Peak 8,910ft P500
Peak 8,772ft P300
Peak 9,860ft P300
Peak 9,390ft 2x P750
Cary Peak

Tue, Jun 22, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2
Peak 9,390ft previously climbed Mon, Apr 19, 2010


I was camped near Burnside Lake, southeast of Hope Valley in Alpine County. My plan was to pick up a straggler near the lake in the morning, then drive back to SR88 for a long outing to four peaks around Horsethief Canyon. It would occupy my for most of the day and leave me pretty tired by the time I finished. June is a crappy time mosquitoes and I would get more than my share of bites before this trip was over. At least the weather was nice, even if a bit warm at the 7,000-9,000ft elevations I was hiking in.

Peak 8,910ft

My campsite was about a mile from the summit, at the start of an old logging road no longer open to vehicles, but useful for foot traffic. Starting northeast of the summit, the road climbs most of the way up the 700ft to the summit, petering out below the summit ridge. Cross-country travel is easy once the road is lost. There are two granite towers at the summit, the southern one the highest. It's a class 3 scramble from the east side, and looks harder from the other sides. I went up the east side because that's what someone else had done on PB, and it worked nicely. The summit rised above the surrounding forest to give superb views in all directions, a really nice little peak. I was going to leave a register here, but couldn't find one when I rifled through my pack. I would have to restock before the second hike. I returned the same way, taking about an hour and twenty minutes for the roundtrip effort.

Horsethief Canyon

Between SR88 and Freel Peak are a group of five peaks surrounding Horsethief Canyon. I had been to Wade BM (and Peak 9,390ft, too, I found out later) 11yrs earlier, because it was on the OGUL list. I came back today to visit the others on what would be a 12mi outing with nearly 5,000ft of gain. The trailhead was not hard to find, nor was the start of the trail, unlike that first visit. After traversing east a short distance, the trail begins climbing steeply up the west side of Horsethief Creek, with short, tight switchbacks much to my liking. If the trail were to be built today, it would probably stretch that first mile to nearly three. The trail relents after that, but it was time to leave it only another 1/3mi further.

My first stop was Peak 8,772ft on the left side of the canyon, about 0.7mi from, and 1,000ft above the trail. The cross-country is steep but mostly clear of brush in the forest understory. The upper third is composed of lots of granite sand, though not really tedious. I reached the top after 9:30a, about an hour and quarter from the TH. There are two closely-spaced points of similar height. The northern one is half-buried in brush, so I chose the southern one to take a break and leave a register. The best views are to the west towards Carson Pass, while trees partially block views in the other directions.

I headed north off the summit, dropping to a saddle with Peak 9,860ft in a little less than a mile. A good dirt road comes across this saddle from the west. I had hoped to drive this the previous evening to make this outing easier, but I found it gated at SR89. I'm not sure if the road is ever open to the public - perhaps during hunting season? I crossed the road and picked up an old logging road heading north that made it easy to bypass Pt. 8,700ft on the west side. The road ends at a saddle with Pt. 8,944ft which I also wished to bypass, so I continued sidehilling on the same side. Past this, I intended to head directly up to Peak 9,860ft, but tall brush intervened and caused me to make a detour around it to the east. Past this, the route grows steep but no serious brush is encountered (lots of sand, though). I spent almost 2hrs covering the 2mi distance between the first two summits. Peak 9,860ft was the highest summit of the day leading me to believe (hope) the rest was downhill, but of course that wasn't true. I rested up here a while. Freel Peak and Jobs Peak rise another 1,000ft higher 2mi to the north, but the views are unobstructed in other directions.

Getting down Peak 9,860ft went quickly. I headed southeast down a steep, sandy gully. Halfway down I moved right out of the gully, but it proved a mistake - too much brush on the slopes I was descending. I returned to the gully to finish the descent, ending east and below the saddle with Peak 9,390ft, but at least no real brush. There is a 700-foot+ climb up to the peak, but over a mile and a quarter, it doesn't get steep. The hardest part was working through sections of brush that I struggled to avoid. For the most part, the NE Ridge and its southwest side have the heaviest brush. I tried to stay in the forest sections where travel was easier, but I wasn't always successful. Reaching the summit around 1:15p, I found it disappointing. It was flattish and brushy, so after stomping about to satisfy myself I'd reached the highpoint, I moved south about 50ft where there was a better view (if only to the west) and a nice rock to rest on. I left a third register here.

The fourth leg to Cary Peak was the longest, about 2.5mi and taking a bit over an hour and a half. It had a bit of everything - forest, brush, rocky ridgeline, alpine meadows, and nice views. There were even a pair of old car tires, evidence of a road that must have existed here once. Cary Peak has only 160ft of prominence, so most of this leg was downhill. The final climb goes up granite rock and sand to the summit overlooking the Carson River drainage to the south. SR88 can be seen 3,000ft below for much of its west-east stretch from Carson Pass to Paynesville. I found a benchmark just below the summit rock and left my last register here.

I knew the south side of Cary Peak was very steep and likely to have many cliffs, so after descending the northwest side of Cary, I turned west and made my way back to Horsethief Canyon and the trail. This went surprisingly well, considering I had to cross the intervening Hidden Canyon enroute. It turned out there was a ducked route that I picked up that took me nicely down and across Hidden Canyon. I lost the route with about half a mile to go to the creek/trail, but animal trails helped me through volcanic cliff sections and back to the trail, all class 2. Once on the trail, I had less than a mile to descend back to the TH, getting me back by 4:30p.

I showered in a nook at the edge of the TH parking, then drove to Markleeville where I got a well-earned dinner of fish tacos and beer at the brewery - pricey, but they could have charged me twice as much without me blinking. It hit the spot. Afterwards, I drove out of town heading south, intending to take up residence at the Wolf Creek TH where I planned to hike the next day. Just outside town, I turned off onto Indian Creek Rd to check and see if the gate was still closed as I'd found a month earlier. I was surprised to find it open and continued up the road to check it out, changing my plans on the fly. The road was in great shape, having been cleared of downfall and no snow anywhere. I drove the road for almost six miles until I unexpectedly came to a private gate blocking the road. I didn't realize there was private property this deep in the forest. I found a place to park about 1/4mi back down the road and camped there for the night. At 7,900ft, it was plenty high to be cool enough for a good night's rest...


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