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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Castle Peak 100 k Briefing with Donner Party Mountain Runners

This trip took me into Verdi, Nevada to stay with friends and then back to Truckee to meet with Lesley and Helen of the Donner Party Mountain Runners, my trail running club. Since I am not able to run 65 miles in one day at my present level of fitness, I wanted to volunteer my help and support for my fellow running club friends. Our event, the Castle Peak 100k, will be held on Saturday, August 29th. (You can find out all the particulars of the event, including route map, length, elevation gain and location of aid stations on the Castle Peak 100k website.)

The finish line for the race ends at Donner Memorial State Park, near Donner Lake. A memorial at the east end of the park is dedicated to the Donner Party that lost many lives, snowbound in Donner/Truckee from November 1846 to February 1847. Hence, the origin of the motto of the Donner Party Mountain Runners – “…FACING THE BRUNT OF FATE; INDOMITABLE, — UNAFRAID.”

No trip to Truckee would be complete without stopping off at my favorite candy store, Mountain Hardware and Sports, the Ace Hardware store on Donner Pass Rd. If I had the money, I’m sure I would not leave there every day of the week without spending at least $300. It has everything you need, and everything you don’t need, but it all looks so good you just got to have it. When I ever get around to decorating my new place up in Truckee someday, this is where I’m going to buy all the things to furnish my house. My dream is to make it look like a trapper’s cabin, but upscale.

Ok, let’s get outside and get some air. I grabbed some fruit and yogurt at Safeway and headed down to Truckee Regional Park to lay out on the grass under the sun and enjoy the beautiful day. The park is just south of downtown Truckee on Brockway Road. There are tennis courts, a baseball diamond, BBQ’s and public bathrooms all at the park. A walk along the access road toward the Truckee River brought me to the Truckee Legacy Trail… a 2.6 mile paved pathway along river for biking, jogging or running your dog, and splashing in the river. A small foot bridge, the East River Bridge connects a parking area at the end of East River St. and the Legacy Trail.

Okay, enough fun on the paved trail, not good for my swollen knee… off to meet up with Lesley at Wild Cherries Coffee House in Truckee for a coffee and talk about the race. At this point it looks like I’ll be helping out with parking at Donner Memorial State Park and helping runners get on shuttle buses to the starting line at Stampede Reservoir. I’ll try to help out wherever I can…should be a great weekend, staying at the campground and talking trail stuff with fellow dirt baggers in the club. Any day spent in the mountains is like heaven to me, so I will truly be a “Happy Camper”.

My trip would not have been complete had I not hiked on a trail and rolled around in some dirt, mud and snow before I came home. A short drive south on Interstate 80 to the Donner Summit Rest Area, I began the trail on the east side of the rest stop. This was the Summit Lake Trail that would intersect with the PCT within ½ mile or so. There was some snow along the trail, much of it melting onto the center of the trail, so I had to bushwhack a little bit to avoid getting too muddy. At the trail junction the PCT northbound to the left, Section L, still had some snow patches that I didn’t care to hike over without spikes on my shoes. I already had a bum knee, I did didn’t need to make it any worse. I took these few pictures and decided to call it a day and get back down off the mountain. I’ll be back in a few weeks anyway, hopefully with my knee better off and less snow to negotiate on the trails.

Thanks for following… until then, I’ll see you next time,

Somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Tahoe Donner Snowshoeing

Happy New Year everyone! Given it was New Year’s Day and such a beautiful day in Truckee/Tahoe Donner area, I just had to get my last bit of snowshoeing in before driving back down the hill.

From Donner Pass Road, turn right onto Northwoods Blvd. in the direction of Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Resort. From there, a little jog on Fjord, then to the left brought me to Alder Creek Road, where there is limited parking off of the street, about ½ mile south from the entrance to the resort. There is a moderate size open area for family snow play, so I thought this was as good a place as any to start my hike.

The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky again with the temperatures in the mid-20s. In the sun and moving that felt pretty good. I followed some of the cross country ski marks then took off trailblazing on my own over the dry virgin powder. I came across several trail markers for snowshoers coming from Tahoe Donner resort but didn’t want to tread on their territory being a freeloader. So I just blazed some of my own trails making sure I wasn’t trespassing on private property as well. Not that many people there, and no one seemed concerned or could even see me. I was only out for about 45 minutes today, and that was enough to make sure I had fun before I left the snow.

After packing up my snowshoes, I headed for Donner Lake, as I hadn’t driven by the lake in over a year. It was wonderful to see snow covering parts of the mountain tops from lake level. I parked my car at the Vista Point turn out, just before the Rainbow Bridge. The bridge is also known as the Donner Summit Bridge, built during the 1920s. It was recently made famous in 2007 by a black bear who managed to get underneath the bridge, dangling precariously over the canyon below. Rest assured that he was safely rescued by Rangers and set free the next day, unharmed. The Vista Point is a perfect spot for photo opportunities of Donner Lake, Donner Summit and the snow tunnels for the trains that run between Sacramento and Reno.

