Maureen Welsh of Ceres isn't a glutton for punishment. She enjoyed her recent 15-day hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 172-mile circle around the famous lake, so much that she headed up to do Mt. Whitney last weekend.
"Are you crazy?" people often ask the Valley flatlander after hearing of her long hiking expeditions in the high country. No, she replies, she just loves hiking.
"I just love the outdoors and it's a challenge," she said. "I guess it's the athlete in me. I've climbed Half Dome 15 times and climbed Shasta - which is more technical - three times, and Mount Whitney four times."
She reports that the eastern side of Tahoe offers "the most spectacular views."
"Unless you get down to a valley, you almost have a view of the lake the whole time while you're hiking."
From Relay Peak Maureen could see Tahoe, Donner Lake, I-80, Washoe Valley, Carson City and Mount Lassen to the north.
The trek around Tahoe was not without its problems when it started Aug. 13 with a group organized by the Tahoe Rim Association. Even though Maureen is in good shape, she battled soreness, cramps, rubbing spots on her feet, meat bees and the desire to quit but 15 days later she finished the trail.
She managed to carry everything in an ultralight pack.
"I'm proud to say my pack, without water and food, weighs about 20 pounds. With water and food for three days I was at 29 to 30 pounds."
Welsh filtered water out of streams and ponds but relied on bottles of water provided by "trail angels" in the dry regions.
"I came away pretty unscathed on this trip," said the 5-foot-1, 115-pound Welsh. "Just a couple of ‘hot spots' and sore knees for a couple of days after Relay Peak but I virtually had no muscle soreness, or any broken bones or any sprained ankles which is very common going over granite and uneven surfaces."
"Only eight of us completed the hike," said Welsh. "Four went out for various reasons."
In the first hours on the first day, Maureen's calves began to badly cramp up, causing her to stop "what seemed like every 30 to 50 feet and having to uncramp.
"I was like, ‘My God, I'm gonna have to quit today, there's no way I can do 172 miles and I'm cramping like this." When she removed her new insoles she hiked the final two miles that day without a cramp.
One male hiker dropped out the first day because of altitude sickness. Another man dropped out on the sixth day due to dehydration for lack of enough water in-take. One female hiker in her 60's decided 100 miles were enough and quit. The fourth, a younger woman, started limping because of a stress fracture in her foot. The fracture occurred as the hikers navigated over an area of jagged broken-up granite rock in the Desolation and Granite Chief Wilderness areas near Squaw Valley.
"She ended up meeting up at the finish line because we all became really good friends," said Maureen.
Even the elements were kind to Welsh's hiking party. Daytime temperatures were in the upper 70s and one day of lightning and thunder storms didn't affect the party. The lowest temperatures were in the 30s at Tahoe Meadows. A 25-degree rated sleeping bag plus a silk mummy liner added an extra 10 degrees of protection at night.
Husband Mike Welsh, who has encouraged Maureen in her hiking expeditions, was there at the end of the trail to celebrate with her when she finished on Saturday, Aug. 27.
"It was quite a deal, they had a big ceremony and gave them shirts and stickers and certificates," said Mike Welsh, who is a member of the Ceres School Board.
She also received lots of encouragement and advice from 68-year-old trail guide Ellen Goldsmith who was one of the first to complete the trail and has done it every year since 2001.
The Tahoe Rim Trail follows the ridge of mountains encircling Tahoe with 50 miles shared with the Pacific Crest Trail. It affords the hiker spectacular views of the lake from rocky ledge and dirt trail.
"We start at lake level, which is like, I believe, like 6200 and the highest point is Relay Peak at 10,335 feet. The highest mountain in basin is Freel Peak (10,886 feet above s
ea level) but the trail skirts it.
Welsh has been invited to become a volunteer guide with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.
Welsh said she's able to take time big chunks of time off work as a dental hygienist because Dr. Grant Rickey understands the importance of what she does. She's been with the office since 1993. The doctor piqued her interest in hiking as he "used to be an avid hiker and he was telling me his cousin was doing the Pacific Crest trail and I've never heard of anyone doing that. That was back in maybe 1988."
Her first hike occurred in the Bahamas during a 1989 cruise with Mike.
"I had told him instead of doing the usual shopping when you get off the cruise ship I wanted to do an excursion and we set up a hike. We ended up taking like a two- to three-mile hike off the cruise ship to a waterfall in the Bahamas. That was the start of my love for hiking."
She graduated to some Sierra Club "outings" - code word for weekend hikes , such as the 8,100-foot-high saddles near the Dardanelles. She loved it. "We ended up getting rain and hail and snow on that day and I still loved it."
Maureen then formed her own hiking group which takes on a hike once per month to stay conditioned.
While hiking is not for everybody, it came easy for Welsh who was a gymnast at Modesto High School before graduating in 1982.
"I've always been kind of active throughout my life. My dad was a Boy Scout leader and we often got to go on outings. Three of my brothers were in his group."
She met Mike in 1984 and they married in 1988, the year she came to Ceres.
"Mike doesn't do it anymore. He's all about golfing."
Welsh shows no signs of losing interest in hiking. But she does tire of specific climbs. She was "done" with Mount Whitney until her son-in-law coaxed her into another hike, which occurred last weekend. It was Maureen's fourth ascent up the 14,505-foot-high peak - the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states. Accompanying her was her youngest son, Calaveras firefighter Adam Welsh, step-daughter Kim Winckler and her husband Brian Winckler.
"I usually get talked into it by someone."
Maureen and a friend are planning a 2017 or 2018 attempt to do the John Muir Trail from Yosemite National Park to Mount Whitney. The two will have to take three to four weeks off work to do the 213-mile hike.
She wants no regrets at the end of her life.
"My Mom passed away a few years ago and there were a few things that she never got to do. And I thought, you know, I don't want to be that person. I wanted to start a bucket list and the number one thing on my list was to do a ‘through' hike to see if I could actually do it. After researching a few of them I decided I'm going to start with Tahoe Rim Trail and Mike really encouraged me. Earlier this year on my birthday he said, ‘I think you ought to do it.' "