Castle Peak

On the first day of summer, we’re off to Castle Peak, just north of Donner Summit off of Interstate 80 to the north. You can see it towering above the highway as you approach Donner Summit from the west. There are many ways to get there from I-80. I took this route today as I was eastbound to Tahoe City eventually. Take the turnoff for Boreal Ski Resort and turn back under the highway driving north. You will see cars parked along the road, but do notice the no parking signs for part of the road. The paved section ends in several hundred feet, then becomes a dirt access road for four wheeled vehicles.

This about 4+ hours, 7 to 8 miles for an Out-and-Back, or loop, depending on your choice of routes. Once at Castle Peak, you can either double-back on your tracks or continue on to Warren Lake Trail to Summit Lake Trail, returning to the Rest Stop on the north side of Interstate 80.

Castle Peak Summit: 9,103 feet

Distance: 7 to 8 miles

Time needed: 4+ hours (Less if you’re not chatty like me)

Elevation gain to the summit: 1,890 feet

(Note: An alternate route would be from I-80 westbound, starting from the Rest Stop area. Join the PCT behind the restrooms and West Lakes, hiking in the northwesterly direction until you arrive at Castle Pass)

(Click here to view GPS Track and download GPX or KML track in Google Earth)

Click here for Topographic map of area

This route is a mecca for mountain bikers, four-wheelers and hikers alike. It is also a popular snow-mobile road in the winter time. The road is wide enough for everybody to enjoy it at the same time. The road starts off with a gradual climb to a fork in the road. There on your right, you can see Castle Peak above you, our goal for the day. If you continued on the road to the left, it would also take you to Castle Pass, where the  trail meets with the PCT. Branching off of the access road to the left is “Hole in the Ground” trail, routing you beneath Andesite Peak, eventually meeting at Castle Pass as well.

We will cross Upper Castle Creek several times on this route. Only a little runoff at this time in our drought year. It is flowing well enough as a water source for drinking after treating or filtering. After another quarter of a mile, the road intersects with the PCT or continues straight on the Donner Lake Rim Trail. Mountain bikes usually continue on to the Rim Trail, but we will be turning left to join the PCT to Castle Pass.

Castle Pass is great place to meet other people out on a day hike or thru hikers on the PCT, on their way north. Today I met up with a fellow seasoned hiker and Grass Valley local, “Mountain Goat”. She had been camping at Paradise Lake, on the other side of Castle Peak.

After a brief chat, it was time to get the show on the road. The terrain changes quickly here, from an earthen soil on the PCT to crushed and powdered volcanic ash. It can be a scramble up the hill with rocks and volcanic ash, not a great footing. I met several solo hikers and small groups coming back down the mountain for the saddle below Castle Peak. It is a good place to stop and rest and enjoy the view or continue on to the summit.

Once at the saddle below the peak, you can take in the panoramic views.


Take time to look around you and enjoy the moment… you see some flowers that aren’t everywhere in the Tahoe Basin. Some of these flowers grow in areas with volcanic soil, like here, Ellis Peak or Barker Peak. The brilliant deep purple Showy or Sierra Penstamen is everywhere here. Wolley Mule Ears, with it’s yellow daisey-like flower, the white, three petalled, and low-growing Smokey Mariposa or Mariposa Lily by another name… Firecracker flower (a type of phlox or gilia), and yellow Marumleaf Buckwheat.

I got a late start today driving up from the bay, so I only have time to climb a little more. The trail becomes steeper and more loose in traction. My Altra Olympus trail running shoes are really not the best choice today. A shoe with a Vibram sole might be better in this section. As I climb higher, Round Valley below me is lush and green. The PCT follows the meadow on the western edge. The Peter Grubb Hut, owned by the Sierra Club is there for PCTers for shelter on their way north. Our Donner Party Mountain Runners have used it in the winter time as a ski-in or snowshoe-in for overnight outings. Reservations are needed. 

