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It was one of those Graeagle afternoons where everywhere I looked, I thought I was in a theater set. The sunlight against the dark, foreboding skies set off the trees and mountainside like a purposefully lit scene. There was a quality to the light that caught my breath each time the clouds opened to let out a new slice of brilliance.

It is the enduring surprise of the Lost Sierra that every season, every day really, offers an opportunity and invitation to shift one’s perspective from the routine of daily life to the limitless possibility the natural world evokes. It’s like living with one foot firmly on the ground and the other in the air, always ready to step into the unknown.

People from outside the area often ask, what on earth do you DO up there in the mountains? I used to actually try to answer the question, but now I see it as similar to the axiom, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” If you have to ask, What do you do? you probably won’t understand the answer. Perhaps this blog is my ongoing attempt to answer that question.

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Some days, I just don’t feel up to taking on the elements. My sister was in town visiting and the wind was howling and the cloud cover was making a hike seem more like effort and less like joy so we decided to see nature through a completely different lens—through art.

We’re fortunate to have in Graeagle a truly inspiring art gallery aptly named, Red House Art Gallery. It’s housed in a little red house on the green in “downtown” Graeagle and is open year-round. The owners, Toni and Brian Carl, bring in many local artists’ work as well as art they discover on their travels. They have a keen eye for finding engaging art of the natural world, whether paintings, photography, jewelry, glass or ceramics.

On this particular day the sun periodically broke through the clouds adding spotlights of illumination to an already perfectly lighted gallery. What a rich and luscious visual experience it was! Every time I go into the gallery I am reminded how much I love experiencing the world through others’ perspective.

As winter approaches and the weather turns colder, don’t forget that you can have a wonderful experience of the great outdoors by visiting the Red House Art Gallery.  www.RedHouseArt.net

 

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Oct. 28 was a perfect fall afternoon for a pool party. Warm sun, clear skies and more than 300 guests celebrated the grandeur of Altitude, Nakoma’s new 12,500-square-foot, one-of-a-kind recreation center located in the heart of the resort.

Beer and wine flowed, along with a nearly endless stream of finger foods from Altitude’s bistro. While the kids challenged themselves on the climbing wall, adults toured Altitude taking in the fitness room, yoga loft, theater and Apex game room. The spacious pool deck was the perfect place to sample an array of culinary offerings and enjoy the late afternoon sun.

Altitude’s scale and aesthetic had the crowd buzzing, not to mention the extensive recreation options offered for all ages. The positive energy ran well into the evening, when many of our guests moved the celebration to Nakoma’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Clubhouse for dinner. 

Altitude offers year-round recreation for overnight guests at the Lodge at Nakoma and Nakoma community members, so plan a getaway to Nakoma and experience firsthand this wonderful new amenity.
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Having a mid-week day off is always lovely, but having one in the fall in the Lost Sierra is an extra special occurrence. It’s so gorgeous out that I decided to visit my favorite aspen grove which is just off the Frazier Falls road near the parking lot for Frazier Falls.

The trees circle a beautiful little meadow standing like sentinels until the wind blows, then they dance like they’ve just discovered bebop. Today the bright yellow leaves are all a-jiggle as I lie in the soft dry grass listening to the chatter of birds and chipmunks and the soft rustle of the dancing aspens. There’s only enough moisture in the upper air to form the slightest wisp of clouds in the otherwise bluebird sky. It’s a very fine fall day.

The Lost Sierra is known for its rugged beauty and outdoor recreation, but it’s also a haven for stillness and silence, a place to move at a different pace. I suspect that’s why so many who come to visit end up finding a way to stay. The quiet simply becomes addictive.


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3.75 miles for the full loop, beginner to moderate
Approximately 2.5 miles to the lake and back, which is a great beginner hike 

