Peak 2,980ft P300
Snow Ridge
Peak 2,983ft P300
Peak 4,380ft
Baltic Peak P300
Hope Mountain
Big Butte
Middle Butte
Little Butte
Old Iron Mountain
Iron Mountain

Apr 20, 2024
Snow Ridge
Iron Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPX

I headed back to El Dorado County for more peakbagging in the Sierra foothills east of Placerville. Today's were another mix of summits found on private and national forest lands. Most were short excursions, often with poison oak, steep slopes and moderately brushy slopes. The afternoon was spent in the Eldorado NF in the aftermath of the 2021 Caldor Fire. This was one of the largest fires ever in the Sierra Nevada, burning a length of almost 40mi, more than halfway across the range. There has been much salvage logging in the area over the past three years and they are far from done.

Peak 2,980ft

This is the highpoint of a small ridgeline between paved Newton and Pleasant Valley roads. A string of a dozen rural homes dot the ridgeline, accessed from Thorson Dr on the south side of the ridge. I noticed there is a small rectangle of BLM lands on the south side of Newton Rd, north of the ridge, with a small dirt road leading into the parcel from Newton Rd. I drove this road and parked at the southern edge of the parcel, about half a mile north of the summit. I hiked up a worsening road, then cross-country up towards the ridgeline, dancing around poison oak and stepping on the stuff where it was too plentiful. When I spied the homesteads on the ridge above, I kept on the north side and traversed below the properties until I was just north of the highpoint. I was up and back to the highpoint in someone's yard in short order. Creep factor high on this one.

Snow Ridge

This is the highpoint of the Puerta Del Sol gated community in Rancho Del Sol. I parked at the intersection of Snows Rd and Glory Hole Dr outside the community. It was easy to then walk to paved Oro Ct within the community (no gate or fence) and follow that up. Past two homes, the road is gated and turns to gravel (this is a fire exit for the homes at the summit), making for a quiet walk most of the mile distance. There is a second gate half a mile above where the pavement resumes. The highpoint is past two more homes. All was quiet with no encounters with residents for the 40min I spent on the roundtrip effort.

Peak 2,983ft

This summit lies south of Peak 2,980ft, across Pleasant Valley Rd. There is a vineyard on the west side of the summit and a private residence on the east side. Michael Way winds its way up from Pleasant Valley Rd to reach multiple properties including the residence on the east side. I parked at one of the road's switchbacks northeast and below the residence. I made a cross-country ascending traverse on the north side of the ridge, out of sight until past the residence. Animal trails helped on the traverse, but again plenty of poison oak to watch for. I walked up to the edge of the vineyard where LoJ has the highpoint located (no obvious point in reality), and returned the same way.

It was almost noon when I finished up with this one, happy to be done with the sketchy summits. The rest are all located on public or private forest lands.

Peak 4,380ft

This summit is located east of Pollock Pines along US50. There is a cell tower installation on USFS lands near the summit. A gated gravel road off paved Park Creek Rd goes to the tower from the south. The highpoint is actually located on BLM land just to the north, a short distance past the tower. Walking along the east side of the tower fence avoids some heavy brush and makes it pretty easy. No views in the cluttered forest.

Baltic Peak

I next drove around Jenkinson Lake and started up well-paved Mormon Emigrant Trail. This good road runs all the way to SR88 in the summertime, but is gated at SR88 in winter. There is no gate on the west end, allowing folks to drive up to the snowline and recreate with snowmobiles and cross-country skiing. I turned off on paved Caps Crossing Rd above the east side of the lake, then on dirt Happy Valley Rd which winds its way around Baltic Peak. A spur road then climbs to the summit from the southwest. Baltic and the rest of the day's summits were all burned in the Caldor Fire. The spur road to Baltic's summit is blocked by downfall as a result. It does not appear the Forest Service has plans to clear it, but the distance is short, less than 15min. Most of the burned snags are still standing in this area, blocking views. Brush has not yet grown back significantly.

Hope Mountain

I continued southwest on Happy Valley Rd which passes very close to the summit of Hope Mtn. There is almost no prominence to this poorly named summit. The cross-country hike is easy and takes but a minute. Views are much like on Baltic Peak, mostly blocked by snags, though I could see Big Butte to the west, my next stop.

