Peak 9,380ft P300
Peak 8,085ft P300

Wed, Jun 30, 2021

With: Kristine Swigart

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

With warm weather continuing over most of the state and thunderstorms forecast over much of the Sierra, I decided to try a new strategy - start hiking early and finish by noon. Wanting more than a daytrip but not relishing the idea of hanging out in a warm Jeep waiting for the sun to go down, I booked a motel room in South Lake Tahoe after finding some suitable summits in the area. Kristine would drive out from her home near Topaz Lake to join me both mornings. Today's peaks were a pair of unnamed orphans found between the Sierra Crest and SRs 88/89, west of Luther Pass. In hindsight, the better starting point would have been the Big Meadow TH to the north off SR89. Instead, we met at in Hope Valley off SR88 and drove together in the Jeep up to Scotts Lake just south of Waterhouse Peak, to make for a slightly longer route. It was 6:20a by the time we were ready to head out on foot.

All of the trails we hiked today were in good shape, and fairly popular, particularly the section of the Tahoe Rim Trail we traveled between the two peaks. Ours was the only vehicle at the TH when we started out, and the only one when we returned, clearly a lesser-used trail in the area. Scotts Lake and the TH are located close to the saddle between Stevens Peak and Waterhouse Peak, and after passing through an old stock gate we were traveling downhill into the Meadow Creek drainage. We followed the trail for a little over half a mile before starting our 1,500-foot cross-country ascent to Peak 9,380ft. Try as we might, we could not find a clear path through the aspen tangle that lined the side of the trail and creek. We would spend half an hour working our way up a steep slope through more aspens than I thought existed in this area, eventually emerging from them about halfway up the slope (a perusal of the satellite view later appears to show us maximizing the time spent in the aspens - a few hundred feet to either side showed no aspens at all). To add to our troubles, the mosquitoes seemed to grow denser the higher we went on the slope, eventually forcing us to stop for a DEET bath to stem the blood loss. The aspens were replaced by thigh-high brush that proved only slightly better (still lots of mosquitoes), high-stepping needed to keep from tripping ourselves up. Views at least were opening up and we were nicely kept in the shade with the sun on the other side of the ridge. We were greeted by the sun around the time we reached the ridge between our peak and Waterhouse Peak to the south, the gradient now relenting (along with the mosquitoes) and the brush growing more stunted and easier to travel through. Trees dominate the upper slopes, though most aren't very tall. The summit rocks poke up nicely through most of the trees, leaving views from the south to the northwest as we arrived around 7:30a. The sun was still low on the eastern horizon, washing out views in that direction towards Freel Peak. Tree-covered Waterhouse Peak is nearby to the south, the more rugged Red Lake Peak much further to the southwest. The higher summits of Desolation Wilderness were in the distance to the northwest. A haze-covered Lake Tahoe was just visible through the trees to the north. We left one of Kristine's registers here before starting down.

Wanting to avoid the brush on the sunnier slopes to the southwest, we headed down the West Ridge, sticking to the north side where forest cover provided easy cross-country travel. At a saddle with Pt. 8,390ft, we dropped southwest through forested slopes to reach our original trail near Big Meadow. The descent worked quite nicely without any bushwhacking, and would undoubtedly have made a better ascent route, too. We quickly reached the junction with the Tahoe Rim Trail and turned to follow it south across Meadow Creek and Big Meadow. We met up with a large group that were pausing for a photo op, and would come across half a dozen other groups of backpackers and day hikers, mostly in pairs. Kristine spotted a garter snake on the trail and we paused to chase it down for a quick photo. A baby squirrel bouncing around the meadow caught my attention and we watched it briefly, too (seemed like easy bait for the redtail hawk we saw flying around earlier). We continued south on the trail for another mile, going over a low ridgeline before turning off the main trail. Our second summit, Peak 8,085ft was off a spur trail going to Dardanelles Lake. We followed this trail for a short while before turning north/northwest for the half mile of cross-country it would take to get to the summit. Peak 8,085ft is one of the "shiest" summits I've seen anywhere. The terrain surrounding it doesn't seem like it could hold a peak with more than 300ft of prominence, but somehow it manages to. We did not find any good views of it (It can be seen from Peak 9,380ft, but the Sierra Crest behind it makes it almost impossible to distinguish the peak in the foreground), and it was only at the last minute as we came upon the summit that we thought, "Oh, there is a peak here."

There's a squarish, 6-foot summit block that is a bit challenging to ascend. With the fused ankle on her one foot, Kristine struggled to surmount it as we both laughed at her failed efforts before finally making it. Lake Tahoe can just barely be seen through the valley to the north. Everywhere else, higher ground surrounds the summit. We left a second register here while we took a longer break before starting back. It was after 10a before we started back, reversing our route back to the trail and briefly debating whether to visit the lake or any of several PB-only summits in the area. I poo-poohed the lot of them, but tried to encourage Kristine to pay them a visit if she wanted to - with her much faster hiking pace, she'd probably catch me before I got back, and besides, I had plenty to keep me busy at the Jeep if I had to wait. She decided that wouldn't be as much fun and we returned to the Rim Trail together.

We could have stayed on trail the whole way back, but the adventure wasn't yet over. On our way back down the Rim Trail towards Big Meadow, we decided to shortcut to the east cross-country to save us about a mile of trail work. Kristine led us across a brushy creek (thank you, big log) and through forest that had seen thinning work done in the past, leaving large slash piles to slowly decay. Some of this was horrendous and had us laughing at ourselves, wondering if we were really saving any time. At the worst of it, a chainsaw-wielding team had been unleashed on haphazardly downed logs, cutting them up with no clear purpose other than as chainsaw practice. Pieces were left right where they fell when cut, no further work needed, apparently. Kristine found an old tin that we guessed might be an old Valvoline oil can, perhaps left by the work crew. She did an internet search later to find it was a can of Burgermeister beer, circa 1960, from a brewery in San Francisco. That made all our trouble worthwhile, we thought. Once back on the trail, we followed it southeast back over the saddle to Scotts Lake and the Jeep, finishing up before noon.

That should have been the end of it as it had already grown quite warm. We had a beer as we drove back down to Kristine's car at SR88, then parted ways. I drove over Luther Pass and then up to Echo Summit to have a look at a few other minor summits off the PCT/Rim Trail. I walked about a mile of trail before turning back, deciding it was just too damn hot now to call this fun. I would head back down to South Lake Tahoe and hole up in an air-conditioned room for the rest of the afternoon and evening...

Continued...


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