Mount Elwell (Sierra Nevada) 07-Aug-2016

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Mount Elwell (7,818 feet) overlooks Long Lake in the heart of the Lakes Basin Recreation Area in the Tahoe National Forest north of Lake Tahoe.  We were attracted to this peak because it provided a reason to visit the Lakes Basin and because of its presence on the Sierra Peak Section’s list (SPS List) – note that we’re not “finishing the list”, only using it for hike ideas.  Though it’s an easy hike to the summit, arriving there provides an exceptional view of the Lakes Basin below it, as well as of the Sierra Buttes, Weber Peak, and Sardine Peak to the south and southeast; Mount Lassen can also been seen to the northwest on a clear day (which wasn’t true this day due to forest fire smoke haze). We got to the Lakes Basin trailhead near Elwell Lodge early enough to find only a few cars already in the small parking lot. Unfortunately, the LovedOne discovered a hike-ending equipment shortfall soon after our arrival, but then generously voluntered to wait for me at the trailhead.  Sigh.  Because of the waiting, I promised to do this loop hike as fast as possible.

The hike started on the rocky Bear Lake Loop Trail (USFS 12E30) through the forest,

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

The trail just past the trailhead

but very soon I was looking out over the clear, blue waters of Long Lake,

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Long Lake

with Mount Elwell seemingly just right there across the lake.

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Mount Elwell above Long Lake

From here, the Long Lake Tie Trail (USFS 12E26A) goes north over a small dam to connect with Long Lake Trail (USFS 12E26) coming up from Gray Eagle Lodge and heading toward Mount Elwell. There were additional good views of Long Lake from this tie trail,

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Long Lake from the tie trail

but for some reason I thought the dam at the north end of Long Lake would be a grander structure than just eight or so feet of rock-filled concrete.

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

The dam “holding back” Long Lake

I went southwest on the Long Lake trail for a gradual but steady climb up to a saddle south of the summit.

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Approaching the saddle

There are two junctions with signs near the saddle: first a trail to Mud Lake and then, a little higher up, a trail to the PCT. I went to the upper junction and took the Elwell Peak Trail (USFS 12E25) through the forest,

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

A forested stretch of the Elwell Peak Trail

to the summit of Elwell. From there, I had a view down to Rock and Jamison Lakes,

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Rock and Jamison Lakes from the summit

and south to the Sierra Buttes – one of the easiest summits to recognize from a distance!

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

The Sierra Buttes from the summit

There used to be a fire lookout on Mount Elwell – it was built in 1911 but abandoned in 1934. But back in the day it looks to have been a popular destination for hikers.

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Hikers at the Mount Elwell lookout in the 1920s

Today all you can find are bits and pieces of the old lookout scattered on ledges just below the summit.

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Remains of the old lookout just below the summit

Cognizant of the  WAITING that was going on back at the trailhead, I spent minimal time on the summit and then pushed off for the return trip via Mud Lake.  There are two trails around Mud Lake – the Mud Lake Trail (USFS 11E14) and the Silver Lake Trail (USFS 12E31) and I hoped to follow the 12E31 to save time by not having to climb back up from Mud Lake.  But the two poorly signed junctions near the saddle threw me off and I ended-up on the 11E14 for a tour down to and around Mud Lake.

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Mud Lake

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

The meadows at Mud Lake, with Mount Elwell in the distance

The climb up from Mud Lake on the 11E14 took me past Hellgramite Lake,

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Hellgramite Lake

to a junction with the 12E31, which I then took back to the 12E30, and then followed that trail past Long Lake,

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Long Lake, with Mount Elwell in the distance

and on down to the trailhead. I’d seen three people in the morning between Long Lake and the summit, but ran into many more between Silver Lake and the trailhead on the way back. It’s not that big a trailhead and it was overflowing with cars when I got there. This is another trailhead perhaps best visited on a weekday if at all possible.  I ended-up doing this 6.8 mile, 1,500 foot elevation gain loop in a lttle under three hours as a fast walk (no running). The LovedOne was glad to abandon waiting and escape the parking craziness that was consuming the trailhead!

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

The track of my loop around Long Lake and to Mount Elwell

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