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Andesite Peak

Tahoe National Forest

Andesite Peak Links:

March 18th, 2000

4.0 miles
1090 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:05

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Jean and I parked at crowded Boreal ski area. It was a warm sunny Saturday just before the start of spring, and everyone was taking advantage of it. But while the hordes of people around us were hitting the ski slopes, we'd be hiking into the mountains on the opposite side of the freeway, being rewarded with some peace and quiet.

The Castle Peak area on the other side of the freeway was much different than when we'd visited a couple months earlier. Snow was piled up on the roadway, such that we had to put on our snowshoes right away. Driving to the gate was no longer an option, even for someone with an SUV. In fact, the gate was not even visible, now being covered by most likely 10-15 feet of snow.

Our route quickly detoured from our hike to Castle Peak. This time, we took the fork off to the left, which is the route snowmobiles take. Fortunately, we didn't see any as we started the hike, just after noon. Instead, we had a pleasant climb through the forest, tromping along snow the consistency of a slurpee. It probably hadn't snowed much in 2 weeks, so it wasn't powdery. Instead, it was, well, slushy. The lack of recent snowfall also meant that the treetops were mostly devoid of snow, save for the occasional snow blob gamely hanging onto a reluctant host tree.

We made our way around the peak known as point 7605 on the topographic map, and another peak just west of it. Our goal was to follow the snowmobile trail south of the two peaks, then northwest, then cut off the beaten path north onto Andesite Ridge. We reached the point where we had to start cutting off the main path, but we stopped for a lunch break first. We had a great spot in an open forest and no one else in sight. There were snowmobile and snowshoe prints, but no people.

At first I feared we'd gone too far around and would have to go over this small ridge, down, and then back up to a further ridge. I could see the peak off in the distance. It wasn't until we reached the top of the small ridge that I realized we were standing on Andesite Ridge already, and the peak I was looking at was, in fact, Castle Peak, which we'd climbed a couple months earlier.

Castle Peak

Heartened that we'd already made good progress, we turned left and followed snowshoe prints through a peaceful dense forest. Our path leveled off now, even descending for a very short bit before starting a relentless climb. Looking at the topographic map now, I can see that we actually turned onto Andesite Ridge a little earlier than we should have. If we'd waited a little longer and gone further northwest on the snowmobile trail, we wouldn't have had to climb the extra 40 feet. Oh well. If we had, we wouldn't have enjoyed the nice forest we ended up hiking through.

Jean in the forest

The climb gets really steep in places, almost forcing us to kick in steps in places to avoid slipping back. It's nothing steep enough to be dangerous, however. It is a beautiful climb, as well. We hiked up past a beautiful wind-swept bowl, the snow carved in great flowing patterns like a tapestry. A snowboarder's delight.

The hike levels off at this point and we were making our way through dense forest when it happened. I was walking along, minding my own business, when the earth opened up and swallowed my right leg whole. I must have hit an air pocket or some sort of soft spot. Whatever the reason, the snow just disintegrated underneath my right foot and it kept on falling until I was in waist deep. The force of my fall had caused me to jam my right trekking pole in the snow, and I couldn't get it out.

The huge hole I created in the snow

My left leg and left trekking pole were still on solid ground, and Jean, still incredulous at what had happened to me, helped me up. We spent the next few minutes digging through snow before we were finally able to free my trekking pole. From then on, we tried to be cautious about where we stepped, though it's impossible to tell what lurks underneath the surface.

A beautiful wind-swept snow slope

After another steep section we could see Castle Peak again, but not yet Andesite Peak. We'd have to climb a series of false summits before we got there. Along the way, we passed a pure snow slope topped off with a cornice. I was hoping to get a picture of it with the sun shining on the edge of the cornice, but the lighting conditions weren't favorable.

Jean making her way up a steep slope near the top

The last hundred yards or so was mostly devoid of trees. In contrast to Castle Peak's jagged top, Andesite's top was completely smooth. Or, rather, the snow on top was completely smooth. =) (truth be told, Castle Peak's top still looked completely jagged, even now)

On top of Andesite Peak (Castle Peak behind)

The view from the top of Andesite Peak, elevation 8219, is beautiful, almost as good as Castle Peak. Visible, of course, is Castle Peak and the ridge leading down to Castle Pass and back up to Andesite Peak. To the south Boreal's runs were clearly visible. In all directions lie snow-capped peaks. The price for those unobstructed views is a chilling wind, so after soaking in the views we descended a hundred feet and rested there.

View looking northwest from the top

At this point we ran into the first people we'd seen on the trail all day. Four or five hikers descended from Andesite Peak. Most likely they'd come up via Castle Pass. Some where carrying ice axes and some were carrying skis. It was nearly 4pm, so perhaps they'd already climbed Castle Peak that day, too.

View of Castle Peak from Andesite Peak

We could still hear the wind, but we could also hear was sounded like birds. We couldn't figure out where they were coming from until we spotted a flock of seagulls flying in formation high overhead. When we eventually returned to the Boreal parking area, we'd see them picking over the parking lot.

Pine needles (me having fun with the macro lens)

We retraced our steps, descending exactly the way we'd come up. When we returned to our lunch spot, we were blasted with the sound of a solo snowmobiler. The smell of gasoline filled our noses, even minutes after he left.

We made it back to the Castle Peak parking area just as a group of backpackers was heading out, probably going toward Peter Grubb Hut.

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