I continued up and over Donner Summit on Donner Pass Road past the Soda Springs Ski Resort and Royal Gorge turn off. From there it was easy to pick up Highway 80 again and head on back to the bay. I’ll be back up to Tahoe as soon as we get another decent snowfall.

Until then, I’ll see you again somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Tahoe Donner Snowshoe Running

Left my friends house in Verdi, Nevada at 7 AM, where it was chilly 2 degrees. All of my bottles of water in the car were frozen solid. I headed up to Tahoe Donner ski area to meet up with Helen from the Donner Party Mountain Runners. From there we carpooled up the hill to start our run for the morning.

It was a nice straight run, a couple of rolling hills to get up which made me gasp for air early on. Helen came back to check on me as I was bringing up the rear of the group. The 5° temperatures made your nose and lungs burn a little bit until you got used to the cold air. Except for that, the conditions were flawless, not a cloud in sight, snowshoe running on a perfectly groomed trail. I got about half to three quarters of the way until I stopped wait up for the group to double back. Ran with Helen a little bit more, and then we all met up at the house for some hot cider and a warm fireplace.

Though it’s still the 31st, I’ll call it a great start for the New Year.

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Eagle Lake & Mt. Tallac – January Snow

Newly fallen snow in Tahoe was all I could think of to celebrate my birthday with. Had a bad bout with the flu, but I had already paid for my fancy hotel room at the Grand Residences Marriott in Heavenly Village, South Lake Tahoe. I was not about to just lie around in front of the fireplace and not go play in the snow. It was snowing all the way over Echo Summit and down to the lake. There was still plenty of daylight left, so I went directly to the Eagle Falls Trailhead near Emerald Bay. About 8 miles north on Highway 89 from the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe, where Highway 50 and 89 meet. Parking is across the road from the Vikingsholm parking lot on Highway 89. If there is not enough space, park at Vikingsholm and walk (run) across the road to the trailhead. Before leaving the parking area, hike below the road on the Vikingsholm side, as the waterfall below the road is worth the effort to get there.

Once at the trailhead, the trail is not as easy to find with the accumulated snow from the past few storms. A little GPS, a little memory, and a little luck I found my way back to the lake. It’s only about one mile each way, about 20 to 30 minutes without snow in spring and summer. (If you wish to camp overnight in the Desolation Wilderness, you need to buy a permit from the Ranger Station in South Lake Tahoe or the Pacific Ranger Station in Pollock Pines on your drive up. You can also get a permit online at Recreation.gov. California Campfire Permits are also needed for camp stoves, and there are no open fires allowed in the Desolation Wilderness.)

Topo Map of Area

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.94707,-120.11198&z=15&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

The snow was getting heavier and the wind picking up right behind it. After leaving the bridge and stones, the trail turned to snow about 6 inches deep. It was now time for the snowshoes. I met several guys coming back out from the lake also in snowshoes. They told me that they were the only ones back there, so I kept that in mind going back to the lake, another half mile in the snow. I do crazy things, but not stupid things…since I was the only one that knew I was back here, I didn’t get overly adventurous and leave the trail.

After dipping my hand in the cold lake and admiring the icicles cascading down from the rocks, it was time to make track back to the car. The snow was coming down a little heavier now; gusts of wind would send it sideways into my face or down the hood of my parka. It was still plenty warm, even working up a sweat trudging through the gathering snowdrifts back to the parking area. One last look and picture of snow falling over Emerald Bay before I go.


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As always, another day, another adventure…

This time I’m off to Mt. Tallac, between Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake, Mt. Tallac is one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tahoe Basin, with a “T” or cross of snow below the peak in the spring and winter months. Rising above the lake at 9,735 feet from near lake level of 6,480’ at the trailhead, Mt. Tallac is about 4.8 miles to the summit. The views are some of the most spectacular in all of Tahoe, as you have unobstructed 360° views of the lake, the Carson Range to the east and Desolation Wilderness and Crystal Range to the west, and the Granite Chief Wilderness to the southwest and northwest. At this time of year, the metal barrier was not open yet for the season, allowing me to drive to the trailhead, about one mile up the paved access road. I parked my car near the roadside of the Mt. Tallac turnoff and Highway 89 and walked the extra distance. I started out wearing my Kahtoola Micro-spikes, as the snow and slush became icy in the shadowy sections of the road. Not long after first light, I was at the trailhead. I filled out my Desolation Wilderness Day Permit (instructions are at the trail sign), attached it to my daypack and was on my way.

