After spending the previous few days north of Tahoe, we decided it would be best to stick around the lake today. However, most of the peaks around the lake still have a fair amount of snow which had closed many of the access roads. We had already done all the East side OGULs, so we had to get a little creative with the West side stuff.
Ellis peak is an OGUL and P1k typically accessed from Blackwood Canyon to the northwest. Despite almost being free of snow, the entire road is gated forcing us to choose another route. I had planned out a possible snowshoe day for Ellis Peak back in the winter that never came to fruition, but because of it, I knew there might be access from the south of Ellis peak at the Rubicon Trail.
The Rubicon Trail is a world-famous off-road trail made for rock crawlers with 40-inch wheels driven by grizzled middle-aged men who drink too much beer. It runs from Tahoma along the shore of Lake Tahoe to Loon Lake, an isolated lake in the stark granite landscape. While we had no intention of driving it, the staging area (which has paved road access) provided a good way to get close to the snow-free south side of Ellis Peak. We had no beta on the route, but it looked doable.
We drove down the paved road to the Rubicon Trail staging area where we saw hordes of decked out jeeps and trailers carrying ATVs. For fun, we decided to drive a few hundred feet down the Rubicon Trail to say that we had driven on it. We only got a couple hundred yards before we were confronted with a steep section filled with boulders. We turned around, drove back, found a parking spot, and started hiking. We certainly didn’t fit in, but we soon turned off onto the much less traveled Buck Lake trail.
It was a little crazy to imagine that people actually drive this road, but given the size of the wheels on some jeeps in the parking lot, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We continued up the road with snow covering some sections, but it had been recently driven, so there were always tracks.
The higher we got, the worse the road got and we were continually impressed at how a car could get up it.
Eventually, we got views of Buck Lake proper and towards the Desolation Wilderness.
Higher up, the road started to have considerable snow cover, so we just cut uphill towards the summit. The snow was hard-packed and there wasn’t much post-holing thankfully.
Around 2 hours and 4 miles after starting, we topped out on Ellis Peak. There were spectacular views of the surrounding Lake Tahoe region and the high peaks. We could see the snow-free south face of Twin Peaks and lamented that Black Canyon Road was still closed.
We took a short rest up top then headed back down, again marveling at the road.
I would only recommend this route if there isn’t too much snow, but Blackwood Canyon Road is still closed. It’s a good early season route, but I think the standard trail is much prettier.
I’ve been stuck inside doing online school for the past 2 months and have been going slightly crazy. Staring at a Zoom meeting all day then doing my homework on my school-issued iPad was pretty tough, not only on my overall psyche but my eyes too. Thankfully, I took my last AP test this past week and finished up school on yesterday, so now was the time to head out to the mountains. Our original plan was to head out to Arc Dome and some Great Basin peaks, but a late season snow storm postponed those plans. Instead, we decided to head up to our cabin in Truckee for a few days to let the snow in Nevada melt, and in the meantime, we could climb some OGULs.
We got into Truckee late Friday night, so we took a lazy morning on Saturday before heading out around midday. We drove north through the large Sierra Valley and then north on CA-284 to Frenchman Lake.
We drove across the dam and headed up through a maze of dirt roads to the trailhead for Adams Peak.
We followed Dean Gaudet’s driving track from peakbagger and found the roads to generally be in good shape. I would say they were passable in a high clearance 2WD, but 4WD was nice.
After parking, we headed out around 2 pm and promptly got lost. The Forest Service map had a road heading out from where we parked, so we headed out on the old road that we thought was behind our car. Soon enough, we realize we were off course and corrected our error with just a smidgen of bushwhacking.
The correct road was quite overgrown and obviously hadn’t been driven in several years, but it was easy for hiking. We soon broke through into a bright green, lush meadow.
It had been about a month since we last hiked and several more since we had done something beyond Bay Area peaks, so it was quite a shock to be in a lush, high sierra meadow. After we crossed this meadow, we met up with a road. I had assumed that it would be a crazy ATV track, but it looked totally driveable and had tire tracks on it that looked like a normal car. Maybe some future peakbagger can investigate how to get here.
