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Mount Judah

Tahoe National Forest

Tahoe National Forest Links:

January 2nd, 2000

4.0 miles
1290 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:26

Rating: 7/10

Directions:   View Driving Map


On this first hike of the new year, Jean and I parked at Alpine Skills International (parking is $5) You can park at nearby Donner Ski Ranch, instead, if you want to save some money.

The trail starts at the southern end of the parking lot. A group of half a dozen snowshoers was gathered near there, apparently engrossed in an avalanche safety course. They were talking about avalanche transceivers. Something I hope never to have to use, but I should probably learn about. If lightning is the single most-feared summer hiking hazard, avalanches would have to be the equivalent for winter hiking.

The previous day it had snowed for the fist time in weeks -- about six inches of fresh powder, I'd heard. Enough that I'd had to spend several minutes in the morning scraping ice off my car windows. But now the day was beautiful -- a crisp clear blue sky, and a bit chilly as well.

I'd made the mistake of leaving my Platypus water bottle in my car the previous night. Obviously, it partially froze, rendering the drinking tube useless. Not having easy access to hot water, I salvaged some of the water and put it in another water bottle I had with me -- one I hadn't left in the car. We brought that and some half-frozen All-Sport, which is actually quite good in that condition (think Slurpee).

The hike starts down a forest service road before quickly turning into a real hiking trail through a beautiful forest. Then the climbing begins. We started our hike at 10 in the morning, but we were not the first. At least two sets of snowshoe footprints led us up the switchbacks. These clearly had to have been made this morning. We hoped that whoever had made them knew where they were going.

The switchbacks led us up a snow bowl to a forested plateau. From here, the trail (or rather, the snowshoe footprints in front of us) winds around a hill, gently rising. We soon had views of Lake Van Norden in Royal Gorge, where we'd been the previous day cross-country skiing. Also visible was Donner Ski Ranch's snow-making machines, spewing out powder.

The trail then heads steeply up a hill to the left, through the forest to a large clearing at the top. A ski lift reaches the southwest portion of the summit plateau. But this wasn't our goal. Donner Peak, our original goal, was clearly visible to the east. Unfortunately, the path we took hadn't taken us to the saddle, as we'd hoped. Instead, we were to the right of the saddle. Going to Donner Peak now would involve descending to the saddle and then heading up to the peak. Instead, we decided to ascend the nearby Mount Judah.

Frozen Lake Van Norden

We crossed the summit plateau. Wind had obscured the tracks of the previous snowshoers, who had also gone on to Mount Judah. But we soon picked up the trail in the forest. We winded our way up. Through the trees we had a great view of Castle Peak to the north. After yesterday's snow, however, it looked much different.

Lake to the east of Mount Judah

A couple of snowshoers passed us on their way down. They could have been the ones who made the original prints we were following, but I'm not completely sure. In any case we continued up the ever-steepening trail as it traversed a snow slope on the eastern side of the Mount Judah summit ridge.

Hiker heading south on the ridge toward the actual summit

We kept slipping and sliding near the very steep section at the top. I discovered that I made much better progress if I kicked in steps into the snow before continuing up. On top, we had great views of the surrounding area -- the downhill ski resorts and Royal Gorge to the west, Donner Peak to the east, Castle Peak to the north. A bone-chilling wind kept our stay at the to to a minimum.

The true Mount Judah summit still lay south of us, along a corniced ridge. However, we wanted to get started back to the Bay Area, and I don't imagine the view from there is much better, so we started back.

Jean standing at the bottom of the snow bowl near the start of the trail

The way back was fairly uneventful. We encountered a lot more people coming up, and a cross-country skier taking a route slightly east of ours. We passed some sledders coming up near the bottom. And then we were back at ASI, ready to head back home.

Trail through the forest


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