It had snowed just yesterday, and the freshly fallen snow on the branches of the pine trees looked like Christmas trees, more than I could count. I was once again in a “Winter Wonderland” in one of my favorite places on earth.

The trail is fairly level for a half mile or so, until you begin to climb to the ridge between Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake. The higher elevation starts to open up views of Fallen Leaf, Lake Tahoe, the Carson Range and Heavenly Valley as you climb along the ridge line. The ridge is quite rocky most of the year and difficult to walk on. This time with snow and snowshoes, it seemed a little easier oddly enough. Once dropping down from the west side of ridge, the trail winds down and behind into a wooded section, deep in powder this trip to Tallac. After about 1½ miles, you arrive at Floating Island Lake, frozen over this time of year.

Looking up directly at Mt. Tallac peering down on you, the southeast chutes are visible for those die-hards that want to avoid the crowded trail in the summer, or ski down the gnarly face in the winter and spring.

About ¾ mile after Floating Island Lake, you emerge from the forested area of the trail at Cathedral Lake. A beautiful yet small lake, nestled in a rocky moraine at the foot of Cathedral Peak – this is a good place for a rest and a bite to eat before tackling the big climb that awaits you to the ridge.

The trail becomes quite rocky and steep much of the way up to Mt. Tallac. There are several switchbacks up the mountain, but it still quite steep and challenging any time of year. It is quite a cardio workout even if you don’t do the entire 3,300 feet of climbing to the summit of Tallac. After many stops to catch my breath, photo ops and just taking in the grandeur of the sights below me, I finally made it to the ridge. The saddle branches off at a trail junction, one direction continuing on to the summit of Mt. Tallac, the other, down the back side of the mountain to Lake Gilmore, deep in the Desolation Wilderness. That trip will have to wait until summer, when the snow and low temperatures melt away with the warm sunshine and more livable conditions.

The usual 6 hour, 4.8 mile hike has taken me that long to get nearly half way in the snow. I will not summit today, as I need to get off the mountain before nightfall. I hadn’t planned on being this slow, and did not bring my Petzl headlamp with me to hike after dark. Now to slog down the switchbacks in snowshoes – I actually think it was easier going up. Snowshoes were not designed to sideways, and it’s a killer on the ankles trying to do that. OK, I’m past Cathedral now, so the real steep past is past. Another hour plus getting out of the shade of the forested section and past Floating Island Lake, and I’ll be on the open ridge above Fallen Leaf Lake and in the sunshine. I came upon a couple with their dog, that must have turned around backtracking to their car. They didn’t have snowshoes and seemed to be moving faster than I was, so I took mine off and tried that for a while. It was all good until the shady areas turned to ice, and I had to put my Micro-spikes back on before I fell on my butt on the icy sections.

Finally back to the car, I have been out nearly 10½ hours today. Quite an adventure. At least nobody needs to come looking for me. Now, back to my fancy hotel for a sauna and jacuzzi bath tub, cozy in front of my own fireplace – a kitchen to make a nice pot of hot peppermint tea… and a giant king-size bed to fall asleep in.

After all…this was my birthday weekend to play in the snow – flu or no flu
I had another fun-filled vacation, in the Tahoe Wilderness.

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See ya on my next adventure, in the Tahoe Wilderness

Jake’s & Maggie’s Peaks – Snowshoes in April

Fresh powder just fell up in Tahoe and I made a beeline to be one of the first to make some tracks with my snowshoes on some of the north facing peaks on the west shore. Those areas would most likely have the most snow accumulated, not getting much sun light to melt it yet. I decided that I would do two separate outings, Jake’s Peak rising above D.L. Bliss on the west shore on Day 1 and the next day I would do Maggie’s Peaks starting at the Bayview trailhead across from Inspiration Point overlooking Emerald Bay on Day 2.


I arrived at Tahoe city and the weather was perfect. Lows in the 40s highs in the 70s. Crystal clear blue sky… hardly a cloud anywhere. From Tahoe City I drove for about 17 miles south, or a half an hour on a good day, down the West Lake Blvd. to D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. (In case you needed, the TART bus runs down to Bliss also every hour, June to September 1st) The entrance is also several miles north of Emerald Bay. There is a small parking area off of the east side of the road near the entrance to  D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. Well great minds think alike and I wasn’t only one that thought this would be a great idea to go out on the mountain today. About six young “telemarkers” in their 20s climbed up to Jake’s to do some backcountry skiing with the fresh powder. Jake’s is a favorite spot of the locals, kind of like a favorite surfing spot and they get a little territorial as well. Today I only had to contend with the telemark backcountry skiers with climbing skins on their skis. I tried to stay out of the path that they made with their skis, just using their marks as my general direction.

