Hiking Stats as of 11/14/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Jan 18, 2014 - Hawkins Peak / Pickett Peak


Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 14.60 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,786 feet

Trip Time: 8:38

Maps and Stats:
With no end in sight for the deepening California drought, the peaks in the northern Sierra have remained accessible for winter ascents, even as the calendar has reached the mid point of January. While I prefer we receive some much needed rain and snow, I might as well take advantage of this rare opportunity to add to my peak lists during the middle of winter. Today's primary objective would be Hawkins Peak, a peak rising to just over 10,000 feet south of Lake Tahoe which is on both the WSC and OGUL peak lists. A secondary objective on the day would be Pickett Peak, a peak nearly 1,000 feet shorter than Hawkins and not found on any of the major peak lists, but with its own page on summitpost which made it sound like a worthy goal. A successful ascent of Hawkins would be my 23rd different WSC summit and 22nd different OGUL peak.

Kyle would be joining me for this outing, and we met up at the Target in Rancho Cordova where we carpooled up to the Tahoe area. Over the past couple of months Kyle and I have expanded our acceptable driving range - whereas we tried to stay on HWY 80 or 50 before, our recent trips have seen us go a bit further. 2 weeks ago when we climbed Waterhouse Peak we were struck by the sight of Hawkins Peak with its sharply rising summit, maybe another 5-10 miles to the south. From the top of Waterhouse we had already decided that Hawkins would be our next peak. We arrived at the intersection of Highways 88 and 89 where a forest service road begins and winds its way up towards the summit of Hawkins.

Right from the start we were struck by the number of people in the area. I had no idea there would be anything other than maybe a little turnout where we would park. It turned out that there was a large boyscout troop that was up for the weekend, stopping here for only a few minutes before driving down to the Hot Springs about 10 miles west on Highway 88. One of the troop leaders asked if we wanted to have our picture taken, to which I told him we had yet to accomplish anything . Perhaps I need to consider developing a trailhead pose for next time. We weren't sure if we would need our snowshoes, so we lashed them to our packs and started up the snow packed road in our hiking boots. There was a yurt at the start - another unexpected surprise. A helpful woman came out of the building and told us that they rent all sorts of winter sports equipment - from skis and snowshoes to bikes with oversized tires. After telling her we were on our way up to Hawkins she seemed quite concerned with our safety, asking if we had backup plans if we got lost and several other questions of a similar concern. I convinced her that we have done far harder things than follow a snowy service road, and promised her we would be down by 5:30 PM. She asked us to check up on things on top of Hawkins and to giver her a report when we got back down. I agreed and we were finally on our way.

The service road was extremely well groomed, and easy to hike in our boots. In some places the snow even disappeared as it was so shallow. Apparently in summer the standard route up Hawkins is to drive this service road for nearly 5 miles to where it meets a 4X4 trail which then covers the last couple of miles to near the top. No such easy access for us today, and we set to the task of taking on the gently graded easy road, which probably gained about 1,000 feet over the course of those 5 miles. Along the way we were intrigued by the warning signs attached to a few trees, threatening penalties on anyone who messed with a Federal Witness Tree. Around noontime we reached the junction where we had to exit the forest service road. We weren't sure if our easy trekking would continue, but apparently the service vehicles travel the road enough to keep it nicely packed for us hikers. Or it could be that it hasn't snowed in many weeks that made things easy, as the exposed southwest slope was barely holding any snow at all. This road was quite different than the forest service road - much steeper, with more rocks and potholes. We continued up the road (there was way too much brush off to the side of the road to leave) despite it being the only area that still had a lot of snow. As we continued up we finally started to get some nice views of the surrounding peaks, our reward for our 6 miles of hiking thus far. Before too much longer we could see Hawkins Peak, with a thin white line running up the slope the obvious markings of the road ahead.

