Devils Peak P300
Peak 7,041ft P300
Buck Island Hill
Brown Mountain

Oct 4, 2020

With: Tom Becht

Devils Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

With the national forests in the southern half of the state closed due to the state fire emergency, I talked Tom into paying a visit to Eldorado NF near Lake Tahoe. Usually I'm the one doing the longer drives, but this time it would take him 8hrs from Southern California to reach our meeting place near Loon Lake, twice what it would take me. While he drove up the previous afternoon, I got up early to meet him at 7a. On the first of a four-day roadtrip, I had us doing a loop around Loon Lake, tagging four summits in the process. We left his jeep along Icehouse Rd near the Loon Lake CG and drove mine to the start of the famous Rubicon Trail, a rough, rock-crawling OHV route between Loon Lake and Lake Tahoe.

Starting off before 7:30a, we followed the Rubicon Trail for the first half mile or so as it makes its way from Loon Lake's spillway northeast across acre-sized granite slabs with serious boulders, steps and similar obstacles. We left the trail to head more directly cross-country towards Devils Peak, our first stop. We wandered through a dry meadow, along a portion of dry Ellis Creek and through the Seitzinger Campingplatz before crossing to the north side of the Rubicon Trail. There we headed cross-country to the northeast, trying to minimize the brush encountered while aiming for the saddle on the NW side of the peak. That side is fraught with cliffs, but a surprisingly easy route can be found going up an obvious break in the cliffs with what seemed like a bear trail making the brush a trivial exercise. It took us an hour and forty minutes to reach the open summit. Smoke from the various fires around the state obstructed views pretty much all day. The Rubicon River flows through Rockbound Valley below to the east, while Loon Lake can be seen below to the southwest. To the northwest rises the higher Guide Peak I had climbed two years ago. We left a register here before looking for a way off the southeast side to continue our journey.

A steep, mildly brushy descent through forest and rock saw us crossing back over the Rubicon Trail before ascending to Peak 7,041ft from the northeast. It took an hour and a quarter to cover the mile distance between summits, the ascent of Peak 7,041ft much easier than that of Devils Peak earlier. There is a closer view of Loon Lake from the summit and a nice one of Devils Peak to the north, though other views are not as good as from Devils. Our next peak was more than 2mi to the southeast, but would be made easier by following a long stretch of the Rubicon Trail. We headed east off Peak 7,041ft, going by Spider Lake to reach the Rubicon at Little Sluice Box. As the name suggests, it is a narrow section of road with tight manuevering, one of the harder sections of the trail. It was an educational hike for the two of us, recognizing that our own Jeeps were woefully inadequate for the challenges of the Rubicon. A 4WD Club manages the trail with permission from the Forest Service, having provided clean backcountry restrooms, signage, picnic tables and other pleasantries along the otherwise gruelling trail. A mile further we came to Big Sluice Box, with yet more difficult obstacles. Oil and other fluids drip from vehicles not properly protected by armor. A pair of heavily modified jeeps came driving by above Big Sluice Box, one of them with a toddler fast asleep. How it managed this with all the shaking and jarring of the cab is a wonder. Later we came across two women hiking up the trail, one with another toddler on her back. We guessed these were the significant others of the Jeep drivers. The ladies probably found the hike more relaxing than riding shotgun in the cab. We followed the Rubicon Trail all the way to Buck Island Lake and a saddle on the north side of Buck Island Hill, our third and furthest stop from our start. The hill, situated between Buck Island and Rockbound Lakes, is an easy climb, it's summit on the boundary of Desolation Wilderness. A modest granite boulder serves as the highpoint, providing mostly open views with a few pine trees for shade. The summit is surrounded on all sides by the Sierra Crest and the Crystal Range, but has an expansive feel nonetheless. After a short break to let Tom eat whatever food he'd brought with him (seems he forgot his sandwich), we left a register and headed off the west side.

The next stretch to Brown Peak was the longest segment of the day, more than 2.5mi and would take us nearly two hours. The descent off Buck Island Hill was pretty straightforward, leading us around the south shore of Buck Island Lake. Water levels were low this time of year, making it easier, though it was a little unsettling walking across spongy shoreline, wondering if we might suddenly get sucked into mud. We picked up a trail on the west side of the lake and followed this for about half a mile to the northwest until we struck off again cross-country to the southwest. The terrain from here to Brown Mtn is a bit complicated, essentially taking us around the northern tip of the Crystal Range. I led us on a traversing route around Pts. 7,251ft and 7,105ft through mild brush and around various obstacles. Tom thought we were going about it in a convoluted manner, but I assured him it was a pretty direct course I had plotted. Brown Mtn wasn't visible until we were within about 30min of it, after which the navigation became a much simpler task. The summit is oddly out of place in an area dominated by granite It is composed primarily of basalt columns reminiscent of Devils Postpile, reflecting a shade of brown from a distance that matches its name. Some scrambling on the east side was fun but far too short as we reached the summit by 2:30p. A register was left here in 2019 by Big Horn Bill, a name I've seen more frequently in the far northern parts of the state. We signed in after the other handful of parties that had visited over the past year. Loon Lake is laid out before us to the northwest, somewhere along the southern shore a trail that would take us back to our finishing point.

We descended off the northwest side of the summit, steep, friable rock to start, then granite slabs, then into the forest on a westward course around the south side of Pt. 6,651ft, eventually finding the trail about a mile from the summit. The trail led us to the closed Loon Lake CG and the trailhead. We wandered the main road through the campground, past the boat ramp at the southwest corner of the lake, and a short cross-country stint up to the junction of a service road and Icehouse Rd where we'd left Tom's Jeep. It was just past 4p and time to call it a day. We drove back to the start of the Rubicon Trail where the other Jeep was parked, showered and spent the night on the open slabs under a starry sky. The smoke had started to clear towards the end of the afternoon and tomorrow would bode better for air quality and views. We watched the last of the weekend 4-wheelers exiting the Rubicon Trail as we ate dinner and enjoyed a few beverages. It seems the Rubicon Trail has some exemptions from the No Dispersed Camping restrictions, so we spent the night there with plans for another nearby hike in the morning...


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