks. Although they were small, armored with some rock, only seasonal and didn’t seem to be eroding, the FS was going to recommend that they be hardened with more rock if the trail was accepted.

We hiked down the trail and got to the very extreme climbing section of boulders. The FS figured this was the end of the trail and I had to convince them that people did indeed drive up these boulders. We went on and I was able to show them evidence of vehicle travel above the boulders. Unfortunately, the archeologist also found some evidence of his own. His evidence was of arrowheads and of primitive campsites.

After a brief conversation, it was decided that the trail posed no botanical or archeological challenges as long as it ended at the base of the boulders. I say it was a conversation but it was really the FS people telling me how it was going to be. Either the trail ends at the 0.91 mile mark and could move forward in the process or if I pushed for the full length then there would be reasons to deny it on archeological evidence.

In my opinion, this was a reasonable place to end the trail. The number of rigs able to climb that boulder field safely and without damage to vehicles and/or the environment is very small. The outlet for Long Lake seasonally runs over those boulders, which makes it a slippery, dangerous climb. It would also be another seasonal creek that the FS would have to approve. Approving the trail to this point still allows access to the hiking route up to Long Lake. But be warned, it is a steep climb up to Long Lake.

So, the FS saw no reason to close the TKS-11. But the Route Designation process called for input from the users and those who would like to see all the OHV trails in the country shut down. There was quite a fight going on with this 0.91 mile long trail. The anti-motorized recreation folks wanted that canyon given a “Wild and Scenic River” designation. Read as “no vehicle traffic”. OHV users commented and in the end prevailed as the FS approved TKS-11 with some conditions.

Early this summer, maybe even by the time you’re reading this, the outhouse will be removed and the seasonal creeks will be hardened with rock by the Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo’s, who have adopted the trail, and Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR) volunteers to prevent possible erosion. This will satisfy the FS requirements for TKS-11 to officially become the Long Lake Trail.

Please schedule the time to check out the Long Lake Trail. It really is a hidden gem!

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