We followed this road a bit before we did some cross country sidehilling to meet up with another road that would take us high up the mountain. This one was much rougher, but again it was fine for hiking. We’re both out of shape, so we trudged up at a relatively slow, but steady pace. Before long, we reached the summit area.
Adams has two peaks that are almost the same height, and it has been debated for decades about which one is higher. LoJ says the East summit is two feet, but some people are adamant that its the West summit. Regardless, we decided to climb both, so we didn’t have to worry about any debate.
We chose to head up to the West summit first, but instead of checking earlier trip reports, we just bushwhacked up the face. I scouted ahead of Scott, had to crawl a few times, ripped my pants, and got cut up, but I got to the top in a pretty direct route.
After spending the last two months inside staring at Zoom calls, this was quite a welcome change of scenery. It had felt like I was a spectator to my own life and time had warped into one. It was almost like my life had turned into a swimming pool of honey, and I was spending all my energy trying to swim through, but only getting a few feet. Once I made it up to the top, the pool immediately turned to water again, and I was able to effortlessly glide through; I can tell it’s going to be a good summer 🙂
The register and benchmark were on this summit, but we still wanted to get to the other summit. We had a hell of time bushwacking down to the saddle and found ourselves crawling a few times, but it was all very short.
Once at the saddle, we traversed around to the north side of the peak and found an easy route to the top without any bushwhacking. The views from here were mostly similar, but there were also nice views of some Nevada Peaks (Limbo, Purgatory, Tohakum) that we had climbed last year.
We ate our lunch on top, then headed back down to our car. What had taken 2 hours to go up took only 40 minutes to descend.
Since we had time (well, not really but we didn’t mind staying out in the dark), we headed over to try our hand at Crystal Peak, a P300 with no beta. We drove back around the mountain and then headed up the other side.
Once we turned onto a spur to get to the peak however, the road soon degraded into a pretty serious 4WD endeavor. Scott expertly navigated it, but the car still slipped a few times. This is definitely high clearance 4WD only territory. Eventually, we came to an intersection where the road went from tough, but passable, to not passable without damaging our car. Since we were less than a half-mile from the peak, we parked here and made the easy walk to the top.
We chose to head cross-country rather than follow the road which turned out to be a good decision. There was some minor bushwhacking, but we topped out soon enough.
The views were about the same as on Adam’s but the top was interesting. It was a 30-foot high quartz mound that earned the moniker Crystal Peak well.
It was getting late in the day, but we still had one more summit to go. We dropped back down to Frenchman Lake, then went around the other side of the lake to the turnoff for the Dixie Mountain lookout. The sun was dropping over the hills, so we had to hurry up if we wanted to catch the sunset from the top. It was a bumpy ride to the top, but not too bad. There was a little bit of snow, but people had driven through previously and there were nice slots for our wheels to go.
On another note, we made a mistake in the podcast we listened to. I had downloaded some true crime podcasts and for some reason, I thought it would be fun to listen to “MISSING: The Yuba County Five.” I won’t explain the story in depth (there’s lots of info online), but essentially 5 boys who were supposed to be at a college basketball game drove high up into the snowy Sierra Nevada, walked twenty miles in a blizzard to a cabin, and perished sometime later. The story is rife with spookiness from them starving to death in a cabin that was stocked with food to a midnight spotting of the boys with a random woman deep in the mountains. Nobody knows what they were doing up there, and foul play is suspected, but it was a little comical/creepy listening to the podcast. The hosts kept mentioning how they were on a remote, unmaintained, and snowy road deep in the Plumas National Forest. We soon realized that we were on the same kind of road in the Plumas National Forest. Of course, the incident happened closer to the Central Valley, but it was still a little unnerving to listen to the podcast.
Anyhoo, we parked at the top of the road and made the short walk to the lookout. There was a bit of snow on the trail which it slightly sketchy, but we managed just fine.
Nobody was staffing the lookout, but the deck was still open so we admired the sunset from there. This was a slightly new area of California for us, so we had fun admiring the 360 degree views.
We headed back down and drove on back to Truckee. A good day…