Ascending peak named after the ‘hermit of Emerald Bay’
Ryan Summerlin August 2, 2012
I held tightly as my fingers grasped the tiny granite crevasse. With my free hand I swept away talus from the boulder above me. My concentration was sharper than the granite shards surrounding me. Heaving my body upward I pressed my chest against the rock. Carefully finding my footing I crawled on top. Dust painted my face brown and sweat turned into mud as it rolled off the tip of my nose. I sat gazing at the top of Dick’s Peak thinking to myself we had taken the toughest route up. There was a false summit before the peak. From there we could reach the east ridgeline that would take us to the top.
Dick’s Peak is appropriately named after the colorful Capt. Richard “Dick” Barter, “the hermit of Emerald Bay,” who lived alone and died an untimely death in 1873. Much like Capt. Dick, Dick’s Peak looms lonely in the distance of Desolation Wilderness beckoning determined hikers.
Before you set out, stop by Taylor Creek Visitor Center for a map and permit whether you are day hiking or camping. Good shoes, ample amounts of water, food and appropriate clothes are essential because it can be cold on top of the peak. And tell someone where you are going.
At 9,974 feet, Dick’s Peak is the third highest mountain in Desolation. It is a mere 1 foot shorter than Mount Price and 9 less than Pyramid Peak. Giving Dick’s geographic location there is no easy approach, requiring several miles of hiking from either route choice.
“Roughly 120,000 people visit Desolation a year, 100,000 are day hikers, with about 1,000 climbing Dick’s,” said Don Lane, a Tahoe park ranger for 40 years and Tahoe historian.
“No base camp, get your bearings, then you move on; that’s part of the magic,” said Lane.
With most people hiking in only a few miles, Dick’s Peak provides the opportunity for hikers to get unspoiled 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe, the Crystal Range, the Carson Range, almost the entire Desolation Wilderness and the northern Sierra Nevada. If bagged on a clear day, hikers can catch a glimpse of the Shasta-Lassen area.
“The view from atop of Dick’s Peak is mesmerizing. You work hard to get up there but then get to stop and absorb the enormous beauty of it,” Lane said.
“I have never been on top when there has been a crowd,” said ranger Chris Engelhardt.
For determined day hikers, you can enter through the Eagle Falls or Bay View trailhead connecting with the Pacific Crest Trail eventually passing Fontanillis Lake and Dick’s Lake reaching the top of Dick’s Pass to summit Dick’s Peak for a round trip total of an estimated 14 miles. You may also choose to camp at one of the lower lakes. If you are looking to bag multiple summits, you can also reach Dick’s Peak from Tallac and Jack’s Peak along their ridgelines. Stunning vistas in prime wildflower season will surround whatever route you choose.
To split up the mileage, we entered in the south of Desolation through Echo Lakes, hiking along the PCT and camping at American Lake; covering an estimated six easy miles the first day. Continuing the journey from American Lake along Lake Aloha via the PCT we passed Heather Lake and Susie Lake before climbing roughly 1,500 ft to the top of Dick’s Pass, overlooking Half Moon Lake to the south, Dick’s Lake to the north and Dick’s Peak looming at the end of the rocky ridgeline with two smaller peaks in between.
Once atop of Dick’s Pass the trail forks off to the west, this is the main trail for Dick’s Peak, it is a trail less traveled but with good navigation and a little rock scrambling you will be rewarded greatly. Drop the heavy packs behind a tree and give your self an advantage.
Cautiously follow the talus trail, constantly watching out for falling rocks and the best route choice. If you follow the ridgeline up you will encounter a couple technical sections of Class 3 hiking; if you decide rock climbing isn’t your cup of tea, opt for the northern route around the false summit to the main ridgeline below Dick’s. This section is what makes Dick’s exhilarating. The trail is primitive so you get to be the explorer, make good choices and if you don’t like the trail you ascend, try an alternate route down.
On top of Dick’s Peak, I inhaled, drawing a full breath of air into my lungs. We had accomplished what we set out to do and nobody else was around. Tahoe was spread out before us like the topographic map we had unraveled so many times. Runoff lakes with crystal clear water shimmered beneath the granite monoliths. Peaks skipped across the horizon with small blankets of snow shrouding their shoulders. Lakes with no name beckoned for you to come and explore them. The feeling of being alone on top of the peak was surreal. I imagine native Americans, explorers and pioneers having the same blissful experience.
After a few celebratory snapshots we were making our way down the trail, choosing the talus trail halfway through the descent to avoid down climbing the false summit.
From Dick’s Pass we hiked an estimated three miles to Fontanilli’s Lake for our final night under the stars. We were awoken early by thunder and lightening storms prompting and early retreat. The car was parked at Eagle Falls trailhead and the route back was roughly six miles downhill. We triumphantly passed many day hikers swarming the popular Bay View trailhead. Before civilization became apparent I was still in pioneer mode wanting to homestead, live off the land and befriend a neighbor named “the hermit of Emerald Bay.”