Lake Tahoe Peak-O-Rama

31 Aug - 2 Sep 2001 - by Dewey Dumond

Pyramid Pk, Round Top, Dicks Pk, Jacks Pk, Emigrant Pk, Granite Chief, Tinker Knob and Castle Pk.

My original goal wasn't quite "climb-o-rama" in scope, it was more of a fun, peak bagging weekend, but like most good adventures, this one evolved and grew in size. I had been pretty quiet in the climbing world lately, after blowing out my knee in a '00 ski accident, but my climb of Dicks Peak during our family vacation this summer got my confidence back and the juices flowing again. I was anxious to get back in the mountains and my original plan was to climb Pyramid Peak and two or three of the more northern peaks. Mike Rinaldi was planning to climb Dicks Peak the same weekend and our plans started to merge. When I had climbed Dicks earlier in the summer, my goal was to climb Jacks at the same time, but it was so windy that day I settled for just the one. It was real easy to talk Mike into adding Jakes Pk. into his plans, and he didn't have much trouble rearranging my schedule so he could climb the northern peaks with me. Mike had already climbed Pyramid and so we agreed to meet at his condo after I climbed it.

Friday 8-31 Pyramid and Round Top

I left my house in San Jose at 4:00am and made great time up to the mountains. After reading numerous trip reports, I decided that the Rocky Canyon approach to Pyramid Pk. was more direct and straightforward than the Horsetail Falls route, and since I would be soloing this one, I chose the easier route. The trail begins 1 mile west of Twin Bridges, on the eastern side of Rocky Creek, it's not that hard to find since some lover of the great outdoors spray painted a large "T" on a boulder near the roadway. The use trail rises steeply at an average grade of 20% and is well marked with cairns even though the route is basically straight up and due north. The final 1000' leaves the forest and climbs up a sandy slope before the final boulder hop to the summit. I topped out at 9983' in two hours and twenty minutes. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and only the faintest trace of wind, but the sky was dirty brown because of the fires burning in the foothills. I lingered on the summit, enjoying the warmth and tried to identify all the peaks I've climbed, and hoped to climb. The trip down took only an hour and a half and by now I realized I could have slept in quite a bit later! I spent a leisurely afternoon lounging around the beach in busy South Lake Tahoe while Mike was climbing Round Top. We met at his house, had dinner, shared stories and planned for the next day.

Sat 9-1 Dicks and Jacks Peaks

We left Mike's place at 6:30 and drove to Emerald Bay. We hit the trail at 7:15 and made good time past Eagle Lake and the climb to the Velma Lakes. Soon Dicks Pk. came into view and we passed Dicks Lake on the way up Dicks Pass. There was only a slight breeze at the top of the pass, a welcome change from when I was here earlier this summer and had to walk leaning into the wind! We dropped down to a small black butte before skirting it and starting the final climb. Dicks is rated class 2, and I might be splitting hairs here, but I'd call the face just before the final summit ridge 2 and =. At any rate it's a fun climb and we enjoyed another great day, with a clearer sky than the day before. After snacks and photos we headed down to the saddle connecting Dicks to Jacks. I had incorrectly assumed this would be an easy second peak, but the steep talus down-climb was much harder and slower than I expected. We crossed the saddle and Mike started up on the class 3 northern side. I opted to work around to the east and try for a class 2 approach. After twenty minutes of scrambling and sliding on steep talus flanks, I gave up on the "easier" route and just went up the class 3 face above me. There I found Mike waiting for me, probably wondering why I didn't just follow him in the first place! We shared the summit with a couple firemen from Sacramento and after sharing humorous climbing stories we headed down. We now had to re-climb Dicks or try to skirt the base of it without loosing to much elevation. We opted for the latter, and after one disappointing loss of elevation after another, I'm not sure we took the right route. We spent a lot of time getting back to Dicks Pass, but once on trail again we made good time. Shortly after helping a distraught, lost backpacker find her way back to Fontanelis Lake and feeling good about our navigational skills, I managed to take a wrong turn and head us toward Lower Velma Lake. Mike made me pay for my indiscretion by going to the front and setting a blistering pace all the way to the trailhead. We got to the cars at 6:00 making it an 11 hour day. Mike headed back to his place for a nice steak dinner; I headed north for Castle Peak and Burger King!

