Ski Mountaineering

Peak bagging in the Northern Sierra Nevada

Sep 2-7, 1998

Reiner Stenzel

Have you ever had peak climbing feaver? That's what got me on a Labor Day weekend in 1998. I thought to bag all the listed peaks in the Northern Sierra. In addition it would be a 10 hour drive, each way. Of course, nobody else was foolish enough to come along.

So I took off on Friday, Sep 2, to drive up to South Lake Tahoe. I positioned my VW bus near the trailhead and slept in the car. Early next morning, Sep 3, it was a straightforward hike up to the summit of Freel Peak. There was a rusty water tank with graffiti on the peak, but if you ignored it there was a fine view over Blue Lake Tahoe. After a short breakfast at 9 am I returned and drove to my next destination north of Lake Tahoe.

Two peaks a day worked fine with good positioning and timing. So I drove again close to the next destination, Squaw Valley, to climb Granite Chief and Tinker Knob the next day, Sep 4. I started early and climbed Granite Chief honestly from the bottom to the top, reaching the summit at 10 am. Again, the peak with a ski lift did not look like a wilderness environment, but it got better on the ridge trail to Tinker Knob. I was on the summit by 12:30 pm. This left half a day for another peak, Castle Peak near the I-80.

I hiked up Castle Peak Road then did some cross-country walking to the base of the mountain. There were several false summit blocks and of course the farthest was the real peak, which involved a few class 3 moves. Unfortunately, there was no time to relax on the summit since the afternoon thunderstorms were imminent. As the thunder came closer I hurried down to the car.

On Sep 5 I climbed Mt Lola in the morning and English Mtn in the afternoon. But what seemed now routine got almost derailed by the unstable weather. The climb or walk to Mt Lola went fine and I summited by 9 am. But English Mtn is a more difficult one and I made the summit at 3 pm when the sky got black and the metal antenna on the summit hissed. I got down asap and when I was in the car the sky opened up. It was so bad that I could not drive but had to wait out the end of the storm. I arrived late at the next destination, the Sierra Buttes.

The morning hour is usually the best time of the day. On Sep 6, by 9 am I climbed the ladder to the lookout tower on the Sierra Buttes. There were no crowds on the tower and the views were excellent. In order to avoid a repeat of the day before I relocated to the next peak, Mt Elwell, which I summitted by 12:30 pm, well before the afternoon thunderstorms. It was clear enough to see the last peak, Adams Peak. In the late afternoon I arrived near it and followed a maze of dirt roads close to the destination.

On Sep 7 it was a short XC hike to the summit of Adams Pk where I signed the register at 8 am. It was a satisfying experience that everything went well, no orphan peaks left behind, and the 9 peaks cured the peak fever for a while. The day was still young enough for the long drive home on the 395.

Pictures (click for large version):

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