Mt. Elwell and Sierra Buttes day hikes

28 Aug 2000 - by Tony Cruz

After watching the Yankees beat the As at the Coliseum Sunday afternoon, Eddie Sudol and I drove east on Highway 80 toward Tahoe. We took Aaron Schuman's compact and informative trip report from the PCS archives, a Tahoe National Forest (1999 Forest Service) map recommended by Aaron and some free topos (we didn't need) that I downloaded from the Topozone website. Just past Truckee we took Highway 89 north and Highway 49 west. We turned right on a little paved road connecting the small towns of Sierra City and Graeagle and continued to the Lakes Basin campground, where we slept.

Monday morning was cool but clear. By 7:30 a.m. we were off on a fine trail from the campground heading north. We crossed some gentle streams and passed by large pine trees and a surprising variety and number of late blooming flowers. I counted five different types of berries including some pretty tasty raspberries. After a mile-and-a-half of easy walking we reached the medium-sized and beautiful Long Lake, which reminded me of many other fine but more remote Sierra gems. Beyond the islands, near the southwest shore we saw a guy in a canoe, the first and only person we would encounter on the way to the summit.

We continued to a saddle north of the lake and up the ridge to the summit rocks. Only when we were about 50 feet from the summit did we leave the trail for a minute of easy scrambling to the top, at 7812 feet. This was the easiest Sierra peak I had ever done and my modest effort was rewarded with a fine panoramic view.

We didn't see Lassen due to the haze caused by the still-active wildfires, but our next objective, the Sierra Buttes, were very impressive. The round trip hike was 5 or 6 miles with about 1600 feet of elevation gain and took us five hours.

After refilling our water bottles on a day that had become rather warm, we drove south on the small road toward Sierra City. The views of the Buttes were astonishing. They looked like a miniature version of the Tetons, complete with rugged shear peaks and pocket glaciers. After about seven or eight miles we turned right at the Sardines Lake turn off. We immediately reached the Packer Lake road and took it a little beyond the lake to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail at about 7000 feet.

The Buttes were visible from the trailhead and even though we had driven part way around them and were now on the western side, they were still shear and impressive.

Starting at 1:30 p.m., we hiked up a ridge and just before reaching the summit ridge we got an even better look at the colorful cliffs (unfortunately we had left our cameras). The short summit ridge lead us to summit rocks that would have been very challenging (read impossible for me) to climb without a rope. But four metal ladders had been expertly fixed to the mountain and in a few minutes we were on the fire lookout tower on the peak, at 8587 feet. We went around the tower on a metal mesh catwalk. The northeast corner was especially memorable, since there are several hundred feet of air beneath you. From our perch we could see the surprising "pocket glaciers" which were permanent snowfields, but probably too small to be considered real glaciers.

We got back to the car at 5:30 p.m. and agreed it had been a perfect day. Even the insulting fortune cookie I got at a Chinese restaurant in Grass Valley didn't mar the day.

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