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Freel Peak previously climbed Sat, Apr 3, 2004|
Having had a fairly easy time the day prior, Ryan was ready to tackle a harder mountain. "Do you want moderate or hard," I inquired, to which he replied, "Let's do a hard one." Freel Peak is the highest summit in the Lake Tahoe Basin, though by no means the hardest to reach. Still, it would be a good challenge for him and a county highpoint to boot. I had already climbed Freel twice before so it held no special interest for myself, but a few miles north is an obscure summit, Trimmer Peak, that I was interested in. In a list of the named summits in Lake Tahoe, Trimmer Peak comes in at number nine and the highest peak on the list I had yet to climb. An obscure reason for an obscure peak makes for a perfectly reasonable objective for the obsessed peakbagger.
Following Yamagata's directions, we drove to end of the Oneidas St (which according to Google Maps turns into Fountain Place Rd, but there's no discernable signage to the effect, that I could find), four miles on a narrow, winding, but thankfully paved road to a minor trailhead on Trout Creek almost due west of Freel Peak. I left a small bottle of strawberry milk in a cold side creek near the TH, and around 8:20a we set off up the road. The plan was to follow the road indicated on the map to Armstrong Pass, then pick up the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) to a saddle between Trimmer and Freel. We didn't find the road leading up to Armstrong Pass, instead finding ourselves heading up the broad canyon north of the pass, actually a shorter route to the summit. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was the same route I had taken on my first visit to Freel Peak, but at that time there was a good deal more snow and I don't recall finding a trail.
We had followed the main road through a small bit of private property before the road had turned up our ascent canyon. I don't recall seeing a road junction heading to Armstrong Pass. The road ended after about a quarter mile, but a very good use trail took over after that, winding it's way up the canyon on the left side of the stream, through thicket, forest, bog, more thicket and more forest. We took several breaks along the way as we climbed almost 1,800ft of gain before reaching our unnamed pass just before 10a. Here we found both the TRT and the Freel Peak Trail, indicating an additional mile to the summit. I gave Ryan the option of joining me for the side trip to Trimmer (out of view and just over a mile to the north), or waiting here at the pass and playing with the crampons and axe in the snow. Choosing the latter, I emptied my pack of his gear, extra clothes, and Gatorade, then took off, telling him I'd be back in about an hour and a half.
It was enjoyable and easy trek out to Trimmer Peak. I had to go over an intermediate summit about halfway across before I got my first view of the peak. Because I had neglected to bring a map with me on this outing, I was working off memory and was not entirely sure about my destination when I noticed another snowy summit about half a mile further west. Luckily I kept to my original course and was rewarded with the proper summit after about 40 minutes of effort (from the summit it was obvious the other summit was lower). The snow I found along the way was nicely consolidated and easy to walk on without resorting to crampons. About half of the ridgeline I followed was snow-free. The summit offers a fine view of Lake Tahoe from the south, Desolation Wilderness to the west, Monument Peak to the northeast and Freel Peak/Jobs Sister to the south.
I took a bit less time on the return primarily because I avoided repeating some of the rocky middle sections on the ridgeline, favoring the snowier slopes found on the east side. Though I didn't use them to reach Trimmer, I used my crampons on the return to make the snow traverses worry-free. I'd been gone an hour and twenty minutes when I found Ryan where I'd left him (though I somehow overshot the spot by several hundred yards and had to circle back to him). He was busily hacking a snow cave in the side of a snow slope, making fine use of his ice axe in a mode completely outside its normal usage. He'd been having a ball and hardly seemed to miss me.
We packed up his gear and walked over to the start of the Freel Peak Trail. The trail switchbacks nicely up a steep ridgeline heading south, but most of this was covered in snow, much to Ryan's liking. Here was the chance to use crampons and axe that he had been looking for since our lesson the previous day. For the most part the snow was well consolidated and had good purchase, but the steepness made the crampons rather useful. Ryan got to use the axe while I used poles, and together we spent about an hour to reach the top. The upper reaches were less steep and held less snow, a sign indicating a sensitive plant area. Much as we'd have liked to stay on the trail as requested, we didn't really know where it went for much of the way.
It was 12:30p when we reached the summit. In addition to the DPS register we found large rock walls and expansive views. Hope Valley and the Mokolumne Wilderness to the south were the highlight, seconded by Lake Tahoe to the north. Jobs Sister and Jobs, the other two high summits in the area, were off to the east. We enjoyed our stay at the summit for almost half an hour, basking in the sunshine and eating our snacks.
In order to avoid the steep descent on snow that had Ryan somewhat nervous, we decided to take the ridgeline back to Armstrong Pass. This turned out to be more exciting than we had bargained for, but both of us found it the most enjoyable part of the day. The crux section was a class 3-4 downclimb that had me plenty nervous. I wouldn't have given it much thought if Ryan wasn't along, but I could see an awkward traverse across big air at the bottom of it that would not be easy. We slowly made our way down, Dad going first in order to assess the situation. The holds were not as plentiful and obvious as I would have liked for Ryan following and I hesitated. After a minute I said we had better climb back up and look for another way down when Ryan protested, "But this is fun!" I looked closely at him. I knew I could get us down if he could calmly listen to me and follow directions while dangling about 30ft above the precipice, and my greatest concern was that he might freeze up in the moment of decisiveness. But here he was already on stiff class 3 terrain and he didn't seem nervous at all. I decided he had a cool enough head for the task and agreed to continue down. It took us probably 15 minutes to go 25 feet, but I wanted to be very cautious and thorough, positioning myself below him so I could arrest any slip he might make. He performed almost flawlessly. The only thing I could criticize was his tendency to face out from the mountain more readily than was prudent, but he faced back again when instructed. He was able to make the blind foot placements as directed and in the end he had boosted both his own confidence as well as mine in his abilities. We continued down over easier class 3 terrain for the next twenty minutes or so, this time giving him freer reign to make his own decisions. We both were having a ball and were sorry to see it end.
The easier ground was sandy at first, turning to snow slopes that were soft enough to forgo the crampons, and eventually a steep descent down through forested slopes mixed with sand and rock. This last part seemed to go on forever, and at more than 1,500ft it was far from trivial cross-country travel. At least we weren't going up the slope, we told ourselves. We crossed the TRT on our way down, emerging from the brush to the banks of Trout Creek. We followed the eastern bank down, wondering when we'd find the trail I had expected to find (the trail was on the west side of the creek according to the map, we found out later). We crossed some delightful green meadows, wandered through thick downfall in the forest, and crossed a moderate stream before finally finding our way back to the road we had started up in the morning. Another mile brought us back to the trailhead just after 3:30p.
Another van was at the trailhead, and to my disappointment my strawberry milk had been fished out of the creek and left sitting in the sun at the trailhead. I had been looking forward to this cold reward at the end of the day, only to have it spoiled by someone who probably thought they were doing a good deed by pulling trash out of the stream. I left the bottle with a sternly worded note under the windshield wiper of the offending party, hoping next time they would think and react differently.
Ryan and I headed back to town, a day well spent. We were both quite contented with the day's adventure and looked forward to relaxing for the rest of the afternoon.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Freel Peak
This page last updated: Tue Jun 22 12:11:33 2010
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