There are so many good reasons to hike Smith Lake! The photos below are from today’s hike, but it’s equally beautiful in the spring and full summer. Here are my top five reasons for loving this hike.
  1. Because of its full sun exposure at the start of the hike and its relatively low elevation (lake elevation is 6100’) this hike is one of the first to be accessible in the spring and one of the last to remain accessible once the snow starts to fall. The trailhead is also one of the lowest, making it a shorter drive to start the hike.
  2. The exposed rocky ridge on the northern rim (accessed via what was called the Jamison Connector trail, which is supposed to be renamed by the Forest Service to Smith Lake trail) offer views for miles and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world without a strenuous hike (highest elevation is 6300’).
  3. It’s a great loop hike, which is my favorite kind, enjoyable in either direction. Counter-clockwise, you get your climb in at the beginning and finish in the cool shade of the south side. Clockwise, you get the magic of the forest, crossing the creek on a log and the cool shade at the beginning and then end with the fabulous vistas from the northern rim followed by a long downhill.
  4. I’m not sure why the color of Smith Lake is so unusual, but it has a blue-green color that is different from all the other lakes in the area. Some days (or some times of day, I can’t figure out which) the color is nearly emerald from the ridge overlooking the lake. I just love the color of this lake!
  5. You can get a good workout if you go at the uphills with gusto but it can also be a leisurely hike when you’re in the mood to simply commune with nature. When time is short and I want to bust out some quick exercise, I blast up the face, then take the switchbacks to the rim full steam. But sometimes I just want to drink in all the views and the hike is more of a meander. I love the flexibility of the hike!
Note: The trail on the back (west) end of the lake is not maintained. A few of us locals go out periodically with clippers to keep the Manzanita back, but the trail itself is fairly steep with loose rock and not in the same good shape as other trails in Lakes Basin. Also, despite our efforts this year, the south side is massively overgrown due to the plentiful water and warm summer. Hopefully we’ll get back up there before the snow falls to clear some of the brush back.

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I worked late today and didn’t have time for a proper hike, so I took my dog to the Mill Pond in Graeagle for a few laps.

It was one of those simply stunning mountain evenings with the setting sun casting its soft yellow glow and the clouds playing their dramatic role with flourish. Even the berries seemed brighter and more photogenic than usual.

After 11 years I still feel awe and gratitude that I get to live in such a mountain paradise. Tonight’s peaceful walk was yet one more reminder of how special a place this is.

 

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We in the Lost Sierra know that the Historic Longboard Revival Race Series provides some of the greatest family-friendly winter entertainment available. But as of today the event is no longer our little secret.

The cover of the September 21st issue of Powder Magazine features a photo of the women winners of the World Championship Longboard Revival Series Race held in March, 2017 at the Johnsville Ski Bowl and the issue contains a great article about the event.

Written by David Page with photography from David Reddick, the 8-page article covers last March’s World Championship race and much of the history and lore behind the races. It’s a great read with terrific photography including some historic photos you may not have seen before. Grab a copy from the newsstands or subscribe HERE.

The 2018 Historic Longboard Revival Race Series will be held the third Sunday in January, February and March of 2018. Learn more about this crazy backwoods fun at Plumas Ski Club’s website.



Left: 2nd place Sarah Johnstone
Middle: 1st place Jessica Nelson
Right: 3rd place Austyn Harrington

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One of the great end of summer treats in the Lost Sierra is Thimbleberries. They are delicious! Sweet with just the right amount of tart, almost imperceptible  seeds, and they grow in patches all over Lakes Basin in the cool, shady, forest understory.

Last week’s electrical storms in the Basin delayed my annual berry-picking, but today I thought I’d check a couple of patches that lie just off the trail from the Lakes Basin campground toward Long Lake. Typically, the ripening season is just after Labor Day so I knew I was a little late, but I had my fingers crossed that I might get lucky since everything bloomed late this year.

Thimbleberries are a member of the Rubus family (think blackberries, raspberries, etc.) and like raspberries they have no thorns so they’re fun to pick and eat. They grow low to the ground and are easily identified by their large, palm-shaped leaves.

The lower elevation patches had passed their prime and I found very few berries, but I headed to higher elevation to test my luck. Fortunately, I found a big patch with many berries still left on the vine. Some of the bright red berries were dried out, but I managed to find enough juicy berries to sate my seasonal appetite.

An added bonus was the discovery of late season wildflowers!

Be sure to add the search for Thimbleberries to next summer’s list of Lost Sierra adventures. It’s a great outing for the whole family.

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Fortified by a beautiful blue sky and bloody Marys, players in the Nakoma Education Fund Golf Tournament raised more more than $11,000 for Portola Jr.-Sr. High School on Sept. 13.

Forty golfers took on each other and the Dragon golf course to have fun and raise money for Portola Jr.-Sr. High’s tech program needs. The $11,130 raised is the highest amount so far in the history of the NEF tournament, eclipsing last year’s total by more than $3,300.

“I was thrilled when I saw the NEF check in my office,” said school Principal Sara Sheridan. “Our school community is so grateful for the amazing generosity and support of Nakoma.”