Can’t peak out today, time to head back down the mountain and drive to Tahoe City for the night. This was a great way to spend the first day of summer, out in my element…the Tahoe forest.

Hope you enjoyed the trip today. Whichever route you take, you will really enjoy the scenery…it’s some the best views in the Truckee-Donner area.

Until next time…

See you on my next adventure…

Somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Ellis Peak from Barker Pass

This is my second day of running, hiking, climbing of a two day jaunt up in Lake Tahoe. I came up this time for a variety of reasons, one to see a friend that I hadn’t seen in a year, but she bailed before I got up there. (I was not very happy) This week also started the Alpenglow Mountain Festival, sponsored by Alpenglow Sports of Tahoe City. There were a week’s worth of outdoor activities planned, such as SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding), yoga and trail running. Speaking of trail running, I met up with my friend Robert Rhodes of Bay Trail Runners, who was showing his acclaimed, Trails in Motion Film Festival, the premier trail running and ultra-running film tour at Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema in Tahoe City. I know it was a sell-out crowd…you can look for all of them listed in Bold on Facebook.

This trip is to Ellis Peak, a 8,740 foot peak that is just west of the Homewood Ski Resort. Just 11 miles from the Tahoe City “Y”, we turn right on Barker Pass Road, just at Kaspian Campground, and drive up Blackwood Canyon. There are signs several miles up the road for you to bear left and continue up to Barker Pass. When you come to the second green iron gate, the pavement ends. Find a good spot to park off of the road, as the trailhead is just on the other side of the road. (Note: if you continue down another mile, you will find the Barker Pass PCT/TRT Trailhead parking area, with vault toilets if needed.)

It is approximately a 6 mile out-and-back to Ellis Peak, with approximately 1,700 feet of climbing. If this will be at a hiking pace, give yourself about 4 hours overall. It is quite steep in sections, and with the altitude, expect to take many breaks. Not a problem, as there is so many beautiful things to see in any direction you look. Right now, the first day of summer, the wildflowers painted a brilliant palette of color over the ground and hillsides. This hike can be dog friendly if you bring extra water along for them. It is a dry hike, unless you venture down to Ellis Lake, adding at least another 2  miles to your outing. (I did meet some folks with some dogs, and the older dogs were not very happy…it is a strenuous hike for all, so keep them in mind.)

View GPS Track on Gaia here (If you have Google Earth, you can download the track and flyover on satellite. You may also download a GPX file to use on a GPS receiver)


The hike begins straight up the hill right out of the gate. Several open sections of full sunlight then back into the shade as you switch back up the hill to the first plateau. From there, all of Desolation Wilderness opens up before you to the west and southwest.

To the west, you can easily see the largest lake in the area, Loon Lake, which lies just outside of the Desolation Wilderness boundary. (We will save that track for another day) As I reach the ridgeline, the trail runners from this morning’s Alpineglow Mountain Sports run were coming back down the mountain from Ellis Peak. It was nice to see some trail runners from Germany and Norway enjoying our Lake Tahoe trails and spectacular views.

The trail continues to climb for another half mile or so before reaching the crest and turning down hill once again on the backside of the mountain.

Eventually, the road Intersects with a forest service road and the trail down to Ellis Lake at about 8300 feet, and the 3 mile mark. Now you’re in for a little heart pounding climb up the gravelly hill to the base of Ellis Peak. Now you’re just behind and above the Homewood Ski area. (Note: if you would have turned to the right on the Forest Service Road, it would have brought you down to Lake Louise and the top of the ski lift at Homewood) Rest assured, we’re almost there…just a few hundred more feet and it will all be worth the effort.

 

 

The trail is composed of mostly broken and powdered volcanic rock and ash…not the best traction at times, so take it slow. Finally the peak is in sight. A mound of rocks that looks like a chair, and a breath-taking 360° view of everything! The entire Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond lies before you…and to the southwest, all of Desolation Wilderness, still with snow of some of the northeast facing facets.

