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Ellis Peak

Tahoe National Forest

Tahoe National Forest Links:

July 21st, 2001

6.0 miles
1790 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:35

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Jean, Jennie, Kim, Liz, Nancy, and I met at the Barker Pass parking lot. The lot was full of an unbelievable number of cars, considering the location 7 miles up a mountain road. There were probably at least 40 cars. A cyclist came up to us and asked us why there were so many cars here. Apparently he biked up here many times and had never seen so many cars.

Fortunately, the number of cars didn't match the number of people we met on the trail. Perhaps they were visiting other trails in the area. In any event, we encountered a few groups of hikers and small handful of OHVs (off-highway vehicles), which are allowed on the trails.

The trail begins climbing immediately, and we immediately encountered our first group of hikers, a group pointing toward a plant they identified as the only orchid on the mountain. It looked like a shriveled up snow plant to me, but I didn't stop to get a closer look. Turns out they were right in one respect -- it wasn't a snow plant. But they were wrong about it being the only one on the mountain -- we chanced upon two of the plants while we rested further along the trail.

Group picture on the ridge

The trail climbs steeply through the forest for about 400-500 feet. Then the trees fall back to reveal gorgeous views along the ridge. Lake Tahoe can be glimpsed to the northeast, while full views of the northern Desolation wilderness are visible to the southwest. This section of the trail is also quite windy, as it sits on an exposed ridge with on trees to speak of.

View from the ridge

The trail climbs gradually until it begins a steep 400 foot descent, the bottom portion of which is forested. The trail then levels off for a bit as it travels through pleasant conifer forests. The trail heads up again before meeting a wide dirt road. The book I was using said to bear left. However, that meant going downhill. The trail we were on continued on the other side of the road. We decided to follow the book's directions for a couple minutes. After looking at the maps and our surroundings, we decided the book was wrong. We retraced our steps and headed up the trail. We stopped an OHV rider, the first we'd seen so far, to confirm our directions. He did.

Through the forest

The trail is steep dusty single track. Thankfully this section is short. We encountered another dirt road. Apparently this road is the same one we'd crossed a few minutes earlier -- it curves around, heading from our left to right, then back up to the left again. I made a note to remember this intersection, as it would be easy to take the wrong trail on the return trip (at the time, I didn't know the dirt road looped around anyway).

Final climb to the summit

We turned left, up the wide dirt road. Then, to our left our goal seemed clear. We headed up the ridge and to the top of a windy rock outcropping. Unfortunately when we reached the top, we saw the real summit a couple hundred yards to the north. While the others continued on to the summit, I stayed behind to take some photographs before joining them.

Lake Tahoe

Another view of the lake

The view from either summit is similarly breathtaking. Mountains fill the view on all sides. To the west, Lake Tahoe dominates the view. We soaked it all in as the wind whipped by. We had lunch near a small rock shelter which unfortunately seemed to be built for wind coming in the opposite direction than what it was now.

Lunch above the lake

A look back at the false summit

After lunch we descended and made our way back to the main trail. By this time there were several people on the first summit. We were stopped by a few people asking us for directions to Ellis Lake and the parking lot.

Lunch on the summit

We returned the way we'd come, keeping to the right until we encountered the dirt road where we'd first taken a wrong turn. The trail is quite dusty, and we kicked a lot of dust toward each other on the descent.

The view from the ridge was not nearly as good as it had been earlier. The afternoon sun sent a haze over the distant views. Soon we found ourselves beginning the final forested descent. A group of three or four OHV's passed us near the bottom, but they were relatively courteous. Interestingly, we didn't meet any mountain bikers on our trip.

The trail descended very steeply, and we soon found ourselves back at our cars.

Return to 2001 Lake Tahoe trip report.

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