Hiking Stats as of 11/11/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Jan 3, 2014 - Waterhouse Peak / Nonsummit - Phipps Peak


Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 5.35 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,212 feet

Trip Time: 4:34

Maps and Stats:
Somehow my two week vacation was already winding down, and it was time for my 4th and final hiking trip. For this trip Kyle would be joining me on another outing to the Sierra. The lack of snow in the mountains, although becoming a big concern for the welfare of California, would provide us with a small benefit in that we believed we would easier access to the higher peaks. Our goal for the day was originally Mt. Tallac, a fantastic peak overlooking Lake Tahoe which is on the SPS, WSC and OGUL peak lists. Unfortunately, our plans would be changed multiple times over the course of the day, although ultimately we did wind up with an OGUL Peak by the end of it.

We met up at the Target in Rancho Cordova at 8:15 and set off for Tallac. This would be a bit longer drive than we normally take, although probably only about 20 minutes more than usual. I had mapped out a track following the more scenic of Tallac's two summer trails. From what I read the main Mt. Tallac trail is a bit treacherous in winter, with a steep climb out of the bowl below in which an ice axe and crampons are highly advisable. Kyle and I have microspikes, and I have an axe, but was not comfortable with this on a mountain like Tallac. So the alternate Glen Alpine trail was our objective. Access to this trail is provided by a road which is not plowed in winter, although the lack of snow should mean that our access would be okay. We exited Highway 50 and took the shortcut on Upper Truckee Road which after several turns connected us to Fallen Leaf Road, which would take us to the trailhead. Or so we thought, until as we made our way down the single lane road we encountered a locked gate that we estimated to be 2 miles from the trailhead. This was a bit of a problem, as the extra 4 miles combined with what we estimated to be something like 12 miles on the trail would be a lot for a day in the snow, but we decided it was still reasonable and started getting our gear in order. It was as I was locking up the car that I noticed all of the "No Parking" signs all along the road we were on. We hadn't noticed them coming in, as we hadn't expected to be parking way back here, and now we realized this entire road was off limits, and we would have to drive maybe another half mile or mile back up the road to try to find somewhere else to park. This concerned us, as we were now looking at 17+ miles, and we had no idea how good or bad the conditions on Tallac were. We decided that Tallac would make a much better summer hike (we try to take on the easier peaks in winter and do the harder ones in summer) and went to my GPS for a backup. I immediately through out Phipps Peak, a mountain maybe a 15 minute drive to the north which would be about a 13 mile hike although without the reputation of Tallac, making it sound realistic.

We got back in the car and set off for the Eagle Lakes trailhead, off Highway 89. To get there required a very short drive on the Highway, although unfortunately a memorable one. I failed to notice the ridiculously low speed limit of 35 MPH on this so-called highway. Although I only needed to be on this Highway for less than 10 miles that was enough for me to get nabbed by a Highway Patrol officer who busted me for allegedly doing 50 in a 35 zone. She was in no mood to celebrate the New Year by letting me off with a warning, and gave me my first ticket in all of the many miles of my hiking career. To add insult to injury, I had pulled over as quickly as possible when the CHP got behind me, and this meant being partially in some snow and ice off to the side of the road. To my embarrassment, as I tried to get back on the road after getting my ticket my car went only a foot or so before getting stuck and spinning on the ice. The officer, who was still in her truck waiting for me to go, came back over to me and asked if I wanted her to push my car with her patrol truck. I said yes, as I didn't see a better option and so she nudged me out and we got back on the Highway. Several minutes later we spotted the Eagle Lakes Trailhead and parked the car for our second choice on the day.

