Wed, Jul 16, 2014
Wednesday morning brother Jim and I were up early while the rest of the family was still asleep. We were in Stateline, NV for a family reunion and were heading out for a hike up near Luther Pass. Thompson Peak overlooks the pass on the north side, the first summit along a ridge leading to Freel Peak, the highest in the Tahoe region. I had been to Freel on several previous occasions to tag it along with a few other nearby summits, but never along the ridgeline between Luther and Armstrong Passes. In addition to Thompson, there was an unnamed P900 overlooking Armstrong Pass, and it was these two summits I was primarily interested when we set out.
Construction along SR89 prevented us from parking at Luther Pass as planned, but fortunately the construction zone ended just on the other side, and after finding a small turnout to leave the van, we struck off across the road and up the steep cross-country slopes to Thompson. The slope rises some 1,700ft in 2/3mi, giving no time to warm up the legs before the thighs start to burn. Jim took the lead at a pretty stiff pace that surprised me, though I didn't expect he would keep it up for long. After 20 minutes up the often sandy slopes he began to flag. We took slightly different routes at this point as I got ahead of him on his left and it was the last I saw of him for a while. The upper half of the mountain has a good deal of brush and it seems somewhat of a crapshoot as to whether one finds a decent way through it. I had better luck, finding the going not so bad as I kept to rockier terrain as I found it, and reached the summit just before the 1hr mark at 7:40a. The views are not as good as one might expect from looking at the topo map. Trees block views to the north though some of the peaks of Desolation Wilderness can be seen through them. Freel can just be seen above the trees to the east. The best views are of Hope Valley and Hawkins Peak to the south. Jim had had poorer luck, getting mired in thick brush and would be more than 45min behind me in reaching the summit.
From Thompson's summit, the outing becomes far easier and more scenic as we followed northeast along the ridge. We made a half mile detour to the north to visit unnamed Peak 9,620ft (440ft of prominence), passing through the delightful upper portions of Freel Meadows with lupines and other flowers in bloom. The meadow itself was damp and wet in places, but not enough to get a real soaking. Peak 9,620ft has several rocky outcrops vying for the highpoint amongst the forested top. The highest was in the middle with no views. Just a short distance north, however, is a fine view in that direction to Lake Valley and Lake Tahoe. To the east rose the barely higher Peak 9,647ft with Freel Peak behind it. Jim had cut himself on the sharp rocks and paused here to Superglue a small flap of skin back on his middle finger. You're not really having fun until someone bleeds.
Leaving the summit, we picked up the TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail) and followed it back to the Thompson Ridge and then northeast towards our P900 summit. After almost two miles, we left the trail at a saddle where it starts to head down to Armstrong Pass. More sandy uphill ensued as Jim and I found ourselves separated for a second time. As I headed up, I kept to the left, knowing that the highpoint was on a branch of an upper ridge on that side. The ridge itself was along a class 2-3 bit of fun granite scrambling with the final summit block a short class 3 challenge from the south side (turns out it is easier if one goes around the east side to approach from the north). As I sat upon the airy perch I looked around, but saw no sign of my brother. My phone rang with a text from him, "Where are you?" "On the summit" was my simple reply. A minute goes by, and then another text, "I climbed the wrong one." This might have been forgiveable except that beforehand I had given him the GPX track of the planned route and it was loaded in his GPS. Later he would say that he looked at the GPS as he started up the cross-country portion and assumed it was the summit just ahead of him. He didn't look at it again until he got my text reply. I didn't mind because there was another summit further north along the ridge that looked like it could be higher. I figured I could get to it and back before Jim reached to the current point. It took about ten minutes for the roundtrip time, the GPS suggesting the northern point was a few feet lower than the original summit. Jim was still nowhere to be seen when I got back, but I immediately got another text, "I see you!" I replied with "Stalker." Not really caring much about the actual highpoint, he then texted that I should meet him back at trail. This went off without a hitch and by 11:30a we were together again on the trail heading back.
We spent the next hour and a half retracing our route (minus the side trip to Peak 9,620ft), nearly going back over Thompson again before starting back down to the road. This time my luck was not so good as I led us through a section of fairly thick brush, the same stuff that Jim had wallowed through on the way up and I had somehow avoided. It was almost 1p by the time we got back down to the van, making for just over six hours on the outing.
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