Big Butte - Middle Butte - Little Butte

This was the only significant hike on the day, albeit less than three miles to cover all three summits, taking an hour and a half. I drove FR10N712 southwest from Mt. Hope to a saddle between Big and Middle Buttes, where I parked. I went first up to Big Butte which has two summits of similar elevation. I went up the South Slopes that had been bulldozed during the firefighting efforts, which left little brush on the moderately steep slopes. A scattering of rocks occupies the west summit which LoJ identifies as the highpoint. A short hike got me to the east summit which had better views due to trees salvaged on the northwest side.

I next descended back to the Jeep, gulped down some water, then headed on foot up an old road (blocked by downfall at the start) to Middle Butte's summit, making it surprisingly easy. As on Big Butte, there was a mix of burned and unburned conifers, and some oaks. The descent off the south side of Middle Butte enroute to Little Butte was a somewhat brushier affair, but by sticking close to the ridgeline I found little real bushwhacking with some poison oak to be cautious around. There was no bulldozing along this route and the new grass was a vibrant green with some tiny white flowers brightening the easier slope going up to Little Butte. Little Butte's summit had fewer trees blocking views, but as the lowest of the three, the views did not stretch very far. After tagging this last one, I reversed the route back up and over Middle Butte, and then on the old road back down to the Jeep.

I had next planned to do some additional summits to the south across the North Fork Consumnes River. I drove back up over Mt. Hope, then down past the Mt. Hope Mine (defunct), dropping 1,000ft in about 2mi to a bridge over the river. I found that the wooden bridge was closed, having been badly burned in the Caldor Fire and never repaired. Instead, a bypass was provided going through the river on the west side of the bridge. The river was flowing strongly and I wasn't sure I'd be able to ford it with my purported 30" of fording capability. As I stood at the bridge contemplating the crossing, a gentleman in an old, lifted truck came down to the river's edge on the other side. He got out to lock his front hubs, then calmly drove across the river, stopping on my side to unlock the hubs. I went over to talk with him briefly. Turns out his tires were 37", and during his crossing I saw the waterline reach to about 4" from the top of his tires. My math said that was a 33" fording and I gave up any idea of getting across this afternoon.

Old Iron Mountain

Without cell coverage to explore other options to get across the river, I decided to reverse my drive all the way back to Mormon Emigrant Trail and explore the higher elevations to the east along this good road. The road was clear of snow past Iron Mtn, so I was able to tag a couple of easy ones along the roadway. Old Iron is a drive-up with high-clearance and looks like it would make for a good campsite, too. A couple of moderate boulders sit at the highpoint. Some of the trees here were spared in the fire, but most of the others were logged in salvage operations.

Iron Mountain

Iron Mtn is about a mile and a half east of Old Iron, and only a little more work. The mountain was burned over and then salvaged, leaving only brush and a few pine seedlings growing since the operations. I was able to drive to within a few hundred feet of the summit, walking the remaining distance in a few minutes across the slash-strewn slopes on the south side. Without the trees, it easily had the best views of the day with a nice one of the snowy Crystal Range in the Desolation Wilderness to the northeast.

Back on the Emigrant Trail, I made an effort to visit two other LoJ points to the north via paved FR53, but didn't get far. It drops down on the north side of the main ridge that Emigrant Trail follows, and snow was almost immediately encountered. A Forest Service ranger was found there, unable to extract his truck from the snow he'd gotten stuck in. I got out to chat with him briefly and examine the road conditions. There was a foot of snow in the shadier places, all somewhat soft in the late afternoon. I offered to help extract his truck with the Jeep, but he said his buddy was expected up from the Ranger Station any minute. I offered a second time, but he seemed not to want to involve an unknown party and I let him be. It was close to 5:30p and time to call it a day. I found a view spot off the main road just west of Old Iron Mtn where I would shower and spend the night. I saw the two ranger trucks drive by while I was collecting some firewood for a campfire I would enjoy for about an hour starting at sunset. A nearly full moon was rising to the east and the temps were cool, but not cold - a pretty nice little spot, I thought...


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