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.