Oh, 2020. You seemed so nice when we first met. You were fun for two months, then you turned ugly. Real ugly. A plague and a recession and wildfires and an election and continuing drought. Yes sir, you threw quite a bit of hurt at us! Yes you did! But we survived. And The LovedOne remained photogenic while social distancing from others kept her within camera range.
Our last hike in the Lake Tahoe area illustrated why guidebooks (online or hard copy), even fairly recent ones, don’t always capture important details. The hike along General Creek from Sugar Pine Point State Park starts along an old road and later becomes a single-track seemingly favored by mountain bikers. We chose it because it started close to our rental cabin and went to two small lakes (Lost & Duck) that offered swimming possibilities. What the guidebook failed to mention is that there is no day-use parking near the trailhead. Walking to it added an unexpected 1.2 miles to the hike. And then there was the smoke. It was so thick during our short drive along Lake Tahoe to the park that we couldn’t see the shore across the lake. Visibility was down to probably a couple of miles. But how much worse could it get? Buoyed on a cloud of false optimism, we pressed on… 🙄
We were a bit rattled by all the people we encountered on the trail during our first hike at Lake Tahoe. So we we cast around for something a little (actually at lot) less popular and came up with Ellis Lake and Ellis Peak. The trailhead for these is only five miles by paved road from our cabin, so an early start wouldn’t require too much effort.
Wayne and Diane have been our best friends for decades (yes, we’re that old). Recently, we’ve tried to do an annual trip with them – like last year’s epic raft trip on the Green and Colorado Rivers. We had similar plans for this year which, for reasons now obvious to most people, couldn’t be realized. So, as they say, when life hands you lemons, mix another martini (or something like that). So, after some back and forth, we decided to rent a cabin at Lake Tahoe, California for a few days. This spot was chosen because we could each drive there directly, interacting only with gas pumps along the way. We’d remain self-contained in the cabin, venturing out only for some hikes. This way we’d accept the low risk of maybe giving each other the Big V but, if so, wouldn’t contribute to spreading it. And so it was. Considering the number of maskless and socially interacting people we saw crowding around the lake, our isolation seemed more about protecting ourselves from them rather than them from us. 🙄 Nonetheless, until the arrival of massive clouds of smoke from wildfires elsewhere in California, we did get to do three decent hikes.
For our last Fall color hike on this trip, we picked the Meeks Creek drainage near Lake Tahoe, California based on a suggestion in only one guidebook. Well, it didn’t have too much in the way of color but it was a nice hike on a good day to a pretty lake. Plus we logged an unexpected geocache on the way back! We stayed in South Lake Tahoe and were forcefully reminded (again) of what a traffic snarl it can be (particularly if they’re paving the road during rush hour).
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 volunteered to wait for me at the trailhead. Sigh. Because of the waiting, I promised to do this loop hike as fast as possible.
The Sierra Buttes (8,591 feet) are a striking geological feature in the Tahoe National Forest near the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. They are composed of highly erosion resistant quartz prophry that exploded from undersea volcanoes about 300 million years ago. We were attracted to them – as are many others – by the unique lookout on their high point, their presence on the Sierra Peak Section’s list (SPS List), and the fact that we hadn’t spent much time in this northern part of the Sierras. Later we would find that this lookout is billed as a major tourist attraction in just about every brochure covering this part of the Sierra Nevada. You can drive – probably not with a 2WD sedan – to within 0.5 miles of the lookout but we opted to hike up from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) trailhead off Forest Road 93-02 (you can also do a longer hike up by starting at Packer Lake). We got to the trailhead fairly early only to find several cars already there, dirt bikers roaring along the road, and a way station for a mountain bike race that was scheduled to start soon. We would also encounter a lot of people along the trail. Our bad for doing this hike on a weekend!
Granite Chief (9,006 feet) sits on the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness (details), just west of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. We chose to approach the peak via the Granite Chief Trail (USFS #15E23) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), with a little cross-country on a sandy use trail at the end. This peak was attractive both for the view from its summit and for the views that could be had along the Granite Chief Trail and the PCT. If there’s anything tricky about this hike, it’s finding the start of the trail.
Mount Rose, at 10,776 feet, is the highest peak in Nevada’s Tahoe Basin and the 3rd highest mountain in the Lake Tahoe Basin (Freel Peak at 10,881 feet is the highest and Jobs Sister, at 10,823 feet, is the second highest). The very well-used trail to the summit of Mount Rose is typically described as “…the most popular trail in the State of Nevada…” owing to the proximity of all the people in Reno and Lake Tahoe (and probably Sacramento and San Francisco too). This proximity seemingly results in the trailhead parking lot overflowing on summer weekends – which is impressive given that there is space for 50 cars! I figured my chances for a less crowded hike would be best early on a weekday so, after a short drive up from Reno, I left the trailhead at 0630 on a Wednesday, with only six cars ahead of me in the parking lot.