Stanford Rock
Twin Peaks P1K OGUL / PYNSP / WSC
Ellis Peak P1K OGUL / PYNSP
Blackwood Ridge

Wed, Apr 1, 2009

With: Steve Sywyk

Etymology
Stanford Rock
Twin Peaks
Ellis Peak
Blackwood Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

My soon-to-be-gainfully-employed friend Steve was the only one to be able (or perhaps willing) to join me for a mid-week snowshoe outing in Tahoe. As I had failed to reach Twin Peaks on my outing to Mt. Mildred a few weeks earlier, I was eager to go back to visit Twin and hopefully a few others as well. From my perusal of the topo maps, it looked like a long outing along the ridgelines forming the boundary of Blackwood Canyon could be done, tagging at least four named summits along the way. We didn't find out that the road going into Blackwood Canyon isn't plowed until we arrived there shortly after 6a. What we found was a Sno-Park, and me without my Sno-Park pass. I paid $30 for it in the beginning of the season and have yet to use it. This appears to be a popular canyon with snowmobilers as we would find their tracks in many places during the day, though none of the machines were out on this quiet weekday.

We ended up parking along SR89 just outside the Sno-Park, though not without some concern. Signs at the Sno-Park entrance warn of an $87 fine for not displaying a valid pass. We found no signs along the highway indicating there were any parking restrictions, and so left the car at a wide turnout. No ticket was issued, so I'm guessing it was legal. Seems odd though, so close to the Sno-Park. The sun was not yet up when we started off sometime after 6:30a. The lake was calm and quiet, awaiting the new day.

From the unplowed road just west of the Sno-Park we started up on the long ridge north of Blackwood Canyon. There are homes and a water tower on the lower reaches of the east end of this ridge, but these were avoided by our southerly approach. The sun came out for the new day as we climbed well above the lake through the forest. We ran out of snow for several hundred yards below Pt. 7,277ft. We took off our snowshoes and strapped them to our packs, then hiked up the talus and rocky slopes south of the point, avoiding the brush as much as we could. Once we were off the steep, south-facing slopes, we were on the snow again and resumed hiking with the snowshoes on our feet rather than our packs. There would be snow covering the ground the rest of the day.

We followed snowmobile and ski tracks up through the forest to the highpoint of Stanford Rock where we arrived around 8:50a. The actual feature of Stanford Rock with its cave at the base is located lower and north of the highpoint, and we never saw it. Just trees and snow. The views from our perch were limited by the trees surrounding us - it really wasn't more than an intermediate stop along the ridge to Twin Peaks. We continued west along the ridge after a short break, dropping a few hundred feet off the west side to a saddle, up to another intermediate highpoint, and down to a second saddle northeast of Twin Peaks. Our progress since leaving Stanford was a bit slower since we had to make our way over the snow without the help of the packed snowmobile tracks. The snow was starting to soften now as the sun rose higher in the morning sky.

We were shuffling along through the trees, starting to climb out of the second saddle when Steve announced, "There's something funny with my snowshoe." We stopped to examine it, finding the metal binding had sheared off at the swivel point where it attaches to the frame. That made two broken snowshoes now in the last three outings, something of a jinx, it seemed. I wondered if we couldn't fix it up somehow with a stap or webbing, though we didn't have any spare straps lying about our packs. With the help of a swiss army knife Steve had with him, we managed to disassemble one of the handles of a ski pole and extract the strap from that. We then used it to secure the binding on the broken side to the frame, and with about twenty minute's work it looked like we had MacGyver'd ourselves out of our predicament. Sadly, our proud feat of engineering lasted only about 100 yards when Steve announced that it didn't feel right. A second examination revealed that the raw ends of the sheared metal binding had nearly cut through the strap and would last maybe another ten steps or so. Rats.

We were only about thirty minutes from the summit of Twin Peaks, so Steve decided to try and make it using just one snowshoe. As his unshod foot would sink up to his knee, he quickly found out the problem was with the snowshoe foot which had to do all the work pulling the sunken foot out - not unlike doing one-footed squats. I tried to pack the snow down with my own steps in front of him, but that didn't seem to help any. He soon had to cry uncle.

It was clear that I wasn't going to be able to do any better myself, there just wasn't a good way to travel without snowshoes or skis in the warming conditions. The easiest way to get back would be to return the way we came, taking advantage of the tracks already laid down and the snowmobile tracks leading back from Stanford Rock. It would probably take 3-4hrs to return. Steve knew I was keen to reach the peaks we had set out for, and certainly Twin Peaks was within easy reach. Steve would have been happy to let me continue on the original course, but it would have left him waiting at the car for many hours, I was afraid. We ended up going separate ways, I was to head to Twin Peaks while he headed back. I'd assess the snow conditions and figure out what to do when I got to summit.

I was closer to the summit of Twin than I had guessed, only about ten minutes away once we split off. More ironically, I came across snowmobile tracks not five minutes after the split, and he could probably have followed these down to Blackwood Canyon, but as we later agreed, there was no way to guess this ahead of time. By utilizing a thin tongue of snow running down the steep edge of the East Ridge, I was able to make my way up on snowshoes to within about twenty feet of the summit. I knew ahead of time that the southeast summit was the highpoint, so I was fairly confident when I scrambled up the last bit of rock that I was at the right location.

