Douglas County High Point Trip Report

East Peak (9,591 ft)

Date: December 31, 2001
Author: Daniel Case

I was able to do this as a short side trip while skiing at Heavenly. The peak is just above the top of the Olympic lift. Like most of the upper mountain trails at Heavenly, this area has no green trails and thus should be visited only by those with some skiing ability (it's all blue, fortunately). Whether you start from the Nevada or California side, it is necessary to take a rather complex journey to reach the base of the lift, a triple chair lift. I leave it as an exercise to the skier who clicks here. Note that this seems to be merely a scanned copy of the printed map, rather than a rendition in an Internet-friendly file format, so some words are indistinct or unreadable. Also, I don't recommend this for hiking use as it lacks many features a hiker would find useful, like a clear idea of what symbols refer to which location.

Another link has a close-up of the area in question. From the angle depicted, it is rather hard to make out East Peak as it is not named on the map and it would appear that the 9,123 foot elevation shown applies to the peak - obviously wrong. That refers instead to the mid-gondola station and viewing platform to the northeast. Looking closely at the map will reveal two peaks. The red cross refers to the ski patrol station on East Peak. You'd never know this unless you compared the area with the topo. Interestingly, the state line as marked on the ski trails themselves seems to be the 1878 Von Schmidt line shown on the map rather than the actual state line. Instead of midway along the Skyline Trail, for instance, the "Welcome to Nevada" sign should be nearer the top of the Dipper Express chair.

Once you're on the Olympic chair, which serves the Olympic Downhill and Von Schmidt trails, you should easily be able to make out the antenna on top on the upper section of the lift ride. A full view of the peak is also available from the top of the Comet trail, which descends into the col where the Crossover trail will take you to the Olympic base station. At the top of the lift, I skied to the edge of the packed snow, took off my skis and put them and poles tip up in the loose snow and pondered my next step. On the face of things, there was nothing to it. The antenna was maybe a hundred vertical feet up and a few hundred horizontally.

In warm weather it would be a cinch (but, of course, the chair lift doesn't run in warm weather). It could easily seem tantalizingly out of reach in the ski season. Especially today. Although the weather and sky were as clear as you could want, there was fresh powder down, which I knew would make for slow going. I had put on powder pants, a break with my usual preference for skiing in jeans, with this detour in mind, but it would still be a chore. Ski boots are not the best things to walk around in.

There was also the nearby ski patrol building, with a clear view to the summit and the top of the lift and much of what was in between and just as clearly occupied and in use. If this was not something Heavenly wanted its guests to do, I could get found out awful fast. I sure didn't want to risk losing my lift ticket (even if that might have been a remote possibility) since I wasn't sure if the summit itself might be outside the ski area boundaries. Although, if so, it would be in Toiyabe National Forest and certainly thus open to the public).

Looking around, I saw three possible approaches. The first was the shortest and most direct, and the only one out of view of the ski patrol: near a small wooden building that looked like a timing hut for races right at the top of the Olympic Downhill trail. However, it also seemed steeper than I was comfortable doing in my present condition and apparel. No. 2 was straight up from where I was at the top of the lift but the area just ahead didn't just seem to have deep powder, it did. I could see the deep divots left by some earlier revelers who had apparently made snow angels, and obviously gotten pretty snowy in the process. I didn't really relish the idea of trying to slog up through that small bowl, so I chose door number three.

I did the usual ski-boot mosey up the road to the snowmobiles parked outside the ski patrol building, and asked a woman on the porch if she was with the ski patrol. She was. Could I go up to the top near that antenna and take some pictures, I asked. This was an understandable request given the day's camera-friendliness and clicking and posing going on all over the mountain, and which was after all what I was going to do. Besides, it was probably not a bad idea to have someone on the ski patrol know you were doing this in any event. "Sure," she said. "Knock yourself out" (which was almost what I proceeded to do).

This enabled me to take a longer, but gentler, traverse up to the antenna. I presume, from its relatively small size and lack of any signs of widespread commercial use, that it serves as a repeater or something for the ski patrol's communications system. I knew it wouldn't be easy in this fresh snow, and it wasn't. Snowshoes are probably a good idea for this, if you bring both them and some more appropriate boots (I can imagine snowboarders not having a problem). On this occasion I doubt that they would have made much of a difference for me or anyone.

For most of the first part of the way I coped, staying out in between the trees where the sun had been hitting the snow, allowing it to settle, only hitting one spruce trap and not going in much deeper than the knees. I kept a slow pace and did not feel the effects of the altitude too much. As the upper stretch of the trail I was breaking drew closer, my heart throbbed and I had to stop and suck wind more often as I sometimes plunged almost face first into the loose snow. I've done this Reinhold Messner type of thing before, but it's still never fun. Perhaps I should at least have used my poles. The five-to-seven-foot base fortunately allowed me to sail over most of the talus others have reported surrounding the summit, although I did have a couple of treacherous steps buried in the snow. Eventually enough rock poked through to allow me to grab on and assist myself to the top, where I found a bare rock to sit on and catch my breath.

The trip was well worth it. This point has absolutely the most comprehensive view of Lake Tahoe that one can find in the entire Heavenly Ski Resort, plus the valley to the east and Carson City and Reno (strikingly free of snow-cover in contrast with the lake). I imagine several other COHPs in both states must be visible, although I wasn't anywhere near familiar enough with the area, much less the peaks, to identify them. Even though the ski lift and its attendant activity were still audible and visible just below, I really did feel like I was on a mountaintop, set apart, a brief hiker's break in the middle of a ski trip. The small false summit to the northeast, in the National Forest, was an interesting component of the view. Both the ski trail map and the topo show the summit as marking a corner of the boundary line but there were no signs or markers of any kind that I could see. I took plenty of pictures in all directions - of the lake, the mountains to the north, higher Monument Peak in CA to the southwest. However, I soon decided to leave when rime ice from the antenna began to melt off, crashing and shattering a few feet away from me. It didn't seem like anything that could kill but all the same I didn't want it to hit me.

I went to the highest rock above the snow, about twenty feet to the southwest, and touched it to fully claim the highpoint (the benchmark, obviously, was buried). Gathering up my backpack, I elected to glissade part way down my second approach, and wound up emerging onto the pistes again about right where I had put my skis. It felt somewhat strange to put them back on after this little jaunt, but at least it made the way down so much easier.