Church Peak
Chocolate Peak

May 14, 2014
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


I had to be back in San Jose by afternoon but figured I had enough time for a morning hike in the Mt. Rose area. There were two named summits in the area I had not visited, neither particularly prominent, but they provided an excuse to pay Mt. Rose another visit. Having slept at the Mt. Rose TH undisturbed, I was up and on my way before 6:30a. I carried snowshoes strapped to my pack with poles, but did not need them for the entire outing. The hike started out easy enough, a fine trail, well-signed and dry initially. Within 20min I found myself on the northeast side of Mt. Tamarack, snow covering 100% of the terrain. I had expected snow at the higher elevations around Mt. Rose, but not so much down here. As it was still quite early, I found the snow hard and mostly frozen, a boot path from previous visitors etched in the hillside. This made what would otherwise be a dangerously slick slope less dangerous, at least enough so that I didn't think it necessary to strap on the snowshoes. The snow finally relented as I reached a trail junction at Galena Creek where it transitions to sunnier, west and south-facing slopes as it begins the steeper climb up towards Mt. Rose. By 8a I had reached the saddle west of Mt. Rose with Mt. Houghton, marking the Mt. Rose Wilderness boundary. More snow covered the ground looking west towards Mt. Houghton and north over the saddle. The route east up towards Mt. Rose was only partially covered in snow, and this I was able to even more easily manage than the snow I had encountered earlier on the slopes of Tamarack.

It was 8:30a by the time I reached the crest between Church and Rose. My progress was not as swift as I had expected and my ambitious plans to tag Church, Chocolate, Rose and Tamarack now had to be modified. Church was a short distance away and a sure thing. Mt. Rose was to the right about half a mile and several hundred feet higher. Chocolate looked much further than the 1.5mi it was. After much hemming and hawing, I decided to head to Church and then Mt. Rose, saving Chocolate for another time when I could more easily approach it from the east. I left the Mt. Rose Trail to follow the rocky ridgeline for about 15min to the summit of Church, finding very little snow as I traveled along the windswept ridge. As I was taking some photos of the fine views available, the plan I had just made was starting to crumble. I had to admit that I really wanted to visit Chocolate more than Mt. Rose. If I went to Chocolate and then back up over Mt. Rose, it seemed likely I would exceed my 5hr limit by a significant amount, and bypassing Mt. Rose wouldn't save much time either. Unless..

Unless I didn't go back to my car. I took a look at the map on the GPS and noticed that SR431 was only about a mile and half SE of Chocolate Mtn, and all downhill to boot. It seemed like a better plan might be to head over Chocolate and down to the highway, then thumb a ride back up to where I'd left the van. The plan bordered on genius by my own reckoning, my only regret that I hadn't first climbed Mt. Rose before coming over to Church Peak. Ok, near-genius I decided. There was less snow on the north side of Mt. Rose than I had expected, especially lower down on what would become my route between Church and Chocolate. I could see now that the snowshoes would probably stay strapped to the pack the whole outing. This wasn't really a bad thing as my boots and feet would get to remain dry. The route was an easy gradient without any steep slopes until at the base of Chocolate. It was mostly a gradual downhill through a broad bowl between the three peaks, a mix of broken volcanic rock an knee-high brush. Not really brush, but ground-hugging evergreens that could have been formidable if there weren't convenient breaks that one could follow to meander through those sections. Just south of Pt. 9,443ft I unexpectedly picked up a trail that nicely led in the direction towards Chocolate. The trail does not show up on any online maps that I could locate afterwards. It led to an old ski hut found just above and west of the saddle (Contact Pass) with Chocolate Mtn. The outside is covered in sheetmetal, the inside comprised of rustic wood tables and benches with a wood-burning stove and an ample supply of wood stacked up in one corner. Graffiti dating back many decades covers the walls and everything made of wood. A lantern, radio and some non-perishable supplies could be found on various shelves, for the most part the place seems decently maintained. I looked this up online later and found it mentioned in several places as "Churches Cabin" or "Secret Cabin", supposedly known only to a select group of locals. I suspect its more widely known than that. It seems ideally suited to backcountry skiers who might come out here to ski the north bowl of Mt. Rose and have a cozy place to spend the night. After giving it thorough look-over, I bolted the door as I had found it and headed down to Contact Pass and Chocolate Peak.

From the west the peak is nothing special (I'm not sure it's very special from other angles as well), taking but ten minutes to summit. Someone (or group) had spent a good deal of effort chopping a path on the right up the west slope through the thicket that covers this portion of the mountain. It doesn't seem like the effort was entirely well spent. I didn't find this path until the way down, instead moving well to the left where I found the thicket gave way to rock cover and the climb fairly easy on that side. The summit provides nice views of Mt. Rose and Church Peak to the southwest, southeast to the Mt. Rose Ski Area, and northeast to the Reno. There were rock walls built by folks to block the wind, but no register that I could find.

The descent to the highway went as well as could be expected, taking less than an hour. I returned to Contact Pass before turning south and then southeast as I followed a drainage down that side. Where it grew brushy I contoured high on the right side, eventually making my way over to, and then over a subsidiary ridge at about 8,100ft. This allowed me to drop down to Galena Creek which I could follow to eventually intersect the highway at its closest point. Even better, before getting down to the creek I came upon another trail not shown on the maps. This one was in fine shape and took me all the way out to the road. There were a few trucks parked off the highway in what looked like some nice, undeveloped campsites, no signs along the highway or at the TH to indicate these or the trail. I walked out to the road with my thumb out, attracting the attention of the very first car to come by, before I had even walked to where I had intended to plant my feet. Such luck! A trio of young lads were driving to Mt. Rose summit with mountain bikes to enjoy the downhill ride. I just managed to squeeze myself and my somewhat overloaded pack into the backseat with one of them, enjoying the conversation as we rode to the summit. The last thing they said to me as I thanked them and started walking over to my van, was "Be sure to give someone a ride - it's good karma!"

I was back before 11a, reveling in my morning success. It's nice to have a plan modified on the fly work out so well. I would easily get back to San Jose by 4p, ending a run of seven days in the area with a bit of volleyball thrown in for good measure. It would be my last outing for the rest of the month, the longest stretch of non-summiting I'd have this year. Not that this was a necessarily bad - I had a lot of preparation to do for a month-long stint in Hawaii planned for June - that was going to be great fun too...

Kirk D. from Sparks comments on 09/30/15:
On Sept 27 (2015) Shane F. and I climbed Church Peak from the Patagonia Bridge in Reno via a patchwork of trails, old roads, and cross country. We descended via Mt. Rose to the Mt. Rose trailhead. A cool, overcast day made for pleasant conditions.
The almost 26 mile shuttle took us just over 17 hours, climbing app. 7200'. We are under the illusion that we are the first to connect this up this way ?
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