Baby Steps on a Baby Peak

Pickett Peak stands at 9,118 ft and is a “baby peak” by my standards now.  Funny as I look back and remember training for my Half Dome hike – I was thinking at the time, “Wow! 8,842 ft!!!  I have never been THAT high before!  We REALLY need to prepare for the altitude.”

Now I have climbed above 15,000 ft twelve times and the highest I have reached (and stayed overnight) is 23,000 ft.  However, the last 14 months have been challenging to say the least with my ACL reconstruction recovery.  Learning to walk again, dealing with a host of complications, and frustrated by pain dismissed by the traditional doctors.  Starting in early June I turned to a surgeon for a second opinion and began exploring alternative therapies (chiropractic, acupuncture, and the likely most effective, Graston therapy).  The pain finally began to abate and I was able to venture back into the mountains!

Nevada Beach campground

For my birthday weekend, John and I went to Tahoe for the weekend.  We camped at Nevada Beach – a fabulous campground with great facilities, lots of space, and right on the beach!  Saturday morning we got a ridiculously slow start.  Decompressing from my stressful job and travel schedule seems to take longer and longer, but we eventually rallied and headed south to the Hwy 88 and 89 junction.  As you head south, two pointy peaks jut into the sky – Hawkins and Pickett Peak.

In 2010,  I climbed Hawkins Peak (10,024 ft) with my friends  Sonja and Enrique.  This was the hike I planned as their Death Ride recovery hike.  Boy, were they cursing me as we bushwacked to the base of the summit and then scrambled to the top on class 2/3 terrain.  Ever since then, I’ve kept the other pointy peak in the back of my mind….

Enrique & Sonja lamenting our friendship and they will their Death Ride legs up Hawkins Peak (Pickett Peak in background)

Pickett is shorter than Hawkins and doesn’t get a lot of attention; however, the climb to the top is solid class three.  We didn’t have any beta or a map, but it would be pretty tough to get lost.  From the intersection of 88 and 89, we drove due South on a dirt road.  Doodlebug, my low clearance Mazda 3, struggled along and we stopped once we lost confidence we could safely go on without getting stuck.

It was nearly 3pm by now, but the summer days are long and the weather was ideal with the exception of some strong winds.  We packed our day packs and headed up the fire road with the peak on our right.  We continued until we hit a fork in the road and it became obvious that we needed to leave the fire road and head cross-country due West to aim for the Pickett Peak saddle.

Bushwhacking on the saddle

Once you leave the road and become engulfed in the trees, it’s a bit difficult to keep your sense of direction without a compass or GPS, but we had faith in our route finding and continued until we began to go uphill in earnest.  We began ascending a blocky talus field but then realized we had overshot the saddle to the South.  As we gained the saddle, we were blasted by the wind and intimidated by the better view of the Pickett Peak summit.

We made our way across the saddle, the exposed part of my legs below my capris getting scratched to pieces by the brush.  Thankfully, the good ole foreshortening effect was in force and as we got closer to the summit, the slope looked less and less steep.  It was still bonified scrambling, so we donned our helmets as a precaution against a fall or being hit by a dislodged rock.

John carefully working his way through the rocks

I was still not sure of my limits between my knee and my lack of fitness, so I focused on moving efficiently and conscientiously.  We navigated upward always picking the path of least resistance, traversed a false summit, and surmounted the final summit block.

Happy Em on summit of Pickett Peak

As we found the highest piece of rock, the sense of accomplishment, exhilaration and peace washed over me just as it had with countless summits before.  It didn’t matter that this was a “baby peak,”  this was a true accomplishment and I was elated!  We celebrated at the summit, took care of the obligatory summit shots, and took a few moments to pause and soak in the 360 views of the South Lake Tahoe mountains.

Emilie down-climbing

The summit is only half way, even on a baby peak, so we carefully down-climbed and retraced our steps back to Doodlebug.  I realized it’s a long way from 9,118 ft to the heights I have been and want to return, but every step you take gets you just one step closer to your goals…

We spent the evening cooking on a Coleman stove, breathing in the smell of evergreens, and watching the sun’s rays fade over Lake Tahoe.  It was all that much sweeter thanks to Pickett Peak.

Sunset over Lake Tahoe

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