There was a fine view of Lake Tahoe to the east, Alpine Meadows Ski area to the north, Desolation Wilderness to the south. I also had a good view of the connection ridgelines around Blackwood Canyon, and for the first time get a good idea of how much work lay ahead. The route looked doable from a technical standpoint, perhaps a couple small detours needed to get around a few spots north of Barker Peak. But it looked quite long, much as I feared. Certainly it was doable as within the amount of daylight left (it was just before 11a), but I didn't think I could get back in anything less than six hours. Three miles to the south, across Blackwood Canyon, was Ellis Peak. Along with Twin Peaks, it is on the OGUL list, and the two peaks of interest for the day. I guessed that I might be able to reach Ellis in two hours on a more direct route across the canyon, dropping more than 2,000ft to the creek and then a nearly equal amount back up to Ellis. From there, maybe two more hours to take the ridge east and back to Lake Tahoe. I was sure Steve would be back before that time, but probably not too much earlier. And with that plan in mind, I strapped the snowshoes on and headed off the south side of Twin Peaks. Barker Peak, to the west, would be left for another time.

The descent was pleasant, exhilarating in places, and rather fun, racing down untracked slopes, some wide open to the sun, others a slalom course through the trees. It took little more than thirty minutes to reach Blackwood Creek, where I realized I might have some trouble with the crossing. Wide in most places, the snow had melted back from the spring flow and would make for a chilly crossing. I followed the creek for a hundred yards or so upstream looking for a log to cross or a snow bridge to utilize. In a shaded bend of the creek I found the latter, though it was not without some trepidation that I made the crossing. I could see the snow had mostly rotted out below the crossing point, a tangle of branches and shrubs below holding the snow up. If it collapsed I might not fall in the creek, but I could see myself hopelessly entangled in a mesh of willowy branches. Thankfully, it held and I made it across without incident.

The climb up to Ellis was long and arduous. I had seen the peak plainly while descending from Twin Peaks, but now that I was at the bottom of the canyon the summit was not at all evident. I climbed up steep slopes for a thousand feet before realizing I was too far northeast. I began traversing slopes to the right to get me closer to the peak, all the while the snow was growing softer in the afternoon sun. Luckily I was now on mostly northwest-facing slopes. The south facing slopes off Twin Peaks would be difficult to traverse without slipping down in large, wet slides. The slopes leading up towards Ellis were just a bit firmer and held under my traversing line across them. The peak was further south than I had imagined, and one false summit after another was surmounted only to find I had further to go. I had thought that I would easily beat the two hour estimate to get to Ellis, but in the end it was just after 1p when I finally hauled myself up to the summit, a bit over the two hour guess.

The views of Lake Tahoe were better on Ellis than on Twin, not too surprising since it's about a mile closer to the lake. In the next canyon to the south was the Homewood ski area, and on my way along Blackwood Ridge I caught sight of many of the runs and a number of skiers out on the slopes across the way. Further beyond Homewood were the more impressive peaks of Desolation Wilderness. I didn't stay long at the summit of Ellis, eager to get back in the next few hours if I could. I had to drop down through a few saddles before climbing back up to the highpoint of Blackwood Ridge at 8,271ft. It was 1:50p when I reached this last summit, the remaining distance all downhill. As far as I knew anyway. The map I had with me covered the entire western half of the canyon, but was missing the slopes heading down the east side of Blackwood Ridge. I had originally planned to hike in several miles along the road at the bottom of Blackwood Canyon, but had ditched this early when it looked like using the ridgelines around the canyon would be more scenic.

The descent heading east off Blackwood Ridge was easy, but soupy. My boots up to this point had remained cold but relatively dry (much like my feet), but with the sloppy conditions developing in the afternoon the boots began to take on water, despite the gaiters and waterproofing. I followed the ridgeline through the trees (trees along the length of the ridge obscured most of the views to the lake that would have been scenic otherwise), and down to a development west of SR89. I emerged from the forest at the corner of Grand and Alpine Rds. The suburban winter homes looked eeriely quiet, not a soul around. After taking off my snowshoes, I followed Alpine Rd north towards Blackwood Canyon, soon realizing that the road did not exit in this direction. I followed it around to its end at a highpoint west of Eagle Rock, then donned my snowshoes and headed off through the woods in the direction of the Sno-Park. I further realized that Blackwood Creek makes a turn west and south around Eagle Rock and I found myself staring across the wide creek wishing I were on the other side.

If I followed the creek out to the lake, I might be more than a mile south of where we parked the car (later I found it would have been less than half a mile, but I didn't have this section of the map with me at the time). There was no chance of finding a bridge over the stream, but it looked shallow enough for a crossing. So I paused to take off my snowshoes, boots, and socks, rolled up my pant legs, and carrying all my gear I waded across. Surprisingly, the icy waters did not make my feet feel much colder than they already were and it went smoothly. I was behind my self-appointed time schedule at this point, but only because of the time lost in fording the creek. It was 3:20p before I managed to hike back out to the car. Steve had been back nearly an hour, had changed his clothes and spread them out on the large boulders lining the turnout. He was just settling into the driver's seat to take a nap when I appeared. He reported having taken his time in descending the ridge from Stanford Rock, getting in a short nap and lots of quiet time before returning.

We talked about coming back out again in a few weeks, hopefully without another broken snowshoe incident. There are still quite a few OGUL peaks I have yet to visit and it looks like the snow will hold out for another month or so...


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This page last updated: Sun Apr 5 19:09:47 2009
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