Mount Rose: the last gasp of the High Sierra
Years ago, I included Mount Rose in a list of the 10 toughest hikes in the area. The hike is a strange one: gradual uphill, dramatic downhill then a short, steep ascent. At just under 11,000 feet, Rose is the last gasp of the High Sierra.
There’s a U.S. Forest Service campground right across from the trailhead, so you could do the hike, camp, then fool around at Lake Tahoe for a complete outdoors weekend. This mid-June, my sweetie, Chip, and I spent two nights at the campground, hiking down part of the Ophir Creek trail at the back of Truckee Meadows then watching Foothill Theatre Company’s “Othello” on Friday, hiking Rose on Saturday then swimming in Tahoe on Sunday morning.
Once, when my friend Dan and I hiked this trail in early August, the premier attraction was wildflowers – masses and masses of flowers, of which I identified about 25 species. Highlights were tiny blue forget-me-nots, aptly named tower delphinium waving above my head, magenta fireweed, butter-yellow primroses, yellow wyethia (mule’s ears) and rangers’ buttons with their odd, knobby, white flowers.
Clark’s nutcrackers discussed our progress, and myriad hummers chased each other maniacally, screaming, “TZEEE, TZEEE, TZEEE!” through fields of red, yellow, white and electric-blue blossoms.
A couple of years ago, the USFS put in a snazzy new trailhead. You can go up the new route then come back via the old, which Chip and I did. From the parking area, the trail gradually ascends along the back of the ridge between Truckee Meadows and the Galena Creek drainage. At the top, the trail heads right as part of the Tahoe Rim Trail, and the creek’s waterfall creates a boggy meadow.
Skunk cabbage, or corn lily dominates this stretch. At its low point, in a dense stand of columbines, delphinium and paintbrush, Dan and I stooped to examine tiny elephant heads – pink, no less – complete with floppy ears and trunks. We passed other hikers exclaiming over the abundance of blossoms and taking each others’ pictures among them.
Look back for a full view of the drainage before the real climb to Rose begins. Switchbacks up a rocky slope under twisted pines end in a 10,000-foot ridge marked by a sign, “Mount Rose Wilderness/Toyaibe National Forest.” After about 100 feet, another sign directs you right to “Mount Rose Summit.”
More switchbacks bring views on both sides of a ridge. To the west is a dramatic valley ending in Prosser, Stampede and Boca reservoirs. The trail dips below the ridge and rounds a bend with glimpses of a thread of I-80, Donner Summit, Castle Peak with Truckee glittering at its base and Donner Lake. Here, Dan and I heard an eerie whistling noise, and two gliders slid by beneath us.
The trail winds around the back of the rocky summit with more views of Galena drainage, then you see the sprawl of Reno and Sparks. A sign “Mount Rose, 10,776” marks the top; sign the peak register in the metal ammo box and enjoy the 360-degree view.
To access the old trail, pass the Galena Creek drainage on the Tahoe Rim Trail and head up to the ridge above the meadow below Relay Peak. The trail then is mostly flat, with views of Tahoe and Incline lakes and Washoe Valley. Chip and I missed the turn-off to the new trailhead, but the resulting quarter mile we walked along Highway 431 to its parking area was just fine.
– Pat Devereux is the copy desk chief of the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at pdevereux@nevadaappeal..com or (775) 881-1224.
If you go
Miles: 12 miles R/T
Trailhead: Take Highway 28 to Incline Village then take Highway 431, the Mount Rose Highway, for about nine miles to a parking area on the left. The trail starts at the large wooden wilderness area sign behind the outhouses. (The campground across the road on the right.)
Map: Toyaibe National Forest