Amador County High Point Trip Report

Thunder Mountain (9,410 ft)

Date: August 11, 2000
Author: Scott Surgent

Two weeks ago I made the hike up Amador County's hp, Thunder Mountain. There has been a new trail constructed to the summit. Well, it goes to a sub-summit of Thunder Mtn, not the true HP, as I found out.

The new trailhead is located west of the Kirkwood Ski Area just barely a few hundred yards past the Carson Spur along the main highway whose number I forget. The sign at the pullout isn't very big; I drove by it once. According to a sign the trail to the top is 3.6 miles. I gather it's about 1,800 feet of gain.

The hike starts in the woods, climbs steadily along an excellent trail, and then breaks out into a meadow after about 0.3 miles. The big mountain looming off to the south I thought was Thunder Mountain but it was just a foreground peak, not the destination. The trail continues, re-enters the trees for a while, switchbacks, then achieves the main ridge. Huge rock plugs from past volcanism dominate the ridge, with some plugs looming 100 feet up. Very pretty. The trail levels a bit along this ridge, then starts climbing again before finally coming back to the main ridge again near the aforementioned foreground peak. Here, there are views down into the Kirkwood Ski Valley.

The trail contours past the false summit and stays on the main ridge before descending a bit to a saddle just below the highpoint. At this saddle, look up and spy the trail as it ascends between a set of spires to the left and a pyramid-shaped point to the right. This pyramid "leans" to the right. This is the highpoint. But I didn't know that at first. I just continued up the trail, down the other side, followed it for a while as it very slowly contoured around back to another set of rocky bits and finally to its end at a rocky summit overlooking a nice lake. Tattered flags and a big register sat at this summit, and I rested, signed in and took some photos, then started back. While descending back down to the main saddle, I met up with another hiker. We got to talking and it turned out he was here for the highpoint, too [see report from Peter Maurer]. Then he laid a whammy on me: the summit that I visited was not the actual highpoint! He showed me a map and sure enough I had visited a sub-summit that was two measly feet lower than the real highpoint. He then pointed to me the real highpoint: the right-leaning pyramid mentioned earlier. He commiserated with me, for he'd made the same mistake on a previous hike, too. I cursed my stupidity and also cursed the fact that I'd need to re-hike up that trail again, but I figured I might as well to call it good.

We hiked up the rise, crossed it and around the other side about 100 feet until we found a good use-trail that led right up to the rocky highpoint. Now I could claim Amador in truth. We parted ways at the top as he went further, but met up again at the trailhead to talk for a bit. It was fortuitous that I bumped into him and did this peak properly.

A few thoughts on this situation:

* Had I not met him along the way, I would have assumed I'd hiked Thunder Mountain and had achieved the highpoint properly, completely unaware that I'd failed to reach the true highpoint.

* It turns out that I hiked about a good 1.5 extra miles to the false summit (the terminus of the trail), not to mention the extra gain I needed to re-ascend the true highpoint.