 

On my way back down from the peak, I met a young guy with a sweet mountain bike that PUSHED it all the way up the hill so he could ride back down the mountain from Ellis Peak!!! Now that is a die hard!

About a mile or so down the road he came whizzing by with a big smile on his face that he did it…well, a couple more miles but he’ll be there in no time. I also met some people that brought their dogs up with them…out of the 4 dogs, only one looked like he was having fun. It was pretty warm today.

Well, I’m to that valley now between the two mountain tops…rats. This means I have to start climbing again…and after yesterday’s climb to Castle Peak, I’m toast. I can’t wait to get back to the lake and jump in and have a swim.

One last look over the edge of the cliff into Blackwood Canyon, then back to the car soon. Two days of some intense hiking/running/climbing… Now’s time for that swim.

 

Thanks for coming along…until next time…

See you soon, somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Tahoe City to Ward Creek, Tahoe Rim Trail Run

Gorgeous weather was in store for Lake Tahoe this week and I was lucky to tag along with my friend JoAnne to Tahoe City. While she was attending a seminar for the Ross Valley Fire Department, it would give me enough time for a leisurely run/hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail to Ward Creek and back. Before starting my trek, we ventured behind the Tahoe Dam and Gatekeeper’s Quarters, where there should be water…but not this year. This year the area behind the dam is bone dry – the lake behind the Gatekeeper’s Residence has been replaced by a field of Crest Lupin, beautiful purple flowers that grow out to the water’s edge, some 100 meters away.

The TRT Trailhead starts on the west side of the bike/foot bridge that goes over the Truckee River. Depressing to see what little water is flowing for businesses like river rafting and restaurants along the Truckee. I only hope they can survive the season.

Just over the bridge is a nice picnic area with tables in the shade of large pine trees. Parking is abundant for beginning your TRT section or biking along the Tahoe Bike Path. Outhouses are nearby for any last minute needs.

This section is just under 6 miles with about 976 feet of elevation gain. It is kid and dog friendly on a leash (leash for kids optional). The trail follows the Truckee River northward for a short time before ducking into the forest of pines and cedar. (Click here for a satellite view of the section route)

From there, the trail switchbacks up the side of the canyon, following the contour as you climb away from the Truckee River. Flowers are in abundance along this section of the TRT. The bright “Daisy-like” flower of Mule Ears and the lavender blue of Stickseed flowers lined my path.

As the trail turns to the south, the first of several meadows come into view.

Not easily accessible, it’s best to wait for Page Meadows. Finally, after the last grove of trees disappears, the scene opens to the sprawling panorama of Page Meadows, perfectly showcasing the volcanic monoliths of Twin Peaks and Ward Peak in the distance.

The concrete “Boardwalk” placed there by the volunteers from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, help keep the trail open during soggy months, insuring that the trail will still be there the following season. Once on the other side of the meadows, the trail once again finds it’s way back into the forest.

Meandering in and out of direct sun, the shady sections are welcome in the noonday sun. Several steep sections arrive just before the end of the trail segment. Forest Service Road 15N60 is a wide and a fairly steep climb or “glissade” over dirt and gravel, depending on which way you are going. There are several last distant views of Ward Canyon and mountains behind. The service road continues straight, to intersect with Ward Creek Road further east. The TRT trail, branches off to the right, towards Ward Creek Road, then crosses it to join the TRT Ward Creek to Barker Pass Segment. There is ample parking along the road on Ward Creek Road near the trailhead for either section of the TRT you wish to do.

 

A couple of bonus pictures on my way back to Tahoe City… The “New” William Kent beach area that has been under construction for more than one year is now open…with flush toilets and picnic tables in the shade and a very nice, but small, beach to bask in the sun. Parking is limited, so be patient or prepared to walk a few blocks. If you’re hungry, one of my favorite eateries in Lake Tahoe is just across the highway, the Firesign Café.

Thanks for riding along with me…until then…

See you on my next adventure, in the Tahoe wilderness

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