Tinker Knob from Sugar Bowl

Today Elizabeth and I climbed Tinker Knob, hiking through a part of the Lake Tahoe area we hadn’t been to before and checking an easy peak off of the Sierra Peaks List.

We began under warm blue skies at 11 in the morning, a late start that forced us to keep a good pace on the 15-mile hike. I expected no route-finding difficulties since we would be entirely on the Pacific Crest Trail, but we got lost immediately on a path that ended up disappearing into woods amid trashed, rusty appliances. We returned to the trailhead sign, realized the real trail went past it on the left, and got on our way.

We climbed steadily up rocky switchbacks through a relatively lush forest of aspens, mountain maple, ceanothus, and oceanspray. A few blue pleated gentians and bright red Indian paintbrush were a pleasant sight along the trail. We were surprised by trail runners flying past us in the opposite direction, perhaps completing their runs on the Mount Judah loop that starts from our trailhead.

In the more open forest higher up, we got some views of the surrounding area. There were domes of light-gray granite rolling off toward higher mountains in the distance, their sides sparsely forested with pines. To our west was the pretty Van Norden Meadow, green with scattered dark bushes.

We walked through thicker forests of red fir and mountain hemlock, passing under Sugar Bowl ski area’s Mount Judah lift and through some clearcuts that marked winter ski runs. Although no one would mistake them for wilderness, the ski runs were interesting, filled with wild mint and big rocks that are completely covered in snow during the winter.

Anderson Peak and Pacific Crest Trail from north

We climbed higher, finally leaving the ski area as we passed the Mount Lincoln lift, and got an excellent view of the Pacific Crest Trail ahead of us. The trail wound for miles atop a mostly treeless ridge toward the dark and rocky Anderson Peak, promising excellent views and easy hiking.

On the ridge, we left the trail runners, as well as most of the dayhikers, behind us. The slope to our west was gentle, but to our east the ridge dropped off sharply hundreds of feet into a forest of dark green conifers. Elizabeth and I walked through a gray-green field of mule’s ears, sagebrush, and tobacco brush. Wildflowers included checker mallow, Brewer’s angelica, and scarlet gilia. The trees were sparse yet diverse, and we saw juniper, hemlock, and ponderosa and white pines, all of them shaped by the winds that blew constantly over the ridge.

On the west of Anderson Peak, I suddenly had to go off into the woods to answer nature’s call. I looked through my backpack and realized I was out of toilet paper; Elizabeth didn’t have any either. But then I saw the solution all around me: the vast fields of mule’s ear along the trail. I plucked one of the big, thick, fuzzy leaves and ducked behind some trees. I daresay the mule’s ear was better than toilet paper.

Only after passing Anderson Peak did we get a good view of Tinker Knob. It was nearly two miles away and we were a little tired from having already hiked for three hours, but the trail to the base of the peak looked fun and promised great views in every direction, so we made the final push.

Tinker Knob from north on Pacific Crest Trail

A well-worn trail led to the base of Tinker Knob, but there didn’t seem to be a path to its summit, which sat atop a column of steep black rocks. We even passed by a pair of hikers sitting at the bottom, unaware that one could scramble to the top.

Elizabeth and I followed the use trail until it disappeared partway up the side of the peak, then scrambled up the steep, but solid, rocks for a minute before finding ourselves on the summit.

The view was fantastic. To the south, the peak plunged down hundreds of feet, giving us an excellent view of the high country of the Granite Chief Wilderness. To the north we could see the long ridge we’d come along, and even the ski lift at the top of Mount Lincoln.

Granite Chief Wilderness from Tinker Knob summit

After we’d signed the register, the hikers we’d passed at the base of Tinker Knob showed up on top, having followed us after they saw us come up. We all snacked and took photos, then made our way back down.

It had taken us 4 hours to get to the summit and it was now 3:30, so I wanted to keep a brisk pace to make sure we got back before dusk. We made good time on the downhills and got back in about 3.5 hours, even including a few long breaks.

On the way back, we met a trail runner and her two bold husky-crosses that followed her through the woods. We noticed that one of the panting dogs had holes through his tongue and the owner responded with a cellphone photo of the dog with its mouth full of quills from biting a porcupine.

On the way home, we stopped at Ikeda’s in Auburn, which had been recommended to me, but which I’d never visited. Elizabeth and I had a burger, a sandwich, fries, and a slice of fresh pie. They were all good, and we decided that we’d come back some day.

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