Sun 9-2 Castle Pk, Emigrant Pk, Granite Chief and Tinker Knob

I spent the night at the base of the 4WD trail leading up to Castle Pass and at 6:00am I started driving up toward the pass. It was still dark as I delicately inched my way up the rocky trail, trying my hardest not to bang-up my wives expensive SUV. At Castle Pass I got great views of the 3 summit blocks and the sunrise behind them. I quickly made the windy summit and probably followed every wrong use trail until I reached the furthest and tallest summit block. After a cursory look around the block, I chose a class 3 route up a crack on the western side (I would find out later this wasn't the easiest route). The rock was volcanic and had great holds, but was very vertical and being alone, I was uncomfortable on the route up. Between the wind and my anxiety, I didn't spend more than a minute on the top before heading down. On the way down I nearly pulled a sphincter muscle, when a bush growing out of the crack I climbed up, kept me from finding a toehold beneath it. I hung there a while composing myself, before climbing to the side and then down past the bush. So much for my rock climbing skills! Before going down I climbed another of the summit blocks, this one just an easy third class scramble, and I was able to enjoy the views before rushing back to the car. I met Mike at Squaw Valley around 9ish and we headed up toward Granite Chief. After leaving the development of the ski area, Mike and I were pleasantly pleased by the beauty of the upper Squaw area. Once above High Camp we came across several colorful hillsides and green valleys. We spied nearby Emigrant Pk. and thought if 3 peaks were good, 4 had to be better, so we made a short side trip up to the top and got a good view of the resort area. We hiked fast and made the summit of Granite Chief around noon. The views of Lake Tahoe are awesome from there, and I could look south and spot yesterdays peaks, and to the north, spot Castle Peak. From here Tinker Knob didn't seem too far as long as we didn't lose too much elevation getting to it... but we did, and what seemed like an easy peak to finish the weekend was now looming far above us. As we started regaining altitude we passed through hillside after hillside of Mules Ears, the highest concentration I have ever seen. Mike and I hike at a brisk steady pace, taking few if any breaks, usually eating and drinking on the go, but after one particularly hot section I requested a break. We had about 1000' to go and the efforts of the previous days or my lack of food started to hit me. After pounding down an energy bar and a pint of water, we started again and with renewed energy, flew on up to the 8949'summit. Tinker Knob looks a little daunting from the southwest, but the trail climbs over towards the northeastern side for a simple walk up. By my count, this is about the 18th peak I've climbed with Mike. Neither of us had been in this area before and we really enjoyed the new views from here. It was nice on the summit but it was now 3:00pm and we had a long way back, so we reluctantly headed down for the long slog back to the cars. We both had sore feet, but we kept up a good pace getting down at 6:00pm, another 11 hour trail day for me, a little less for Mike.

The final score: 7 peaks in three days for me, 6 peaks for Mike (ok, maybe Emigrant Peak barely shows up on maps, but a peak is a peak!). We had a great time, and for me personally it felt good to have confidence in my knee again, I guess I was trying to make up for lost time!

Mike Rinaldi adds:

Friday, August 30, 2001

Round Top: On Friday Dewey and myself were climbing different peaks. He wanted Pyramid and I needed Round Top. Getting a very lazy start on a not so major peak I rolled into the parking area at 1:30PM and was hiking be 1:45. The best trail to get to Round Top ASAP is off of Woods Lake. From about 2 miles East of Caples Lake on Hwy 89 you'll see the Woods Lake Campground Forest sign. Take this exit off 89 and follow the paved road into the campground. Walk to site 13. At this point you'll see the trailhead to Lost Cabin/Round Top. The hike is quite scenic and enjoyable. Before you know it (90 minutes) you'll be scrambling up very loose (ball-bearing-like) sandy scree to the base of the crumbling Round Top. The summit is the Eastermost one so you'll have to hike around the south base to get to it. The entire route is class 1-2 with a small 3rd class near the summit. The views were fairly nice to the south but obscured by smoke from the foothills fires to the north. Due to strong winds I stayed on the summit only briefly and returned to the car in about an hour. The whole roundtrip was about 3 hours. Motto - If you can't start until 1:30PM then do Round Top.


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