Tahoe Mountain P500
Twin Peaks North

Mon, Jun 14, 2010
Tahoe Mountain
Twin Peaks North
Story Photos / Slideshow Map

My son Ryan and I had time for a short road trip, and given several possible options he chose crampons and ice axe. He'd never used them before and was facinated with the idea of doing so. From his visual description swinging two axes into vertical ice I could see that he had fallen victim to media sensationalism and would need some schooling in their actual usage, far less exciting than he'd been imagining. We held opening lessons on our front lawn to get him used to the gear before trying the same on snow. He liked the pointy spikes that we strapped onto his feet, but was disappointed to find he'd only get to handle one ice axe. During the lesson I described all manner of ugly scars and broken teeth that could result from mishandling an axe in a fall which seemed to grab his attention. This also seemed like a positive attribute as it reinforced the idea that he was using a dangerous piece of equipment - sort of like being able to handle a hand grenade or a vial of nitroglycerine.

Lesson complete, we packed up the car and left San Jose shortly after 2a that night. My plan was to get to Carson Pass shortly after 6a when snow conditions would be hard and it would be relatively easy to hike a few miles in towards Elephants Back and Round Top. Our car, however, had different plans. A slight clunking noise coming from the front had me concerned, and going about 70mph near Tracy it started getting worse, so I pulled over to investigate. I found the right front tire was missing two lugnuts and one of the three remaining ones was loose. Not a good sign.

While Ryan slept in the back of the van, I got out the wrench in order to tighten the remaining lugnuts. Two of these appeared to be stripped and wouldn't tighten properly. So I "borrowed" a lugnut from two of the other wheels in order to get three decent bolts on this tire which might allow us to resume our vacation plans. The effort seemed to pay off, the noise went away and we continued on our way on SR88. But in the town of Jackson the tell-tale noises returned and I wasted no time in pulling over. It was 4a by this time, Ryan still asleep in the back. This time I got out the jack and removed the offending wheel for a better inspection. I found 4 of the five wheel studs were broken, leaving only one of them fully intact. Two of the lugnuts had been threaded onto only a few remaining threads that could be reached on the stud. It appears I was only a short time from having my wheel fall off the car and I could see no way to effect a temporary repair in this compromised condition. I happen to find myself in a Big O Tire Center parking lot off the main drag, so I simply parked the car and waited for them to open. We were lucky to have been in a large enough city that the repairs were pretty straightforward, and by 10:30a my wallet was $320 lighter but we were on our way again.

It was noon by the time we got to Carson Pass. The snow was softer by now so I modified the plan, choosing to hike in just a short distance where we could find a decent practice slope. Boots and gaiters on, we headed out on snowshoes from the parking lot. We found a suitable slope in about 20 minutes, switched to crampons, then practiced climbing, descending, traversing, and a few easy falls with arrest. Finding it more difficult in practice than he had imagined, Ryan had more respect for the equipment and its proper use. Of course, since he's only thirteen and more a boy than a mountaineer, he wanted to have his playtime with the ice axe which I allowed him when our lesson was done. He built a small cadre of prisoners that he lined up so he could drill them like the prison commandant. He walked up and down the line giving them a lecture, punishing individuals for infractions, and eventually wiping out the entire party in a furious display of disciplinary action. Ouch. I hope I don't have to ever write a letter of recommendation for him to enter the police academy.

Once back at the car we continued east over Carson Pass and down to the Carson River where we spent about an hour fishing with Ryan's new rod and reel. He had no luck with the fish, but the setting was quite stunning with the green, flower-strewn meadows of Hope Valley, the snow-clad mountains in the background, and the cool, rushing waters of the river snaking it's way through the center of it all. It was a nice place for Dad to lie down and read his book.

It was after 5:30p before we had gotten to South Lake Tahoe and the Motel 6 where we planned to spend the next few nights. Ryan had had a full day by this time but Dad was still itching to actually climb something, even if it was trivial. So I left Ryan at the motel and headed out for an hour and a half to climb two very easy summits in the area. Both are located on Forest Service lands, but neither could be considered popular.

The first was Tahoe Mtn just east of Fallen Leaf Lake. Paved roads on the south side of the mountain reach to within about 400 vertical feet of the summit. I parked in front of an empty lot and hiked up the slope, angling left towards the higher of the two summits to the west. The cross-county was easy enough, particularly since portions of the area had burned in the 2007 Angora Fire. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the half dozen most costly fires in the US, destroying 242 homes and damaging 26 others. The burn had not been complete over the summit, leaving more than half the trees intact and burning only the lower branches on many others. Once at the summit ridge I connected with a dirt road leading along the crest between the two summits. Undoubtedly the dirt roads led up from the base of the mountain, perhaps on the west side and it might be possible to drive much or all of the distance to the top. At the summit I found a couple of small communication shacks. A large ponderosa next to one of them served as the antenna mast, wires running up the side to reach the equipment mounted at the top. The ponderosa had been cut at the top to prevent further upward growth and provide a base upon which to mount the gear. The backside of another shack was inscribed with dozens of entries, making for a sort of bulletin board register in lieu of the usual variety. I also noted a trail leading off the north side of the summit, though I don't know where it starts from - it might be a more scenic way to climb the mountain. The summit was large and flat and difficult to get much of a view from. I could see Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake through the trees, but it was a stretch. Mt. Tallac had a fine profile across Fallen Leaf Lake to the west, but the sun was just above it at this time of the evening and the view was washed out to a great extent.

The second summit I visited was Twin Peaks near the airport, just west of US50. This was a much better summit for views with a more compact, rocky summit and only a smattering of trees to block the views. There is a tall, red light beacon atop the summit which looked like it might be fun to scale, but access to the crowsnest at the top was barred with a locked grating. There are fine views of Freel Peak and the airport looking east, Luther Pass to the south, and west towards Desolation Wilderness. There does not appear to be any trails or roads leading to the summit. I simply parked off US50 near a propane business northeast of the peak and hiked up the steep, sandy slopes to the summit. Voila - 1.5hrs, two easy summits.


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