Lake Tahoe and The Galen Rowell Scale


Michele and I went to her Squaw Valley Cabin over a long weekend. It was great to get into the mountains and it brought back all sorts of childhood memories for her. Playing in the creek behind the cabin, hiking up to Shirley Lake, swimming in Lake Tahoe. Listening to her talk about her adventures reminded me about an article in – I believe – Outdoor Photographer in the February 1991 issue. It was January 1991 and, if all had gone as planned, I wouldn’t have been reading that issue.

Michael McDonald and I had booked a trip to go to the Hoggar Mountains in Southern Algeria on the same date Bush the Elder scheduled the start of the First Gulf War. I was starting to get cold feet about going into a Muslim country just when we were starting to bomb another Muslim country, but Michael kept saying that the war was all a bluff and there wouldn’t be a problem. Then, the night before our trip started, Pan Am cancelled our flight to Algiers. We now had almost three weeks off from work with no place to go.  However, in a couple of days, we would have free tickets to almost anywhere else.  As an aside, I had to get a Visa in my passport to go to Algeria and I had been to Morocco so I had an entry stamp and an exit stamp but they looked the same if you couldn’t read Arabic. After 9-11, this became a constant problem especially trying to get through Heathrow. End aside.

The day after our trip didn’t start, I saw the article by Galen Rowell. It proposed a scale to measure how much is still left of what you are going to see, at the place you are going to see; in other words, how uncontaminated is the place. As I remember, Rowell used Waikiki and The Galapagos as the one to ten extreme examples. Galen Rowell was – sadly, he was killed in an airplane accident while flying into Bishop in August of 2002 – a nature and landscape photographer and he was traveling to mostly natural places to see nature and indigenous people. He rated Kathmandu a six on the scale because, among other things, it had become so popular that it even had a Howard Johnson. Guatemala rated an eight.

For  me Tahoe City rated about a two, but up a dirt road out of Tahoe City is a trail that leads to a lake that rates about an eight.





Driving through the empty backcountry above Tahoe and waiting in a car line, trying to get through Tahoe City, I realized that there was a huge flaw in the Galen Rowell system. Unlike, Rowell, most people come to Tahoe to see what is there now, shopping and dining with the natural beauty as a backdrop. That, I think is the draw of Tahoe, and the end of the day, even with all the people and all the traffic, it is an incredibly beautiful place.






2 thoughts on “Lake Tahoe and The Galen Rowell Scale

  1. Glad to see you rated the trail as an 8. It is amazing that there is this road between Tahoe City and Truckee that in the 50+ years I have been going up there I never knew about until I researched off road trails on And this trail had a “remoteness rating” of 0.

  2. I’ve ridden a mountain bike on dirt from Tahoe City to Truckee, several times…once you’re away from either city it’s a nice trail, 7-8 by my rating. Galen might have rated it at 5 or 6 because every now and then you might hear the sound of a distant car or an airplane overhead. We are lucky to have “uncontaminated” spaces left, but they are shrinking.

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