Hiking Stats as of 11/19/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

May 24, 2014 - Ellis Peak


Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 17.43 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,655 feet

Trip Time: 7:46

Maps and Stats:
The end of May meant we had some odd conditions in the Sierra. Not enough snow to go snowshoeing, but enough at the higher elevations to still make travel a bit challenging. Earlier in the season we would simply plan on a shorter distance hike to allow for slow travel in snow, and in summer we could feel confident no matter what the distance. But now we were in the middle, and so I decided to suggest 2 OGUL peaks of moderate height where I felt like we would be off snow most of the way but would travel a decent distance.

Kyle and I met up at the Fry's in Roseville after I had walked the dogs for their 6 mile morning jaunt, so we were off to a bit of a late start. The plan was to take 80 to Truckee, then head south on 89 to Tahoe City where we would take the Barker Pass road inland for 2 miles to the TH. The day's plan called for a circular loop hike of Twin Peaks and Ellis Peak, with the descent off of Ellis looking like it would be the only cross country travel of the day. Barker Pass Road cuts between the two peaks - putting it in terms of the dial on a watch we were starting at 6:00, Twin Peaks would be at 3:00, Barker Pass at 12:00 and Ellis Peak at 9:00. We arrived at the start of Barker Pass Road at about 11:15, but much to our surprise the road was still gated for the winter. This meant we would have to hike the road an extra 2 miles each way to reach the TH. No big deal we thought, but as I parked at the gate I noticed warnings that I was in a Sno-Park (despite the lack of snow) and parking here without a permit before June would subject me to a nearly $100 fine. This turned out nothing more than a silly inconvenience, as there is ample parking alongside Highway 89 not more than 500 feet away. At least now my car had nice views of Tahoe as we set off at 11:25.

Not surprisingly, the road was completely snow free at these modest elevations (around 6300) so it was a boring walk up a gentle slope to cover the 2 miles to where we thought the trail junction would be. This didn't work out as we had hoped, and couldn't find the trail junction to go up to Twin Peaks. No matter, we would just go cross country. At first there was a lot of open spaces, but soon the brush grew thicker and we found ourselves heading uphill through dense vegetation. This clearly was not going to work, as we were bushwacking and not making any real progress up the hill. So we talked for a minute and I told Kyle that I thought that if we simply followed Barker Pass Road all the way to the Barker Pass (12:00 on the watch) we could then get at least one peak and if we had time we could maybe retrace our steps and get the second peak. So down we went, back throught the brush until we were stopped by a deep, fast moving stream. I had failed to remember the bridge that we had taken across the stream earlier, and as that memory came back we knew we had to find that bridge to get to the other side. This resulted in us going through some impressive looking brush, which seemed to swallow Kyle whole in a matter of seconds. This was actually quite funny, as the brush petered out after a minute and we got back to the bridge and crossed over, now back on Barker Pass Road.

So we started walking up the road, which isn't very steep for hiking but looked like a good challenge for the many bikers that rode by. I'd guess we saw a dozen cyclists, and we asked one group on the descent how long Barker Pass Road was. They said it was 7 miles from Highway 89 to the Pass, and a bit of quick math suggested that we would never make both peaks if it was 7 miles just to the official TH, and another 3 miles one way just to get the first peak. So our objective changed, and we wanted to just get one peak, and chose Ellis Peak because it looked like we may be able to do a cross country descent from the 9:00 on Ellis Peak back down towards the 6:00 starting location rather than going back up to the Pass at 12:00 and then doing the 7 mile hike down. We started seeing intermittant patchy snow at about 7,000 feet, and we came up with the brilliant idea to stash a portion of our powerades in the snow, marking it with a large stick so we could find it on descent. We kept going up, and the snow eventually took over large sections of the road. Around 7,300 feet it looked like winter again, although the running streams through the snow revealed that things will not look like this much longer. We reached the end of our 7 mile hike up the road after a little more than 2 1/2 hours, cresting at 7,700 feet at Barker Pass. We looked around for some sort of trail, lest this whole exercise be one of futility as we experienced earlier. Fortnuately, we saw a sign for the Ellis Peak Trail, and after eating lunch and resting for a spell, got started, hoping that our trail would remain visible for most of the rest of the ascent.

