Cisco Butte

Mon, Apr 9, 2007

With: Ryan Burd
Jackie Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

This was supposed to be an easy outing, but turned into a bit more of an adventure. A few months earlier when climbing around the Signal Peak area with Matthew, I noted what looked like an easy peak on the south side of Interstate 80 just off the highway called Cisco Butte. Crowned with a small array of communication antennae, I figured it would have a road to the top and an easy outing for the family. So on our way to Squaw Valley for spring break, I decided to take my kids, 8yr-old Jackie and 10yr-old Ryan up Cisco Butte. I had no map, but figured it would be easy to figure it out as we went.

Exiting at the Eagle Lakes offramp, we turned toward south toward the peak onto a dirt road that wasn't in the best of shape. Lingering snow allowed us to drive maybe 100 yards before I had to park the van. Ryan was quick to point out the danger of attempting to drive through the snow, a lesson we learned the previous June when we got stuck for several hours attempting English Mountain.

Starting off at 2:30p with more than five hours of daylight, I figured we had ample time to make the easy climb. We headed up a road that grew rocky and steep quickly as it passed under a railroad bridge. Above the bridge the road turned west, away from Cisco Butte which was just above us. We followed a small creek up the northwest side of the peak before deciding it might be better to scramble directly up the mountain. Though there was little bushwhacking and snow to contend with, the class 2 slope was a bit spicy for my youngest. I followed close behind her to catch any slip, but she scrambled up like a trooper. Ryan had enough experience in this type of climbing that I didn't worry about him as he happily followed up behind us.

Jackie began to flag about two-thirds of the way up, and we had to initiate frequent rests to keep up her spirits. Some of the rock was bordering on class 3 and was actually quite fun, but I was a bit nervous and grew more cautious as I began to dictate the route up more precisely - "Put your foot here," and "Go up that crack." The difficulty eased about a hundred feet below the summit, but Jackie became more complaining and nearly refused to continue - "I'm so tired!" Losing patience with the whining, I grew stern and told her to snap out of it. She made it to the top and magically the complaints stopped as well.

It was a nice view of the surrounding area, 1,000ft above the highway. There was no register or duck, and the highest point was fortunately left unmolested by the development that started on a lower bump further south. I had promised the kids we would find a road to return on, avoiding the steep scramble slope we'd just ascended. Thankfully, there was a road up top, just as predicted, but where it led to wasn't obvious. In looking at the map later, I could find that the road led in a circuitous manner to the west, a number of miles longer than the direct route - they probably wouldn't have been happy had we gone that way. The road also continued east down the slope, and looked to go to the next exit east on the highway. We went that way.

The map would have shown that the road ended shortly and our best bet would have been to return the way we came (it wasn't that steep, after all), but we didn't know this as we headed down. The road became impossible to follow under a blanket of snow and debris from falling trees and branches. So we struck off cross-country to the north, hoping to find a gentler descent. The descent was indeed easier, but not without skirting a marshy lake, postholing through snow, and moderate bushwhacking, the first either of my kids had experienced. Descending through the knee-deep snow, slushy in the afternoon sun, Jackie followed immediately behind me holding both of my hands which I held behind my back. They were both great on the descent, even as our boots, socks and feet became completely soaked and cold. I joked with them about this being the real, Survivor Man, a show they are both fond of. Ryan would periodically question my route-finding skills, not altogether convinced we were heading in the right direction, and wondering if we might get benighted.

After an hour into the descent (much longer than I had guessed), we finally came across the railroad tracks, about half a mile southeast of where we'd crossed them initially. About half of this distance the tracks were covered with a concrete snowshed where the slopes above were the steepest. We walked along the outside of the tracks, careful to look out for trains that might be approaching from either direction. The kids couldn't believe that a train could sneak up on us without being heard, but I told them a story of two co-workers who had been hit by a train 20 years earlier, neither having first heard the train (they survived to tell the tale). When we got to the snowshed, I would not take the chance of hiking inside it, even though there was room for a train to pass. The noise inside that enclosure would likely have scared both of them half to death. Instead, we walked along a thin concrete ledge maybe a foot wide that ran outside the snowshed. Below the ledge were steep dropoffs and snow, neither of which would have been kind to us in a fall. Going first, Jackie showed poise and cool, navigating over a few steps along the way and branches from shrubs growing nearby. I followed close behind Jackie, with Ryan bringing up the rear. Just before we had traversed the length of the shed, a train was heard approaching from the west - good thing we weren't hiking inside! We completed the traverse in time to watch the train roar by at close range - it was quite a powerful event. Afterwards we crossed over the tracks and found our road back down under the bridge and back to the car.

It turned out to be a three hour outing, about twice what I had initially expected, still we were back with several hours of daylight remaining. It was the most difficult hike for either of the kids, and while Ryan took it in stride, Jackie wasn't so easy to please. "That's why I don't go hiking with you, Dad!" she asserted. I assured her it would be just a matter of time before she looked back on our outing fondly. Jackie wasn't convinced. :-)

Anonymous comments on 02/14/16:
Where exactly did you park?
The summitpost link says sno park
But when I got there the private campground said the Sno park lease ended 4 years ago.
I parked off the Eagle Lakes Rd, the first exit west of Cisco Grove. Map
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