As we made our way towards Hawkins, we got our first good views of Pickett Peak, our secondary target for the day. We took a few minutes to think about the best way to get over to Pickett after we did Hawkins, and decided that we would go offtrail up Hawkins rather than loop around the back side of the peak. We were both happy to put down our heavy packs, burdened with all that extra weight from the snowshoes. We both had been complaining about our backs hurting a bit so we were happy to trade the weight for some cross country hiking up the mountain. As is usually the case, Kyle and I split up, each of us going the way the looked best to ourselves, and Kyle wound up a little ahead of me as we climbed up the final rocks to the top. The summit of Hawkins would be spectacular if not for all the equipment littered about its rocky top. As it was, it was downgraded to merely stunning. Views out towards Nevada, to the expanse of peaks to the south, Markleeville and Round Top to the southwest, and Red Lake/Stevens to the west. Kyle took a summit photo of me, and I took one of him before we started our cross country descent back to our packs.

Once we got back to our packs we had to figure out the best route on how to get over to Pickett Peak to complete the double ascent for the day. It was obvious we would have to descent some deep snow on the north slopes. We finally had occassion to put on our snowshoes, as the snow was knee deep during this section of the trip. We used the snowshoes for about 20 minutes, until we were back in the exposed brushy areas. We followed the ridgeline, avoiding what little snow was in our way, and made our way towards Pickett. As we got closer our anxiety about what we had in front of us began to increase. There was no obvious way up that we could see from this vantagepoint, and as the brush thickened we made a straight ascent to the ridgeline in the hopes we could find easier terrain. Once we got to the Peak we devised a plan - we had been able to tell from below that the first turret was not connected to the main summit, so we went around that and started up the rockfall that appeared to be the only way up from when we had seen the peak from below. The rockfall was a mix of small, medium and large boulders, and was great fun to scramble up. Nothing harder than class 2, but lots of fun. From the top of the rockfall we could see the peak to he left, and went over to the rock pinnacles to look for a way up. An easy class 3 route was immediately obvious, and provided some enjoyable climbing. Kyle was up on top, and I soon jointed him, on top of a summit unlike any I had seen before. The top was entirely covered with massive boulders, with large gaps between them making any potential slip (or drop of a camera) potentially dangerous. I boulder hopped over to where Kyle was, and got in a summit photo of our starting point to the northeast, Hawkins Peak to the south and Waterhouse Peak to the northwest. The only downer was that the sun was close to setting, meaning we would once again be finishing a hike by headlamp.

As I rested on the highest summit boulder I looked down at my feet and saw the summit register down below. This was quite a surprise, as the trip reports I had seen online all mention the lack of a summit register. We scanned the notebook, which had been in place since 2006, and counted a total of 7 entries over those 7 years. Obviously this peak is climbed more than once a year, so this just illustrated how hidden this register was. We added our names to the log, now taking up over 20% of the entries in the book. By now we had to get moving, and so we quickly got summit shots of each other (Kerry and Kyle) in the red apenglow with Hawkins as the backdrop and started down. Once we got back down to the bottom of the rockfall we witnessed a spectacular sunset of the mountains, and then picked up the pace as we decided to head due west, going cross country through the brush and then through the woods in search of the original service road we had taken to Hawkins earlier in the day. We would not make it down to the road before darkness set in, and I brought out my headlamp to help us navigate through the forest. By around 6 PM we found the road, and thanks to the warm daytime temperatures which caused a lot of snow melt, we were now in icy conditions as the temperature dropped incredibly fast. We put on our microspikes which solved the problems we initially had on the road, and we finished the next mile and a half in a half hour, arriving back at the car around 6:30. The lady from the Yurt was no longer there (although I did email her the next day to which she replied that she was worried when our car was still there when she left). We were both quite cold, not having wanted to stop to put on gloves since the end was so near. When I started the car the temperature outside registered something like 28 degrees, a remarkable drop from where it had been only a couple hours earlier. We carpooled back down Highway 50, with another 2 Sierra winter ascents to our names. While I'd rather we got some much needed snow, I plan to keep taking advantage of this drought and get more winter ascents while I can.

Add Comment


1 Comment


(5 years ago) petesthousandpeaks ptp said:

Thanks for the photos! Brings back memories when I led this for the Sierra Club as one of my first ski trips for them. Good double bag, wish that I could have been along.