First off – this is awesome. Everything about this event and this day was Tahoe Love. I will acquiesce that I am incredibly biased with having this happen in my own backyard. SO, the first ever Adventure Van Expo, at Tahoe, on the west shore, at Homewood, made me proud. For those of you who are not Tahoe matriculated, Homewood is a place of magic. A small ski resort (in comparison to other Tahoe mega ski areas) Homewood first opened in 1961. Today it remains simple and true to its roots… for now. This is where deep local vibes spring from and it is beyond kind.
Darla has been talking about an adventure van (for herself) for several months now and what an opportunity to ease her into the culture. Very seldom does she join Bear, Finn, or I on the road with Gandalf and it’s encouraging to see her get excited about it.
So, we cruised as a clan. Music played, and libation poured before noon (in true Homewood fashion). BBQ smoked away on the deck. Darla asked a lot of questions, mostly around the build-out cost. I clicked off a lot of pics. Finny spent his time hugging every dog. Bear found his buddies and ran amok.
Before reaching the expo proper we’d found our friends and neighbors in the parking lot. There was a bit of stoke in the air. Having this event was a novelty. Certainly, a little energy surrounding it. The expo itself was gritty and organic. The vendors occupied roughly half of the space allotted between the lodge and Madden chairlift. A few Econolines and converted ambulance shared the space with an overwhelming field of sprinters. Hunter RMV made a showing as did Bushwakka trailers.
Within the ranks of Sprinters, there were many great space utilization ideas. Lots of stylistic variations of similar layouts. Adventure Wagon and Roambuilt had some of the most polished offerings. Vagabond Outdoor showcased some compact pickup slide-in/pop-up alternatives.
As we wandered around we took notes on several cool ideas. Slide out options were clearly very well thought out and intriguing. Roof racks designed as if there were no boundaries. Many modular bolt-ons and storage alternatives.
The most exciting element of the expo, and rightfully so, were some of the attendee vehicles with configurations born of experience and necessity. Some rough and weathered utilitarian construction, others buffed folkish craftsmanship, all cool.
My hope, my wish, for this event, is that it grows from just an expo to a rally that includes some sort of onsite camping. Being a ski resort there is ample infrastructure at the base area to support live local music, local food vendors, and local brewing from Alibi Ale Works and 50/50 Brewing. Maybe I forgot to mention that Homewood is literally across the street from the lake. Yes, my friends, that scenario would be straight-up bitchin.
One of the amazing attributes of the West Shore of Tahoe is the plentiful camping and backcountry access. There are 2 gigantic campgrounds at Sugar Pine and DL Bliss State Parks. There are several backcountry access points through Rubicon-McKinney and Blackwood Canyon and a number of trailheads into the Desolation Wilderness.
Bear and I were planning on spending the night on Barker Pass located at the top of Blackwood Canyon in a spot that we’d been scoping out over a period of years. The weather was expected to be clear, cold, and windy. Way too chilly for Darla and too risky this time of year to have a soothing campfire.
The climb up Blackwood is paved. The road turns to dirt once cresting the pass. As one follows the road to the south eventually you’ll link up with the Rubicon Trail. Our destination for the evening was at the end of the ridgeline to the west of Barker Pass. The site offers an excellent overlook of Tells, McConnell, and Silver Peak.
With plenty of daylight, we descended the west side of Ellis Peak to a quaint hollow that is home to Bear Lake. The track is not particularly appropriate for stock trucks and SUVs and for sure not accessible by cars. The lake itself is shallow, fishing challenging from the shoreline. A few dispersed campsites have been established around the lake. A definite for a future visit. Along the way, we crossed paths with a sow and her cub.
On the way back up to the ridgeline, we stopped at a granite outcropping to poke around a bit. As we were hopping from vein to vein bear apparently stepped on a yellow jacket nest. Within seconds they were all over his back and head and they were pissed. Bear has only been stung once and having dozens of angry fuckers all over sent him into a panic. As fast as I could knock them off they would be back on him, in his shirt, in his hair. Not sure how fast they were stinging while I raced bear back to the truck. I stripped his shirts off and made sure he was clear before throwing him into the cab of Gandalf. The outcome was a few stings on his neck and head. I got zapped a few times on the arms in the mayhem. As we rolled back to camp I kept a close eye. We weren’t deep into the backcountry, but far enough that we’d be in trouble if he ended up in anaphylactic shock from the stings.
Back in camp, we made ourselves comfortable for the night. A few of the other AVE attendees surveyed the ridge for the best camp. We opened our slice of nirvana to them, but understandably they wanted their private heaven. The wind was fading out as the sun fell and the temps dropped. The sky was its archetypal Tahoe Blue, absent of clouds. The sun transformed blood red as it marched towards the horizon and backlit the smoke from the wildfires to the west. We were fortunate that the prevailing wind kept the smoke away.
The thin veil of darkness descended upon the granite slopes. We watched the headlights of the vehicles on the Rubicon trail awaken as they made their easterly traverse until night wrapped the ridgeline and the travelers hunkered in.
Overnight we could tell that we were not alone. Before dark, we made a point to break down camp and lock up the rig. We hoped that momma and her cub would let us be, but prepared for them to check us out.
The pre-dawn hours of first light on the ridge were glorious, and that is an understatement. Brilliant canary and crimson burned into the indigo. We emerged from the cap and scouted the ridge line looking for the best vantage points to capture the first rays hitting the granite.
The first beams of the sun crossed the Sierra crest about 7am. Bear and I were in a position to capture the light as it descended and illuminated the granite. Many frames were shot. For reasons of incorrect equipment or simply an absence of skill we failed to capture the image that shared the moment or the location. Seems like a good reason to try again.
On our short drive home Bear and I made a point to stop at the Tahoe House bakery to pick up breakfast for the clan. It was a welcome surprise.
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