The route starts at at just above lake level, about 6,800 feet, and is nearly straight up the eastern facing slope for about 1.5 to 2 miles up to the main peak which is closer to 9,137 ‘ from my GPS. I doubt if I will get all the way to the top today. The southern route to the ridge is the most popular route to take in the spring time. If it hadn’t recently snowed, the conditions would’ve been typical springtime corn conditions to hike and ski on. This route also gives you an unbelievable view of Emerald Bay from high above. Let’s see how far I get today.

I followed the young skiers’ tracks up through the trees… there wasn’t a defined trail, or if there was it was covered in snow now. My route was straight up the mountain making my own switchbacks along the way when it got too steep and some places. I made sure to look back often and admire the view – that was my primary purpose for being here anyway. Just like my snowshoe trip to Mount Tallac in January for my birthday, everywhere I looked was like a scene from Courier & Ives – snow drifts of fresh powder covering downed trees and boulders, sparkled like glitter in the afternoon sunshine. Behind me, Lake Tahoe lived up to its name as the ”Crown Jewel of the West”…the deep blue water, with snowcapped mountains of the Carson range behind it. With all the smells and colors of the trees, the bright white snow and deep blue sky, it was sensory overload and I was loving every minute of it.

After several hours of climbing, I sat down in the snow to take a little breather – I didn’t even bother taking off my snowshoes. I wasn’t getting anywhere fast today. Soon after returning to my climb, the young telemark skiers zipped on past me, enjoying all that they worked for that morning climbing the mountain. I’m nearly at the top now and gave it another 30 minutes before throwing in the towel and heading back down the mountain. After all, I was the only one up here and no one else knew that. I took my last pictures of the views that I earned on my way up, then made my way back down the trailhead across from D.L. Bliss. I need to go rest up for my next adventure tomorrow, climbing to Maggie Peaks from Bayview Trailhead.

Jake’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.96543,-120.10692&z=15&b=t

Another day, another adventure. I parked at the Bayview Trailhead to begin my ascent to Maggie’s Peaks for the day. Getting there early in the morning, it was half slush and half ice. Today I brought my snowshoes, crampons, and my Kahtoola MICROSpikes. The micro spikes were the best thing to start the hike with while walking from snow to ice on the paved road to the trailhead – kept me from falling on my butt mostly. At the trailhead you need to fill out a Desolation Wilderness Permit even for the day, as it gives the Rangers a “heads-up” if they need to come looking for you if you don’t get back before nightfall.

The climb to the saddle between Maggie’s north and south peak is a series of many switchbacks up the side of the mountain. There is a great vista point along the trail, one of the lake in the background and another 100 feet more opens to a beautiful view overlooking Emerald Bay directly below – far more beautiful than the Inspiration Point view could give you… this view you will have to earn by climbing here.

The trail flattens out a bit, meandering through the trees and manzanita brush, eventual bringing you to Granite Lake, nestled at the foot of Maggie’s South Peak. This is another popular spot for backcountry skiers, the real die-hards…but not today. Today I had it all to myself, with the fresh powder from yesterday waiting for me to put the first footprints in for the day. I got down to Granite Lake that looked frozen over, but it was so calm the powder from the day before was just lying on top like goose down feathers – not a breath of wind to disturb it.

The trail was obscured by the snow, though I had been on it before, it was still difficult to know if you were on the trail or bushwhacking your own. After a while, the slope became too steep to walk up. My MSR Ascent snowshoes have “Televators”, like turning your snowshoes into high heels! You pull a little bar up under your heel, so you walk more upright ascending a slope. Many switchbacks later, I made it to the saddle between the north and south peaks.

There, the panorama of the Desolation Wilderness unfolded before me. I could see Phipps Peak and other minor peaks that were hiding the Velma Lakes  and the rest of Desolation behind it. Below me was Eagle Lake, where I had been in January. (Eagle Lake is a short, very easy hike from a trailhead off of Highway 89 across from Vikingsholm and Emerald Bay) Climbing up on a rock, I just took in the incredible “Winter Wonderland” view that I had from the top. Shame I didn’t bring my tent and sleeping bag, as it would have made an awesome sunrise over the Carson Range the next morning. (Technically, I would need an overnight permit from the Ranger Station – I made a mental note to  make sure I camp here next spring)

Ok, time to go home. My light was beginning to fade and I’m already on the shaded side of the mountain. It was easy to find my away back this time. I was the only tracks around to follow down the hill. One final look at Emerald Bay then on down to my car. Walking with snowshoes does take longer than hiking of course, so figure you’re going to make good about half of you hiking speed at best. Less if the drifts are more than about 6” deep.

Maggie’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.93419,-120.10477&z=14&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

That concludes another great day in Tahoe… After a hot shower and some dinner, I’ll start planning tomorrow’s great adventure.

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See ya on my next adventure…