Mount Rose: Climbing the North Shore’s highest peak
May 19, 2008
With the brown expanse of the Great Basin in one direction and the shimmering blue palette of Lake Tahoe in the other, Mount Rose provides a unique vantage point. Unlike most high points, though, the views are just as good on the descent.
As you drop below the 10,778-foot summit, Tahoe’s eastern shore emerges, its contours creating a rugged shoreline that is best appreciated from Mount Rose’s shoulders. But here’s perhaps the best part about hiking Mount Rose: it’s probably the basin’s easiest peak to climb above 10,000 feet.
The trailhead for Mount Rose starts just below 9,000 feet, and it’s 5.6 miles to the summit, a vertical rise of less than 2,000 feet (Mount Tallac, for example, is about 3,500 feet from trailhead to summit). The first two to three miles are along a relatively flat dirt road that has sweeping vistas of Lake Tahoe and the granite playground of Desolation Wilderness.
As the trail bends to the north, 10,338-foot Relay Peak comes into view. The peaks’ north-facing gullies and satellite ridges hold snow longer than most spots on the east side of Lake Tahoe, so backcountry skiing and riding is possible into June.
Before a small depression in the landscape, the Tahoe Rim Trail heads left toward Relay Peak – the highest point along the TRT – while the Mount Rose Trail veers right. As the trail drops into a meadow surrounded by ridges, the maroon-tinted rocks of the Mount Rose’s summit cone appear – the first unobstructed view of the peak since the parking lot.
The trail hugs the side the main ridge on the left before curving around and entering a drainage. From here, the trail aims for a low spot on Mount Rose’s western arm, with the peak rising above to the right.
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The trail continues to ascend a low point in the ridge, then heads east toward the summit. You know you’ve reached the ridge when Donner Lake and Truckee are seen to the west. On a clear day, the volcanic bulge of Lassen Peak – the southernmost peak of the Cascade Range – sprouts up on the horizon.
The final half-mile of the trail switchbacks up through the peak’s loose rock before reaching rock outcrops that mark the summit. Look over one shoulder, and the high-rise casinos of Reno give a little color to the desert landscape. Look over the other shoulder, and you can most of the northern Sierra Nevada.
There isn’t much water on the trail, so bring plenty of your own, but the views quench most people’s thirst.
Trailhead elevation: 8,800 feet
Summit elevation: 10,778 feet
Distance: 11.2 miles (round trip)
Difficulty: Moderate/difficult; allow between six to eight hours
How to get there: From South Lake Tahoe, drive east on Highway 50 toward Spooner Summit, then turn left onto Highway 28. Once in Incline Village, take a right at State Route 431 and follow it to the Mount Rose Summit (8,890), a distance of 35 miles.
Going hiking on the North Shore? Here are some more suggestions:
Trailhead elevation: 7,100 feet
Summit Elevation: 8,660 feet
Distance: Eight miles (round trip)
How to get there: From South Lake Tahoe, drive east on Highway 50 toward Spooner Summit, then head north on Highway 28, passing through Incline Village, until you reach Kings Beach. Turn right onto Highway 267 toward Truckee. A half-mile past Brockway Summit is a parking area next to a small drainage that marks the starting point for Martis Peak.
Trail Description: The four-mile hike has a mild grade, since it’s basically a Forest Service road. There are several forks in the road, but watch for blue diamonds that mark the correct route. Continue through stands of pine and fir until you reach the Martis Peak Fire Lookout, which offers one of the better views of Lake Tahoe. The actual summit is a few hundred yards uphill, but the view is better from the fire lookout. On weekends, start early, as this trail is quite popular.
Note: If the gate is open off Highway 267 – like it was Wednesday – you can drive within a half-mile of the fire lookout, resulting in a 10- to 15-minute walk from a closed gate a few hundred feet below the summit.
Trailhead elevation: 6,400 feet
Distance: Eight miles (round trip)
How to get there: From South Lake Tahoe, drive west on Highway 50 toward the “Y” and head north on Highway 89. Continue until Tahoe City, where you’ll continue north on Highway 89 until the River Ranch Inn on the left side of the highway, then turn left onto Highway 28. Once in Incline Village, take a right at State Route 431and follow it to the Mount Rose Summit (8,890 feet), a distance of 35 miles.
Trail Description: Also popular with casual cyclists, this multiuse trail is mostly flat and parallels the river the entire way. It ends at Midway Bridge, which also is the starting point for the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile ultrarun held every summer that ends in Auburn. If you don’t want to hike the four miles back to the trailhead, hop on the TART public bus back toward Tahoe City. Since the trail is so scenic, it’s quite popular on the weekends, where people floating down the river add to the scenery. For the best chance at relative solitude, get out there on a weekday.