Because of the problems with Tallac and then the interference by the CHP, we were really pushing our luck with time on Phipps, but we set off a few minutes before 11 AM and immediately noticed two things. First, this was an extremely popular trailhead, with people and cars coming and going, and second, the trail was iced over. Perfect conditions for our microspikes, which were up to the challenge. It was our intention to take the trails to near the summit as opposed to the wildly shorter and much steeper cross country route, and as we started out we were clearly on a main trail as we passed several informational signs dedicated to the area. We were heading uphill rather quickly, however, once we turned off at a junction labeled "vista" and we soon had amazing views back toward Lake Tahoe. We soon realized we were way off course, however, as the steep mountainside boxed us in all around so we could head no higher, and the only way was cross country and eventually would have made us go all the way back down from where we came. Turns out we were on some sort of high altitude cul-de-sac. We discussed the possibility of trying to ascend the slopes but with the unknowns regarding the terrain and potential snow and ice we concluded that maybe Phipps was best done as a summer hike too. So we started our retreat to the car. On the way down we ran into perhaps a dozen people (once we got back to the main trail), several of whom were hiking without any traction devices on. One women even asked if she could borrow our microspikes so she could get up one of the icier parts and we told here that there were worse parts ahead so going up this one section wouldn't really help much. Besides, how would she get back down? We kept going back to the car and decided to try Rubicon Peak, a peak another 15 minutes north which was about 6-8 miles round trip and should be doable in a half day.

So we made our way to our third trailhead of the day. Rubicon Peak was further north on Highway 89, and required a rather steep drive through an exclusive community with million dollar views of Lake Tahoe to get to the trailhead. We followed the directions listed by Pete Yamagata on his website at www.petesthousandpeaks.com and found the navigation quite easy. We made our way higher and higher, but as we got up near the top the road began to have icy patches, and my ESC light (whatever that means) came on twice as I experienced a bit of skidding going up. As we looked uphill at the next street, we saw that it had much more ice on it, and so I decided to first test my descent over the relatively minor ice we had just come up to make sure that we were okay to go higher. If we could cross it safely, we could keep going up. Well, unfortunately, my car started sliding as I descended the ice, and Kyle got out of the car to push it in order to keep it on the road and heading straight. Fortunately we only had this little bit to descend, but not so fortunately we were not going to be able to get up to the TH and so we were now 0 for 3 on our climbing objectives (with a speeding ticket to boot). Would anything save this day?

It was past 12:30 as we decided to go after Waterhouse Peak, an OGUL peak located near the intersection of Highways 88 and 89 approximately 40 minutes south of where we were currently at. Waterhouse only requires about 1800 feet of elevation gain, however, meaning we could get it done before dark. We headed for the trailhead at Luther Pass and were excited that we were able to park without any problems. With an uphill climb of around 2 miles, the trail maintains a very steep uphill grade to gain the 1800 feet to the summit. Fortunately, although the trail was completely covered in snow, this appears to be quite a popular peak and there was a pretty consistently packed path for us to follow. We brought our snowshoes with us, although we wound up not needing them. Instead we went with microspikes. Along the way we did come across some other animal tracks on the trail, although I wasn't sure what type of animal they belonged to. The trail never really leveled out, as we made our way up towards the sun as it threatened to fall behind the slope. That didn't quite happen, though, as we soon had our first glimpse of the summit. As we got closer we could see that it was all class 2 rock. We stopped to take off our microspikes, and while I was still taking mine off Kyle hustled to the top. I was right behind him, capturing a couple of benchmarks on top.

The views on top were quite impressive, from Hawkins Peak to Silver, Highland, Raymond and Markleeville Peaks to Stevens Peak to Jacks and Dicks Peak, Lake Tahoe and the Pyramid/Price/Agassiz trio to the north. We signed the summit register, which dated back to 1985 and located the entry from Bob Burd and Matthew Holliman's Carson Pass to Luther Pass traverse from May 2005 as described on Bob's website at www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_reports/red_lake_4.html. While taking summit shots (Kyle and Kerry) we noticed that the position of the sun behind us led to some interesting illusions that required further exploring. After all of the trouble of the day, we had some fun with this. We found a rock on the summit that looked like a tablet, and Kyle pretended to chisel way a new summit register, and we left it (looking oddly like a baseball glove) as the new highpoint on top of the summit. After maybe 20 minutes we began the descent, making quick work of the steep downhill, and we were back at the car by 4:45. We drove back north to Highway 50 for the trip back to Rancho Cordova, and managed to avoid any further criminal activities the rest of the day.

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