Funds from the 2017 tournament will go directly toward technology at Portola Jr.-Sr. High, as the school needs more laptops and upgrades in classroom instructional technology.

Nakoma’s 2016 NEF golf tournament raised $7,784, with the proceeds going to C. Roy Carmichael Elementary School’s computer lab.

That private-sector funding is important for small, rural schools because it allows administrators to provide unique opportunities for students.

Sheridan said that in the past Portola High has used donated funds to send students on college visits, build computer labs and purchase innovative technology such as 3D printers and Mind Storm Robots.

Kate Rowden, Nakoma’s membership and group coordinator and Portola High graduate, said that addition to entry fees, Nakoma raised money through donated raffle and silent auction items. Those items were supplied by local individuals and businesses who recognize the importance of supporting education in Eastern Plumas County.

“We intend to grow the Nakoma Education Fund tournament in coming years and in so doing increase the amount we can give back to our students and their teachers.”

Nakoma Resort staff thanks all the sponsors of the 2017 NEF tournament and the participating golfers who came out to play for such a worthwhile cause. We will be announcing the September 2018 NEF tournament date as well as new fundraising initiatives early in the new year.

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It started off benignly enough. I was running some errands in Portola and saw the first fluffballs over Beckworth Peak. Hmmm, I thought to myself. Best to get the swim in early today because it looks like thunderclouds are forming.

It’s what I call “Thunder Bumper” season in the Lost Sierra. After a very hot, dry summer we’re lucky to be having late afternoon thunder showers roll through, drenching the area in much needed rain. The lightening that accompanies it can be dangerous, but so far the lightning-induced fires have been minimal and have been extinguished right away.


I rallied my die-hard swimming friends and we headed to Gold Lake to sneak a swim in before the storm clouds built up too much intensity. Definitely not one of the smarter decisions… “die-hard” was close to being an apt descriptor!

We headed up to the southern shore of the lake past the campground to a little cove we like. I had seen the thunderheads building to the southeast, but prevailing winds tend to be southwesterly so I thought we’d be okay.

The water temperature is still very pleasant so we decided to swim out to one of the small islands. As we neared the island a few hundred yards from shore, I felt something cold pelting my back. I thought one of my friends must be playing a trick, but when I looked up, I saw a huge dark cloud overhead and hail pounding the water around me. We quickly swam back to shore and hunkered in the trees as we toweled off. The air temperature had dropped significantly and we heard the low rumble of thunder as we clamored through the hail storm back to our cars. The hail pelted us all the way down Gold Lake highway, and the storm ultimately produced quite a bit of lightening and rain. Looking back at it from the Mohawk Valley, I knew we were lucky to have dodged a bullet!



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It was a cool, somewhat breezy afternoon at Nakoma when my friend asked if I wanted to go kayaking after work. She suggested Sardine Lake because it’s the most protected, so we headed up Gold Lake Highway to see if we could find relatively calm water.

We stopped to check Gold Lake because it’s on the way, but it’s usually windy there by 10am, so I couldn’t imagine it would be calm at 6pm. But it’s the largest lake in Lakes Basin and my favorite for kayaking, so it was worth a quick look.

And surprise, surprise, there was barely a riffle on the lake! The cloud cover was likely the reason for the calm air and it gave a little shade from the intensity of the sun. We quickly plopped the boats in the water and headed for the far shore.

There wasn’t another soul in sight. We paddled to the far end where there’s a little cove I like with large granite boulders, perfect for stretching out in the sun and diving from to cool off, both of which I did. Heaven.

On the way back a slight breeze developed, but it was a westerly, so it gently blew us back to the beach. Another perfect evening in the Lost Sierra.

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Approx. 5 miles round trip, moderate to strenuous. 

Mt. Elwell is the second highest peak in the area, topping out at 7,818 ft. It can be a strenuous hike but the views from the top make it so worthwhile. I usually prefer this hike in the fall when it’s cooler, but the temps in the Lost Sierra have dropped this week and I felt like flexing my muscles, so off we went to the Smith Lake trailhead just 15 minutes from Nakoma.

There are a couple of ways to access the peak, but today I chose to go up and back on the cooler north side which has more shade plus two ponds and a small lake near the top for my black dog to cool off.