Neither one of us was really surprised when that the trail was quickly lost to the snow, and so we just went straight up the slope, which was a bit tricky due to the harder snow which was much more slippery than the soft snows of earlier in the season. Kyle kick-stepped upward, using his hands for extra balance. I was happy to let him go first, as I now had a little staircase to climb up what was the crux of the day. When we got up to the top of the ridge we identified what we were pretty sure what Ellis Peak, looking to be a few hundred feet higher and perhaps a mile away. We were happy to be getting so close after the many miles of hiking, and set off with renewed energy. More good fortune came our way as we approached the top of what we thought was Ellis, as the snow was gone and we made quick work on the regained trail. Once on top of what we thought was Ellis we looked around for a high point but couldn't identify anything of note. Hmmm, this was pretty flat for an OGUL summit. I went over towards the edge and sighed as I saw a higher peak, over a mile away. Damn, we had to get over to that, and now we were looking at deep snows and more off trail treking to find a route.

We recalled that the Ellis Peak trail was supposed to go by a lake, and when we found one we believed (again incorrectly) that we had reached Ellis Lake and were now a half mile away. This navigational error was of little consequence, however (the real Ellis Lake was actually a detour on the way to Ellis Peak and not on the actual route), and we were soon looking at what looked to be the final summit blocks emerging from the snow cover. We went up those blocks, but were a bit annoyed that this was a false summit, and the true summit lay at the end of the ridge, perhaps another 5 minutes further. Kyle led the way and I soon joined him on top, after 12 miles and 5 hours of hiking. This was probably the highest one-way distance to summit that I've ever had, although in all fairness, most of it was quite easy. The views on top were spectacular, even better than anticipated. Tahoe stole the show, although views were fantastic all around. The view to Twin Peaks showed that peak to be impossibly far away, and our initial plans for a loop hike covering both peaks seemed a bit ambitious from this vantage point.

The weather was quite pleasant on top, and there were lots of comfortable rocks from which to sit, put up my feet, and enjoy the views to Tahoe. We spent nearly a half hour on top, me relaxing and Kyle building a rock cairn on the lower north summit about 50 feet away (there were two boulders competing for the high point, but after standing on both we agreed the south rock was highest). The rock cairn made the summits that much closer to being equal, so tagging both summit rocks is probably a must to assure a successful ascent. We took a couple of summit photos (Kyle and Kerry and after discussing our descent plans for a moment we both agreed that we should not attempt to retrace our steps as that would be another 12 miles of hiking and it was already 4:45. Instead, we would continue north off of the summit, in the same direction we had been going. The slopes on this side are quite steep, and we had a grand time sliding down hill. When I slid I kicked a snowball down, and it rolled for several hundred feet before stopping down the hill. When Kyle got down to the now giant snowball he picked it up and we were both shocked at how big my little inadvertent snowball had become. Such fun on the descent!

Well, it was fun until the snows gave way to brush, and we were now going cross country looking for a reasonable route down to hook back up with Barker Pass Road. For the most part we were able to avoid the thickest brush, although from time to time we felt like mice who hit the dead end in a maze. About 3/4 of the way down we found a long abandoned road which gave us a route for a few minutes, but the road petered out and ended back in the brush. But at this point we were not too far above the road, and found a narrow escape through the brush and hopped on down to the road. We had miscalculated our route a bit, as we came out on the wrong side of the Powerade stash from the morning, but neither one of us cared all that much. Let one of the cyclists drink them once the snows melted for all we cared. We hustled down the road, with the only diversion coming from a slow snake who took his time crossing the road in front of us. We were back at the bridge at 6:30 and passed by a giant field of mules ears just before reaching the end of Barker Pass Road and the car by 7:15. Not quite the day we envisioned but a successful one nonetheless!

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