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I had intended to spend the day climbing a few CA P1Ks located between Sierra Valley and US395, including Mt. Ina Coolbrith, Haskell Peak, and another unnamed summit. My efforts went for naught as I struggled to find a way to approach them. The summits themselves are on USFS and BLM lands, but they are surrounded by several miles of private ranches. The eastern approach looked best, but a gate along US395 is closed until after June 30th. I drove around to the east side but found nothing helpful there either. I decided on a plan B. Since I was already in Sierra Valley, I drove south on Smithneck road, a long, but maintained dirt road that leads south to Stampede Reservoir. Along the way it goes over the Sierra Crest separating the Feather and Truckee River drainages. Just north of the crest is Pat's Meadow, a private inholding within the Tahoe National Forest. A fork here heads east and up to Babbit Peak, a P2K I had visited years earlier. To the west lay Sardine Peak, a P1K and the morning's goal.
It was 7:30a when I started out on the road through Pats Meadow. At the west end, past the last home, I went over an old fence and along some unused portions of the old road that are now home to piles of slash and forest duff that appears to be the result of a fire-prevention effort in the area. I found the better road a short distance past this, following it up through aspen forests that thrive along the creek in Trosi Canyon. About an hour in I turned right off the road and proceeded cross-country up the south slopes leading to Land Peak (what kind of a name is that anyway? - sort of like "Ocean Bay" or "Rocky Pinnacle"). 20min later I was atop the rounded summit which had some views despite being mostly surrounded by forest. One can see north into Sierra Valley and west to Sierra Buttes, though the latter was just visible above an intervening ridgeline.
About a mile southwest and 500ft lower is Sardine Point, a smallish, somewhat pointy summit. It took about 30min to travel from one summit to the other, passing through a dry meadow at the saddle between them. An old fenceline runs up and over Sardine Point. The views from the summit were non-plus, not even a good view looking back to Land Peak. On the other hand, it wasn't much out of my way and a few minutes travel downhill to the south got me to the saddle with Sardine Peak and a junction of Forest Service roads. I followed one of these towards the summit about a mile to the southeast. The area has seen heavy logging in the past, almost all of the trees second or third generation. There are plenty of old roads criss-crossing the slopes that one can run across while traveling cross-country, no longer shown on topo maps but still useable for hiking. Not far below the summit I left the road to follow a more direct route up Sardine's north slopes, coming across an old trail no longer maintained. I found that it led to the summit, passing by an old toilet pit and then up to the lookout, crossing the main road along the way.
The summit lookout tower has been recently painted and is in the process of being refurbished. The insides are filled with new appliances and a wood stove still in shipping wrap, to be used to give it the rustic look of the 1950s or 1960s. There is a picnic table and a new restroom on the south side where the tower has fantastic views for 180 degrees, sweeping from Mt. Rose in the southeast to Castle Peak and Mt. Lola to the west. In heading back down, I chose to forgo the more circuitous side roads in favor of a direct route down to the main road in Trosi Canyon. Despite some sections of heavy aspens which can often be near-impenetrable thickets, these aspens were more humanely-spaced and a cinch to get through. Back on the road, I followed it down to Pats Meadow and the car where I arrived shortly before 11a.
Mt. Watson Road traverses below the crest of the main ridge leading to Mt. Pluto through an area of heavy forest with only infrequent, fleeting views of Lake Tahoe. Most of it is a non-scenic plod along the paved road without the slightest hint of snow or other reason to justify it being closed (in fact there is some snow closer to Mt. Watson on various side roads and the USFS probably has good reasons to leave it closed, but I was just wishing that I didn't have to hike this portion). After about an hour and a quarter I was on the SE flank of Mt. Pluto and could finally leave the road for the more interesting climb up through the forest. It was not a wilderness climb at all - there are power poles that one comes upon in clearings, old logging roads and backside access roads used by the ski area personnel. In half an hour I reached the summit where I found - a ski resort. Several chairs top out at the summit, there is a spacious mountain lodge, facilities for maintenance and ski patrol, a huge trail map, a tall communications tower and a great view looking north to Martis Valley and the Truckee area. There was more than snow than I had expected, but it was well consolidated and easy to walk on, and for the most part confined to the summit and the north slopes. Once I started down the south slopes, the snow disappeared almost immediately. About a fifth of a mile SSW of the summit is something called the Sevison Monument. A plaque is dedicated to a local youth only three years younger than myself that had died at the age of 14. The monument is located on a small rocky outcrop that offers fine views looking south and west, something Mt. Pluto was lacking due to tree cover.
From Sevison Monument, I left the road that descend from the summit, dropping cross-country for 2/3 mile to the saddle with Mt. Watson, picking up another road just before reaching the saddle. More cross-country led up from the saddle for half a mile to Mt. Watson's summit ridge. Some snowl was encountered on the way, a considerable amount for the last several hundred feet, but again it was decently consolidated and not much to be troubled by. More trouble was determining exactly where the highpoint of Mt. Watson was. Trending east-west for 1/3 mile, the summit ridge is characterized by a number of rocky points all vying to be the highest, but none obviously so and trees making direct line-of-sight comparison difficult. I used the GPS as I climbed all the possible contenders along the ridge's entire length, eventually concluding the highest was probably one of the first one's I had encountered near the west end of the ridge. The available views were all to the south to the lake, Tahoe City vicinity, and further to the higher summits at the south end of the lake from the Heavenly Ski Area on the CA/NV border west to Desolation Wilderness. Nowhere did I manage to find any sort of register.
I descended more or less straight down from the east end of the summit ridge, using the snow to my advantage now (luckily the boots didn't get too wet), reaching Watson Lake in about ten minutes. On the north side of the lake I picked up the Tahoe Rim Trail which I could follow all the way back to Brockway Summit, a longer, but more interesting alternative to the pavement. Some portions of the trail were still covered in snow, but these soon disappeared as the trail moved out of the shadier Watson Creek drainage to the south-facing slopes above. As a final stop, I left the trail with about a mile remaining to pay a visit to the unnamed Peak 7,740ft, about 3mi ENE of Mt. Pluto. It had little to offer in the way of interest with a rounded, slash-strewn summit and weak views. On the way back to the trail down the steep east side of this peak I was jogging along and came across a strange find - what looked like powerline insulators, heavy ceramic disks lying broken on the forest slope. Who would carry these up here, I wondered, only to discard them? While staring down at them it struck me - I looked up and sure enough there was a powerline sneaking through the forest well overhead. The insulators had simply fallen or been knocked off, probably in a wind storm. I soon got back to the trail and shortly thereafter was back at Brockway summit before 5:30p, bringing the outing to just under five hours.
After a shower I drove back to Nevada to spend the night at the large parking lot at Mt. Rose Summit. Though signs didn't forbid overnight parking, I was surprised I wasn't rousted in the middle of the night in this conspicuous spot by local law enforcement. Sometimes it's nice to simply be ignored...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Pluto - Mt. Watson
This page last updated: Tue Sep 16 23:32:05 2014
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