Donner Ridge P500
Hawks Peak
Peak 7,695ft P300
Billy Hill P300
Alder Hill P300
Bald Mountain P300
Peak 6,980ft P300

May 4, 2020

With: Kristine Swigart

Donner Ridge
Bald Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 5 GPX Profiles: 1 2

As tempertures continued on the warm side over the southern part of the state, I decided to try a different tack and headed to the Lake Tahoe area where things were expected to be much cooler. There was more snow in the northern part of the Sierra this year as opposed to the southern half, so there would be that to contend with. I brought snowshoes with me but didn't really want to use them unless the snow proved too soft. I left San Jose around 7a, planning on a half day effort around the Truckee area. I was well past Sacramento and about an hour from Truckee when it occurred to me that Kristine lives in the area and might be interested. I gave her a call and was happy to hear that she was both interested and available. I apologized for the short notice but that didn't seem to bother her at all. She had only about 30min to get ready and despite this, was only a few minutes behind me in reaching the TH in the Tahoe-Donner area. It would be the only part of the day where she was behind. From the start it was clear that she had not been sitting inside this past winter - I would find myself hustling to stay within sight of her as she raced from one peak to the next.

Donner Ridge - Hawks - Peak 7,695ft

I had planned to do a moderate out and back to Donner Ridge and Peak 7,695ft. Kristine had done both already, but was keen to add Peak 7,729ft which we came to find out later was called Hawks Peak on the TH kiosk map. So it ended up being an 8mi+ loop that would take us just short of four hours. We traveled about half the distance on dry ground, half on snow. The snow had been freezing over the past few nights so that even in the afternoon we had pretty good conditions for snow travel without the snowshoes. We were a bit concerned the snow might soften too much so we carried them with us, but never needed them. Our route took us first to the top of Donner Ridge in about 25min, fine views all around. Views were pretty open for much of the route as the windswept ridges had few trees on them. Castle Peak to the west was the most prominent summit on the north side the Interstate, visible for most of the outing. There are fine views (and lots of snow) in other directions too, as the Sierra Crest winds south from Donner Pass to the Squaw Valley area 10mi to the south. Hawks Peak, to the northeast of Donner Ridge, has little prominence and is connected to Donner Ridge via a spur ridge. This spur ridge, Hawks summit and the slopes south, west and north of Hawks Peak are part of the Tahoe-Donner Cross-Country Center and there are plenty of Close Area signs to indicate the boundary. The summit is a modest rock outcrop overlooking the Tahoe-Donner area.

After a short summit visit, we reversed course to head back west along the spur ridge where we met up briefly with a pair of backcountry snowboarders preparing to drop off the north side of the ridge. We visited one of the ski area warming huts at the west end before dropping southwest off the higher portion of Donner Ridge on our way to Peak 7,695ft. There was a loose, cliffy area to get through, Kristine and I finding different chutes that worked equally well, then a bit of brush before things got tame again when we got back on the snow. Snow-covered jeep roads continue for another mile nearly to the summit of Peak 7,695ft. It has a modest class 2-3 summit pinnacle that makes a fine perch overlooking Donner Summit to the west. Interstate 80 and the drone of truck traffic can be seen and heard immediately below the summit. It was close to 1p by the time we landed on the third summit, about an hour and half still to go. Our return wasn't the shortest route but was probably the easiest, taking advantage of single and double-track bike trails on the south side of Donner Ridge. This helped us avoid the softening snow on the top of the ridge with the only difficulty being some traversing across modestly brushy slopes to reach the bike trail. We met a backcountry skier on our way off Peak 7,695ft and a few folks on the bike trails before we returned around 2:20p. Kristine made plans to spend the rest of the afternoon on another hike with her boyfriend while I headed off for other summits, but this was definitely the best outing of the day.

Billy Hill

This modest summit lies a short distance east of SR89 between Stampede and Prosser Creek Reservoirs. A high-clearance Forest Road gets within a few hundred feet of the flattish summit with no views. I walked around the summit area looking for a highpoint but not really finding one - not much to recommend this one though it does have almost 500ft of prominence.

Alder Hill

This small summit lies between SR89 and the Tahoe-Donner development, north of Interstate 80 and Truckee. There is a private road on the upper half of the mountain with a gate that I found open. It is signed for no uninvited vehicles which suggests pedestrians are welcome to use the road. I figured there was little chance of someone complaining I didn't belong there and simply drove up to the top of Alder Hill Rd and parked in a cul-de-sac with a single home half-hidden in the woods. A gravel fire road goes up to what looks like a utility shed just below the lower south summit. I wandered through the woods to the top of the south summit where a well-hidden cell tower is found by itself, then wandered to the higher point to the north. That one is more developed with several towers including an Airway Beacon. Several technician trucks were parked there. I asked if they minded my going up to the summit rocks and taking a few pictures. They shrugged and commented, "Not our land!" I though this one would be devoid of views but the summit rocks adjacent to the airway beacon offered some views looking west and north. I returned more directly to the cul-de-sac using a gated dirt service road. I spent less than 30min on the hike.

Bald Mountain

This summit is located south of Truckee and Interstate 80, northwest of the Northstar ski area. A Forest Service road can be found in the Ponderosa Palisades neighborhood on the south side of the Truckee River. It is popular with OHVs, mountain bikers and pedestrians. On a COVID-19 Monday, it had lots of foot traffic, neighbors out to get exercise. I drove fairly slowly to keep dust down and waved to those I passed by. Most seemed very friendly. A spur road (06-6) gets within a quarter mile of the summit on the north side. The mountain is completely forested and offers no views, but the cross-country travel in the forest understory is easy enough. There are other spur roads that get even closer from the south side, but I doubt they save any time on this easy peak.

Peak 6,980ft

This last summit is located east of SR267 and Martis Valley and would occupy me for the last several hours before sunset. From where I parked on SR267 at a locked gate, one can use a mountain bike trail around Martis Valley and up East Martis Creek to get fairly close to the summit. I didn't discover this trail network until I had started out cross-country, soon finding the trails and using them to advantage. Where the trail crosses to the south side of East Martis Creek I left it to continue cross-country up steep slopes towards the summit, about 2/3mi further to the northeast. The lower parts were fine with decent forest understory, but the upper half of the mountain is made up of a great deal of tedious, broken volcanic rock. It was necessary to move much slower here to avoid tripping on the loose rock. My more southerly return route had less of the tedious rock, but it was impossible to avoid much of it. The summit is semi-open atop a heap of the broken rock, brush growing around it to block views to the north and west. The views across East Martis Creek take in the higher areas around Northstar and Brockway Summit. Not one of the more scenic views in the area, I would rate it as a little so-so. It was nearly 8p by the time I returned, only a few minutes after sunset. A warm shower and cold beer would do wonders to improve my spirits. I found a very quiet place to sleep off Mt. Watson Rd near Brockway Summit where I was able to retire undisturbed. Not a bad day at all, and much better than my recent experience in the Southern Sierra - no warm temps and no ticks here.


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