Hiking Ellis Peak, Lake Tahoe

I hope you all had an amazing weekend like I did! The summer might be coming to a close and I am back in school, but that’s not going to stop me from having a great time. No way. Team Fun right here. On Saturday, I had my Mindful Leadership class, which I can tell is going to be a great class for me personally and professionally. My professors are top notch, there are some great people in my class, and we get to meditate and do yoga as part of the curriculum. How cool is that?! If you haven’t heard of mindfulness, I suggest you look it up. I’ll give more details throughout the semester, but it in a nutshell, it means being present in the moment in a non-judgmental way. Let go of the past and don’t worry about the future. I think we could all benefit from a little more of that! It is crazy to think about how much stress is wasted each day thinking (or obsessing, like me) about things that you have absolutely no control over. I am definitely going to try and embrace living in each moment a little more.

Speaking of living in the moment, yesterday I woke up at around 10:00. OMG, that is so out of character for me. But, I have not slept in my own bed past 5:30 am in six weeks and I was definitely taking advantage of the opportunity. It was awesome, especially since I have a brand-spanking-new mattress. After laying in bed for a while and trying to get motivated to go for a run, I decided to text Jenn and see if she would be up to bag a peak. I’m funny in that way. If I don’t have a lot of motivation to run, I will see if I can drag someone else along with me to still do something outdoors, and of course, Jenn is always up for anything. Although I skipped on the running miles, I still like to think that all this peak bagging is a great form of strength training that is making my legs that much stronger.

Anyways, we decided to hike Ellis Peak and left Incline Village at about 1:30 to head over to the West shore of Lake Tahoe to the trailhead. To get there from Tahoe City, take Hwy 89 towards Homewood Ski Resort. From the Y in Tahoe City, drive 4.2 miles to Barker Pass Road. After about 2.25 miles, you will see a fork in the road that gives you the option to stay on the paved road or take a dirt road. Stay on the paved road for several more miles until you reach the top. You will know you are at the top when you see a dirt parking lot on the left and the paved road turns into dirt. Here, you can either park in the dirt lot, or just on the side of the road like we did. Walk up through the dirt lot and you will see the trailhead.

The forest on the way to Ellis Peak is full of beautiful, moss-covered pines.

The forest on the way to Ellis Peak is full of beautiful, moss-covered pines.

Once you begin on the trail, it will start to immediately climb. The first mile or so takes you up some switchbacks through a beautiful forest. Once you are at the top of the switch backs, you will find yourself on a ridge with amazing views. Even if this is as far as you make it on your hike, it is well worth the effort. You will be standing on what are know as the Fourth of July chutes, with gorgeous views of Desolation Wilderness to your Southwest and Lake Tahoe to your East.


Standing on top of the Fourth of July Chutes.

To bag Ellis, keep on the trail for about another two miles. You will continue on the ridge and then begin a decent, which feels a little backwards. Jenn and I kept wondering why on Earth we were going down when we were trying to climb to the top of a mountain. After a while of going down, you will begin a steep pitch back up towards Ellis. A note of caution, once you get close to Ellis, you will see a false summit that is tempting to climb, thinking that you are at the peak. We fell for it and made the false summit. Instead, continue on the trail toward the right of the false summit to go all the way to Ellis. We ended up having to scramble down the false summit and back to the trail. It wasn’t horrible, but was also a bit of a waste of time.

View of Lake Tahoe from the top of Ellis Peak.

View of Lake Tahoe from the top of Ellis Peak.

We finally reached the real summit and all-in-all it took us about an hour and 45 minutes. Ellis Peak sits at 8,740′ and provides beautiful views of the entire lake. It was a perfectly clear day, although really windy, and we could see Desolation Wilderness, Pyramid Peak and the Crystal Range (I am getting those in a couple of weeks!), Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, Jobs Peak, Rifle Peak, Mt. Rose, and many, many more. It is so cool being up that high and seeing all the peaks that I have stood on (or will stand on) this year.

After a celebratory brew at the top and always a good yell at the top of our lungs, we headed back down. We probably would have made it back to the car in a shorter amount of time than it took us to get up, but we missed the turn. Don’t make our mistake and have to backtrack your steps. When you are coming off the peak (about a quarter of a mile down), make sure to look for the single track trail to the right. Otherwise, you will do what we did and find yourself down the Rubicon Jeep trail and have to hike back up. Luckily, we got back on the trail and made it back to the car with a little bit of daylight to spare. It was definitely a close call!

Always a celebratory brew at the top.

Always a celebratory brew at the top.

Ellis Peak puts me at 7 peaks this year and I still have 8 more to go to hit my 15 peaks in ’15 goal. I am running out of time this summer and hope that we have a long Fall so I can get those in! Either way, I have had an amazing time standing on some of the tallest mountains in the area this year. What is your favorite peak to summit? I need some more ideas to get to my 15!

  • Total Distance: About 7 miles round-trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Pros: Beautiful views of the entire Lake and Desolation Wilderness
  • Cons: Doesn’t sit quite as high as some of the other peaks, so it is easy to be a little jaded if you have done Tallac or Rifle. Also, the trail back down is easy to miss. Make sure to look for the single track trail to the right about a quarter mile down from the false summit.

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