Sat, Jan 14, 2006
Three of us woke up in the Travelodge in South Lake Tahoe in the not-so-early morning to find two to three inches of new snow on the cars in the parking lot. The forecast was calling for snow all day, so we planned an easy outing, choosing Hawkins Peak off SR88 as a good snow day objective. It turned out to be longer and harder than we had anticipated, and we failed to reach the summit.
It was almost 9a before we had driven to Pickett Junction in Hope Valley, where SR88 meets SR89. We parked in the open lot just south of the junction and headed southwest along the snow covered Burnside Lake Road. Snow mobiles are not allowed on this route, but it is a popular outing for cross-country skiers and we found the going relatively easy at first due to the packed depression in the road where the skiers had traveled previously. Underestimating the effort involved, we did a poor job of checking the mileage required along the road. What at first we thought was a 4-5 mile one way trip to the peak turned out to be more like 8-9 miles. We were more than two hours along the road before we started up towards the peak. The snow had gotten steadily deeper the whole time, partly due to more snow having fallen at the higher elevations we traveled to, and partly from the new snow that had fallen since we'd started.
As we started up the steeper section where we turned left to head towards the peak, Matthew was ready to return to the car and take up reading - not because he was tired, but because he was bored with the hours of monotonous travel over snow amongst the trees with no views. Mike was ready to turn back as well, and it looked like I had a mutiny on my hands. After convincing Matthew we were within a few miles of the summit he had a change of heart, and Mike decided he'd continue on as well. Mike had already been to the summit of Hawkins in the summer, so he had less reason to care whether we continued on or just turned back. We struggled on for another half mile when we started coming out of the trees and into the more exposed open terrain above. This had the advantage of more wind-packed snow that was easier to travel across, but the disadvantage that we were now facing blizzard conditions with driving winds.
We were all growing cold in our fingers and toes, many of the digits already numb to sensation. Matthew called a second halt and declared his intent to turn back. He was too cold (which is usually my department) - at least he was no longer bored. Mike again was indifferent. I didn't want to go on alone as I feared I might be many hours behind them and I wasn't too excited about the idea of finding my way back down from the summit alone. We paused for a good five minutes discussing our options. As if by Providence, the blizzard paused briefly to allow us a view to the summit of Hawkins which appeared closer than we had imagined. My companions received new inspiration. A check of the GPS showed we were at 8,600ft and we still had 1,400ft of climbing - not an insignificant amount. We pressed on.
Providence did not smile down on us for long. The wind, snow, and clouds enveloped and buffeted us once again. I led up another couple hundred yards to a sheltered place amongst a clump of trees where I waited a few minutes for the others to catch up. We gathered there another five minutes or so waiting for another respite that never came. Feeling my extremities growing ever more numb, I had to admit the lunacy of continuing under such conditions. A general retreat was called.
It had taken only five minutes for our snowshoe prints to be erased in the section above treeline, and we wandered back down looking right and left for any trace of them. It was not until we got back to the trees that we once again found our tracks which we followed back down to the road. It was another two hours before we made it back to the car, returning after 2:30p - a rather full and tough day for not even summiting what should have been an easy peak. We would not take Hawkins so lightly in the future.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hawkins Peak
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