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My last day in the Tahoe region was an enjoyable 10mi hike south of Echo Summit in the Eldorado National Forest. Two of the peaks are on the Pacific Crest, and thus on the border with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. My primary interest in the peaks was for the two that are part of the Pacific Divide list I've been working on over a number of years. All three also happen to be the highest summits I have yet to climb in both the Eldorado NF and El Dorado County. The last section of the route would also include a section of the PCT I had yet to hike on. For all these reasons, I had been anticipating this hike for some time. The 2021 Caldor Fire had burned over about half of the route, leaving a mix of burned and unburned forest areas.
I had camped at Echo Summit, close to US50 and the regular road noise it entails. I had used the same site three nights earlier, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect. Not the best site to be found, but it was right where I wanted to start the hike in the morning. I wasn't up as early as I'd been the previous mornings, but I was able to get started by 6:30a. It was expected to reach into the 80s today, and I wanted to finish up before it got too warm.
Heading out on my loop in a counter-clockwise direction, I started on the Pony Express Trail from the parking lot to the northwest, through one of the areas most heavily impacted by the fire. The trail crosses the PCT/TRT before landing on Scout Peak Rd before the first mile. This narrow, partly paved Forest Road climbs from US50 nearly to the summit of Scout Peak. I would have liked to drive this road, but unfortunately it is gated at the highway and only open for Forest personnel and technicians for the two telecom sites up the mountain. The initial trail and road descend for 200ft to cross the outlet of Lake Audrian, then begins a 1,600-foot ascent up the northwest side of Scout Peak. As a hiking route I found the road quite decent, with an excellent gradient. Markers high on the trees indicate this is a marked winter cross-country ski route, though many of the blue arrows were burned in the fire. I reached the first installation after an hour and twenty minutes, the second another ten minutes further up the road. Between the two, the nicely graded road becomes rougher, requiring high-clearance. The road ends altogether shortly past the second installation, only a few minutes from Scout Peak's highpoint. There are some easy class 3 summit rocks at the highpoint, but there are no views due to forest cover. Fire suppression efforts to save the telecom towers also saved the trees atop Scout Peak.
Huckleberry Mtn, the highpoint of the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, is another 3/4mi as the crow files to the WSW, a short distance west of the Sierra Crest. The connecting ridgeline has little elevation change and the cross-country travel is easy. There is even some evidence that a trail once existed along the top of the ridge. It took little more than half an hour to get between the two. A chair lift reaches nearly to the summit. The upper chalet, closed for the summer, occupies much of the high ground, though the summit rocks were left conveniently outside. The highest is to the east. On the side of the summit block is a plaque to Bob Shultz, an icon of the ski area for many years, who died in 2010 at the age of 60 in a backcountry accident. The summit block is class 3, not easy, but not really difficult, either. The summit offers mostly open views (save for the chalet blocking views to the west). Lake Tahoe can just be seen in the distance to the north.
The highest summit in the area, Peak 8,940ft, lies about 1/2mi to the southeast, out of view due to intervening trees. I retraced my route for about half of this distance to regain the crest, then continued with easy cross-country to the unassuming summit. The highpoint has no summit rocks, just a rounded, alpine knoll with trees blocking views in most directions. It was not long after 9a and I'd visited the three summit in good time, better than I had expected - much of this due to the ease of the cross-country travel. I now just needed to get down to the PCT/TRT and follow it back to the TH.
I could have continued southeast and south for about 2/3mi to reach the trail where it crosses a saddle on the crest near Bryan Meadow, as was my original plan. After covering less than half the distance, I found myself at the top of the Benwood Creek drainage and could see on my GPSr that the trail was about 300ft below. The slope did not look difficult and I decided I could shortcut the intended route by dropping down here. This worked wonderfully, keeping to the left during the descent to avoid some serious brush growing along the creek channel. Six minutes later I had a visual on the trail below me and was quickly on the well-trodden path. I would spent a bit more than an hour descending the two and a quarter miles of trail. Just north of Benwood Meadow I got distracted by a trail spur that cut to the right through forest. Branches on the path were placed to keep people on the correct route to the left, but I thought it might be an interesting variation. It was not. It started well enough, but soon disolved into a dense forest area with many downed trees, probably the reason the trail was re-routed. It wasn't all bad, but it was a little slow-going until I finally found the trail again. I finished up just after 10:30a, about 4hrs total for the outing. Most of the day the temperatures were ideal for hiking, but during the descent it would warm into the 70s. It was time for me to head home regardless, so after a quick jug shower in the parking lot, I headed back to San Jose...
This page last updated: Wed Jun 29 10:55:48 2022
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