Starting at the Smith Lake trailhead, accessed off the Gray Eagle Lodge road, the trail is in full sun for the first 1/2 mile or so. After you cross the rather oversized bridge, stay to the left toward Smith Lake and about a 1/4 mile on, go left where the sign indicates the turn for Mt. Elwell. You’ll immediately cross Smith Creek again, this time with no bridge. (If you want to see Smith Lake, go 1/4 mile past the turn to Mt. Elwell and you’ll encounter the beautiful green-blue water of Smith Lake.)

The forest of moss-covered firs you encounter shortly after crossing Smith Creek is one of my favorite places in Lakes Basin. There’s just something about that section of forest that feels enchanted to me. Every time I hike through I expect to see elves and fairies peeking out from behind the trees.

The trail gets a little steeper near the top, and even in mid-August we encountered a large patch of snow that obscured the trail. Past the patch of snow we arrived at the saddle which runs between two rocky uprisings. The one to the west is the actual peak. If you have no fear of heights and don’t mind a rocky scramble, I highly recommend ascending the peak. It provides great views down the Little Jamison Creek basin on one side and views of Long, Silver and Round lakes on the other side.

We weren’t fortunate enough to see Mt. Lassen on this particular day, but that’s another reward for ascending the peak on clear days.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch, then headed back down the way we came. The entire hike with lunch took about 4 hours. This hike is best attempted in the morning so you’re off the peak long before any afternoon thunder storms roll through.

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Easy hike, approximately 2.5 miles. 

It’s been a warmer than usual summer in the Lost Sierra so I decided to take my hike before work this morning while it was cool. With just 2 hours available, my friend Patty and I chose one of the many Long Lake loops from the Lakes Basin trailhead, which is about 20 minutes from Nakoma.

Our route was: Bear Lakes Loop, starting toward Long Lake. Take the right fork toward Long Lake, then the next right fork to the connector trail to the dam, across the dam and down to the Lakes Basin campground, through the campground, back to the trailhead.

Almost immediately we began to encounter wildflowers galore! Prime time for wildflowers is typically mid- to late-June but the entire area was still buried in snow at that time. I’d been afraid that the snow would negatively affect this year’s bloom, but it was the exact opposite. Apparently all the late moisture had a positive effect because we were dazzled by bright spots of color from the beginning to the end of the hike.

At the beginning, it was Tiger Lilies, Indian Paintbrush and Columbines in the shade along the creek. As we rose in elevation and got into more sunshine, we saw what I think is Bitter Dogbane, Mountain Spirea, Fireweed, Corn Lily, more Tiger Lilies and something in the Daisy family.

As we descended, I was feeling completely satisfied by the hike and the diversity of flowers we’d seen, but there was yet another bountiful surprise awaiting us.

When we made the cut from the campground onto the little dirt path that leads back to the trailhead road we encountered what can only be described as a magical wildflower wonderland. Lilies, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemon, Daisies, Fireweed, Checker Mallow, Columbine and so many more varieties lined the trail and extended back into the dense forest as far as we could see. It was truly an explosion of color that my photos cannot fully capture.

If you’re in the area in the next week or two and enjoy the beauty of wildflowers, be sure to add this hike to your list of “must sees.

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One of the most satisfying aspects of living in a small community is knowing that you can make a positive impact by supporting local non-profit organizations. We are lucky in the Lost Sierra that so many people give their time and energy to a multitude of non-profits which take on important missions such as preserving the area’s cultural and historical legacy, expanding recreation opportunities, providing services to the community and so much more. The fundraising events are usually creative, fun and unifying for the community.

Today I got to experience a brand new collaboration between local brewery The Brewing Lair and High Sierra Animal Rescue (HSAR), a no-kill shelter committed to saving homeless pets and advancing pet welfare.

The Brewing Lair is a home grown brewery with some outrageously good beer set in a little corner of the forest, just perfect enjoying a cold brew or round of disc golf. It’s a lovely spot for an afternoon picnic on any day, but today there were great raffle prizes to support HSAR plus delicious food from the Red Truck out of Truckee and live music from local band Prescribed Burn to add to the ambience. The Brewing Lair generously donated $2 from every beer purchased to HSAR.

What could be better than an afternoon spent hanging out with friends in a beautiful outdoor setting enjoying a delicious brew or two listening to a great local band while raising money for an extremely worthwhile cause? It doesn’t get much better than this in my book.

If you don’t know about this fine organization, High Sierra Animal Rescue is a no-kill shelter in the Lost Sierra that also offers dog boarding, so if you’re in the area and need to leave Fido for a night, now you know where to go.

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