Hiking Stats as of 11/15/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet
The 4th of July weekend was here, and with the holiday falling on a Saturday I had Friday off work. I have been kicking around a planned trip to Blackhawk Mountain off Highway 108 now for over a year, and as late as Thursday night I was planning that as my trip. A check of the weather, however, changed my mind, with thunderstorms forecast over the Sierra. Blackhawk is about 20 miles round trip, and I didn't want to be that far away from cover if the weather turned. So I started thinking about maybe doing a series of shorter hikes, and that's where I came up with the idea of a Haskell/Elwell/Sierra Buttes day, each hike being fairly easy by itself but put together it would be a full day. All 3 peaks are on the OGUL list, bumping me up to 49 out of the 63, with Elwell and Sierra Buttes being on the SPS list as well.

Haskell Peak

Its a bit of a long drive for me to get up to the area, about 30 miles north of Truckee where all the peaks are found. I wanted to get back by dark, just in case people were setting off fireworks on the 3rd which would be stressful for my dogs. So I left at 6 AM, and took Hwy 80 to Truckee, 89 North to the junction with 49 west which I followed to Gold Lake Road which was the primary access road for all 3 peaks. I decided to start with Haskell, since it was the the most difficult to access and if thunderstorms hit I didn't want to have to drive on a bad road. I took the Haskell Peak road form Gold Lake, following it a little over 8 miles to the parking area on the side of the road. The road was in great shape for a gravel road, and I only had to stop once to move a rock that I wasn't sure if my car could clear. There is a well marked trail leading up to the peak, and indeed I saw two other parties on my hike. It is only a little over a mile on a good trail to the summit which I covered in about 40 minutes. From the top the best views were of Sierra Buttes, although the views were surprisingly good all around. On the way up you never really leave the forest until the very end, so this was a pleasant surprise. Another 25 minutes later and I was back to the car.

Much more confident in my cars ability to navigate the road, I took it a little faster on the return, and came across another rock which I wasn't sure if I could clear. I decided to go slowly, but I heard it hit and so I immediately backed up so I could move the rock. This was easy enough, but I was a bit paranoid about any damage so I looked under the car and saw something dripping. Uh-oh. I was pretty worried about this, since I was so far away from home. I wanted to get it looked at, but when I searched my car's GPS for the nearest service station it was nearly 30 miles away. I had no choice but to drive way out to Portola, thru the small town of Graeagle which was having some sort of large 4th of July weekend event, slowing me down even more. Once there, I pulled into a service station and the attendant put my car on the lift, as the dripping continued. Well, turns out it was only the air conditioner, throwing off more condensation due to the humidity of the air. Feeling like a fool but happy that my car was okay, I drove back to Gold Lakes Road, having lost over an hour to this foolishness.

Mt. Elwell

The TH for Mt. Elwell was maybe a half mile of paved road off of Gold Lake Road, a nice change after the adventures of Haskell. There was a fine informational sign with a few well marked trails at the beginning. I started off on the far right, wanting to follow the northern shore of Long Lake on my way to the peak. All of the trails interconnect, so I would follow one along the southern shore on my way back. About 3/4 of the way in I arrived at Long Lake and could see Mt. Elwell across the opposite shore, much closer if I could swim across but I would have to circle around. Once on the other side the trail started gaining elevation up the rocky slopes, where it connected with the PCT (that trail is everywhere!). At this point the distant rumbling of thunder could be heard, and I picked up the pace since being on top of a mountain is not the best place to ride out a thunderstorm. I quickly followed the trail as it circled back up the hill, nearing the summit. The final summit ascent was class two boulders, fun to climb. I had some great views from on top of this beautiful region of rocks, lakes and of course forest and the Sierra Buttes. I found the register on topped, signed quite often although I was the first on this day. It had taken me about 1 1/2 hours to cover the 3 1/2 miles, and with the storm looking a bit more intense I decided I needed to get going. I followed the trail, this time down to Mud Lake where the rain drops could be seen hitting the water. From there I had to ascend a few hundred feet before going back down to the southern shores of Long Lake, and finally back to the car. A really fun hike indeed.

Sierra Buttes

Last, but by no means least was Sierra Buttes, the real jewel of the day. I was in a hurry, so I wanted to drive up as far as possible on this one, and found the paved Packer Lake Road to be in excellent condition, all the way past Packer Lake and maybe an eighth of a mile past where the pavement ends, where I parked and got started on the hike. I was again on the PCT, at least for a while, on an easy to follow trail through the woods. I could see the Buttes ahead, not too far away at all. The sheer drop off of the Buttes is quite impressive, and would be quite difficult to summit if not for a staircase built into the rock at the end. But I wasn't that far just yet, going through the parking area for 4x4 vehicles and then surprisingly finding a vehicle perhaps a half mile from the summit just before a gate which bars all vehicular access. There were grand views on this last stretch, being the highest point in the area, with only the large staircase now between me and the summit lookout.

Before heading up I took a moment to read some of the history and dedications which were all around the base of the stairs, always interesting to read the history of these different areas. The stairs were anti-climactic, nothing hard about that, although one section of it was a bit airy. Now on top I climbed up to the lookout, which appears to no longer be in service. Views abound from up here, in all directions. Sardine Lakes were easy to see below, as was the gorge where Highway 49 runs west. Looking south the peaks around Tahoe could be seen, including Tinker Knob, the Crystal Range and Castle and Basin Peaks. After descending the tower I found the benchmark and then got started on the descent. I did manage to pick up some better shots of the lookout tower on the way down, and with the day coming to an end I still had time to slow for a bit and enjoy the wildflowers which were in full bloom. It took about 2 hours to make the hike to the summit and back, and another 3 3/4 hours to get back home after a long day in the car and on the trails.

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(4 years ago) Petesthousandpeaks said:

Looks like some good planning and execution to do three in a day. Enviro clubs can't do more than one, as they say too much hiking. They'd drive up in their vehicles, largely polluters, not even knowing which way to go. You get to know them, and so I finally left them. That to bag as many peaks as possible in the time frame allowed, given the goals and destinations intended, suggests wherewithal and supports efficiency. What they banned and forevermore disallow, but happily those that choose it can go on in our ways, to explore, enjoy, and protect, nature and to witness wild and scenic, not from a junky screen.