Peak 8,041ft P500
Peak 8,657ft P500
Peak 8,802ft P500
Peak 8,620ft P300
Peak 8,140ft

May 24, 2021

With: Kristine Swigart

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile


On Saturday, Kristine had sent me a simple map via text outlining a route to six unnamed peaks, asking me if I wanted to do them on Monday. There was just enough detail for me to figure out where she was talking about, and I replied simply, "Sure!" It was a return to Slinkard Valley where we'd hiked three weeks earlier, this time at the southern end. A few more texts were exchanged over the course of the weekend to figure out a meeting time and place. I camped the previous evening at 7,500ft along Golden Gate Rd, a recently graded dirt Forest road that climbs from US395 to Rodriguez Flat on the western edge of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. A weak storm had brought some late season snow to the area, closing Ebbetts and Sonora Passes for a few days, dropping up to four inches of the stuff in places. It wasn't a uniform layering, however, dropping snow in select areas and leaving others relatively unscathed. As I was driving down from Monitor Pass the previous evening, I noted it looked rather snowy at the south end of Slinkard Valley, much less so at the northern end. Kristine had told me she expected the stuff to melt off over the weekend, but it evidently hadn't gotten the memo. There would be snow to deal with today, ashamedly the first I had encountered the entire year.

Slinkard Valley

Kristine showed up shortly before our 7a meeting time, and after a quick discussion, we left her car and drove the Jeep north on a forest road about two miles to the west side of Peak 8,041ft, our first stop. Kristine had envisioned this as the end of our large loop, but it seemed we could save some time by driving this section of road. The southern half of the valley had burned in the 2020 Slink Fire, which included Peak 8,041ft. The fire was only partly successful here, leaving a mix of burned and unburned vegetation for us to hike through on the short cross-country jaunt up to the summit. It took only 15min for us to reach the highpoint, with open views on a very clear, crisp morning. While we had almost no snow on the drive or ascent, we could see more of the white stuff across the valley to the west and more looking south. It didn't seem like we were in for too much, and it was probably already starting to melt. We left one of Kristine's registers at the summit before heading back to the Jeep and then back to Golden Gate Rd.

With the preliminarly summit out of the way, we were ready to start the day's main event. We left the Jeep where it was, taking Kristine's car up to the end of the road at Rodriguez Flat. Kristine planned for us to tackle Peak 9,361ft to the south first, but it had snow running up its entire north flank. I suggested we leave it for our return and tackle it if we still had the energy, knowing that would likely never happen. We then left Kristine's car at the end of a spur road on the east side of Peak 8,657ft, less than half a mile from the top. There is a closer spur we could have used, but it mattered little. Just after 8:15a, we headed off.

The fire had done a much more thorough job on this peak, charring the landscape and leaving just the darkened snags of the brush and low trees that once graced the slopes here. About halfway to the summit we reached patchy snow that would be with us for the next several hours. It had not gotten below freezing and the snow was unconsolidated, but we never had more than a few inches except in windblown areas where it had piled a bit deeper. It took less than 20min to reach the top, about 600ft higher than our first summit. Things were looking more wintry here. We left another register before starting the 4-mile traverse to the north along the ridgeline forming the western boundary of Slinkard Valley. It was about two miles to the intermediate summit, Peak 8,802ft, which would be our highpoint on the day. The first half of the ridge was all class 2 and quite an enjoyable romp, made considerably easier by the recent fire. The conflagration was more complete here, killing nearly everything in its wake. As we would discover later, it would have been a challenging effort had we tried this before the fire. The views off either side were superb and the snow offereda chance to track some wildlife, including deer, rabbits, and bears, too. It also slowly had my boots wet and eventually my socks and feet, too. It took us an hour and a half to reach Peak 8,802ft midway along the ridge, where we took a break for rest and to leave a register. The wind was blowing cold from the west which was fine while we were hiking, but at the summits we would duck off the leeward side to get out of the brunt of it.

The second half of the ridgeline was another two miles. The snow lessened the further north we went, but this section proved much more challenging than the first. Twenty minutes after leaving Peak 8,802ft we hit a serrated section of ridgeline that we had spotted earlier in the morning from the first peak. It had looked difficult and we thought it might force us off one side of the ridge or the other, but it proved to be an enjoyable 20min stretch of class 3 scrambling that I thought was the most enjoyable part of the day. It was a conglomerate volcanic rock with knobby holds, somewhat unreliable to keep us on our toes. Following this, we had another 30min of easy travel through the last of the burn zone, getting us more than halfway to the next summit, Peak 8,620ft. With less than a mile to go, things slowed down as we had to work our way through unburned ridgeline mostly covered in brush. We followed deer trails on the ridge, picking our routes carefully, often picking out different ones to suit individual preferences. It was 12:30p by the time we landed on the last summit, having taken most of two hours from the previous one. At least we had no more snow and our boots and feet could begin the long process of drying out. We had views of Silver King Valley to the west and Slinkard Valley to the east.

After another break and leaving our last register, we headed off the northeast side to drop into Slinkard Valley for our return. Our goal was to reach the road as quickly as possible, avoiding some of the bushwhacking we'd encountered three weeks earlier. Whether this was the quickest return is doubtful, and in hindsight probably added a few more miles to our outing than was necessary, but it worked. The descent through forest followed a subsidiary ridgeline that seemed to keep us out of the brush we could see in the various gullies we passed on our descent. It would take us a full hour to finally reach the old ranch road in the bottom of the valley. It was all easy hiking now, but we were getting tired and had six miles of road walking before getting back. Kristine seemed to have more energy and was moving faster than myself, but she would get distracted by various finds along the way, and invariably pause to check them out. The area is now managed by the California DFW, but used to be sectioned into various homesteads used for ranching. One of the ranch houses still stands along our route, though in disrepair. It was not a primitive structure by any stretch, featuring electricity, nice paneling and craftsmanship. But it has been some time since it was last occupied and is probably a hantavirus incubator now. The second half of the road walk went back through the burned area, including a whole aspen forest that had been torched (who knew that aspens burn?). We caught sight of a bear a few hundred feet in front of us, moseying its way across the valley. We watched it for about 30 seconds before it caught wind of us and turned to scamper away. It would be after 4p by the time we got back to the Jeep.

Peak 8,140ft

After retrieving Kristine's car, we drove to the Topaz Lodge in Nevada where we had a nice dinner with a very scenic view overlooking Topaz Lake. Afterwards, Kristine headed home for the night with plans to meet up with me again in the morning. I headed back over Monitor Pass on my way to Markleeville where I planned to camp for the night. As I was going over the pass, I remembered there was a minor summit that I had tried to reach three weeks earlier but was stopped by snow. This time the old snow was gone and I was happy to see that whatever new snow had fallen was pretty much gone, too. From near Monitor Pass, I drove in a few miles on some increasingly brushy forest roads to get within a quarter mile on the south side of the summit. Although it took less than 10min to reach the top, it was a brushy affair, not all that enjoyable, and the summit was a bit of a disappointment with marginal views. I used an alternate route for the descent, hoping to find less brush, but I made no improvement on that score. After returning to the Jeep, I showered and changed into some fresh clothes before continuing on to Markleeville. I ended up camping just west of town along Spratt Creek, a quiet, lonely spot where I had the pleasant sounds of the creek to lull me to sleep that evening...


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