Mon, Jul 14, 2014
With just over 1,400ft of prominence, unofficially named Haakens Peak is the most prominent peak I had yet to climb in the Tahoe region and was high on my list of hikes while in the area for a family reunion. Of the 36 folks that assembled for the occasion, my brother Jim was the only one with the desire to join me on the 15mi outing. Most were either ill-suited or strongly disposed against the early start time, preferring the late-night party atmosphere that prevailed over the event most evenings. It took about 45min to drive around the south side of Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay to reach our trailhead at Meeks Bay on the lake's west side.
Starting off at 6:45a, we plied the trail that follows north of Meeks Creek and the wide, glacier-carved valley leading away from the bay in a southwesterly direction. The trail follows an old road leading to the upper end of the valley where it becomes a single-track after a mile and a half. After a short uphill to around the two mile mark, the Desolation Wilderness boundary is encountered. We passed by a group of Boy Scouts taking their time in packing up camp. Most of them looked to be waiting around while the laggards in the group got their act together and their tents and gear packed away - it reminded me of one of my dislikes with camping in such groups. More gradual climbing ensues before the trail crosses Meeks Creek to the south side where it meanders to the 7,400-foot level and Lake Genevieve at the 4.5mi mark. The lake is the lowest of a series that lie in a higher valley to the southeast, situated between two high ridges reaching over 9,000ft. The eastern ridge formed by Rubicon Peak and Jakes Peak overlooks Lake Tahoe and makes for a fine outing. I had traversed that ridge more than seven years earlier as a winter outing. Today's outing was on the west side of this high valley, along the ridge that forms part of the Pacific Crest. As we paused here, viewing the ridge for the first time, I laid out the full plan for Jim.
The highpoint was located at the southern end of the ridge with two bonus summits located to the north. I explained that the easiest approach to the highpoint would follow the trail past the lakes to near Phipps Pass before ascending to Haakens Peak from the south. I intended to tag the bonus peaks along the ridge from the north and then descend down to the lakes after reaching Haakens. Jim looked at the undulating ridge between Peak 8,721ft and Crag Peak and thought it looked more tedious than fun. I couldn't really argue with him, but it wasn't going to change my mind in any case. He chose to follow the trail past the lakes. I told him if we didn't meet on the summit that I would build two small cairns to let him know I'd been there. In that case, he said, "I'll chase back down to catch up with you." A fair plan.
I took the trail fork heading north around Genevieve (this trail is depicted on the 15' map, but oddly left off the 7.5' maps though the trail is in good condition), leaving it after a quarter mile to start up the ridge. Parts of this ridge were brushy at the start, but with careful route-finding I had little trouble. The ridgeline proved more interesting than tedious and I enjoyed the next two hours as I made my way along it. Forest cover helped cut down on the brush in most places and where the ridge grew difficult it was easy enough to bypass these places by dropping a short distance on the west side. Peak 8,721ft, the furthest north, was reached after about 50 minutes. The rocky summit was free of trees with nice views looking down on the lakes to the east and south along the crest to the higher summits. Unofficially named Crag Peak was another 35min along the ridge with a drop of just over 300ft to a saddle between it and the first peak. Haakens was another 20 minutes further south with only a minor drop along the way. The scrambling was never more than easy class 3 and would probably be rated class 2 were one to take the easiest options.
Up until I reached the top, I had referred to the summit as Peak 9,310ft. To some surprise, there was an ammo box containing a register dating to 2010. From reading the first page of the register, I gathered that someone had named the peak after their infant son, norse for "Chosen One". They had even installed a sign at the peak which had since been removed. I figured anyone that goes to that much trouble to name a peak deserves some help, so I've used the name in this trip report and my peak database. We'll see if it sticks 20yrs from now. I checked the last page but did not find Jim's name. I was going to settle in for a longish wait, but after about 15min I found the flies hovering about the summit area simply too annoying. I built the two small cairns, took some photos of the fine views (N - E - S - W) and started down.
I whistled and shouted periodically as I started off to the southeast, intending to follow the ridge towards Phipps Pass, but veered off that course as I followed the easy terrain in a more easterly direction. Hearing no response and thinking a more direct route down to Stony Ridge Lake would be significantly shorter, I changed tact to the northeast as I made my way down through a cliff area that looks more difficult from below than it proved to be from above. Along the way I passed by several flowering meadows and descended some fun granite slabs, getting myself from the summit down to the trail in a respectable 40min. It was now a just a matter of following the trail back to Meeks Bay, taking me two hours to cover the six mile distance.
The trail was far more popular in the afternoon than it had been in the early morning and I passed by almost a dozen parties along the way. I never bothered to ask them if they had seen a lone, bearded hiker ahead of me, figuring I'd probably run into him back at the TH. With some cell reception, I left him several messages to give him my expected return time so he could judge where I was. I had guessed that the cliffs may have proved too much or perhaps he had napped along one of the lakes and decided against going to the summit. It was only when I found the van deserted and neither Jim nor his gear anywhere abouts that I realized he was some time behind me. It would prove a very long time. Jim had indeed gone to the summit, reaching it near as we could tell, about 15min after me. After noting my cairns and my signature in the register, he had gone back towards Phipps Pass on his return. Hiking once again on the trail past the lakes, he concluded that I was either behind him or very far ahead of him. He asked various parties if they had seen me, but none had and he began to conclude I was behind. Consequently he began to wait at various points and his return dragged on longer. Being more than an hour ahead of him once on the trail, it was not surprising that he came across no one having seen me. By the time he returned to Meeks Bay I had been 2.5hrs in the van, alternately napping and finding small things to do to occupy my time. I hadn't realized he had left his phone in the car and my texts were for naught - that might have helped save us an hour or so. In any event, we weren't all that pressed for time. It was my turn to make dinner for the clan and even with Jim's late return after 3:30p, there was plenty of time to drive back, shop for groceries and whip up a taco/burrito fiesta. Salud!
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