Thunder Mountain • Highpoint: Amador County
• Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains


Me at the top

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Date: August 11, 2000 • Elevation: 9,140 feet • Prominence: 330 feet • Distance: 7 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 1,800 feet • Conditions: Pleasant • Teammates: Pete Maurer (last half of hike)

I was in the Lake Tahoe region, having hiked three peaks on the Nevada side in the past two days. Today, I planned two hikes on the California side: Thunder Mountain, the highest point of Amador County, then Corral Ridge, the highest point in Calaveras County. Among other attractions, I would get to drive some of these crazy mountain highways I had always heard about for the first time.

Thunder Mountain is near the Kirkwood Ski Area along state route CA-89. I started the day in Carson City, then topped the gas in Markleeville before heading up the highway. Thirty miles later, I was at the ski area. One option to gain the peak is directly up the ski runs. This looked unnecessarily steep. Back on Highway 89, I drove over the "Carson Spur". I found the Thunder Mountain trailhead sign by luck as it was not obvious. I parked here. The sign said it was 3.6 miles to the top. Apparently, this was a new trailhead.

The hike starts in the woods, climbs steadily along the excellent trail, and then breaks out into a meadow after a third of a mile. The trail continues, re-enters the trees for a while, switchbacks, then achieves the main ridge. Huge rock plugs dominate the ridge, with some plugs looming 100 feet high. The trail levels along this ridge, then starts climbing again before finally coming back to the main ridge again near a big peak that could be seen from the trailhead. Here, there are excellent views down into the Kirkwood Ski Valley.

I continued past this peak and kept hiking, following the trail another mile to a rocky summit with tattered flags. I was pleased I had reached the highpoont, took a break and admired the views. Then, I turned around and started the hike out.

While descending back down to the main saddle, I met another hiker, a cool fellow named Peter Maurer. We got to talking and it turned out he was here for the highpoint, too. 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 which was just above us, where we stood. He commisserated with me, for he'd made the same mistake on a previous hike, too.

Peter and I hiked together. We hiked up the rise, crossed it and around the other side about 100 feet until we found a path that led up to the rocky highpoint. We parted ways at the top as he went farther on, but met up again at the trailhead to talk for some more. It was fortuitous that I bumped into him. It turns out that I hiked 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. But, ultimately, it was worth it.

I returned to Markleeville, then south to state route CA-4 and up and over Ebbetts Pass along some of the steepest, curviest paved mountain roads I've ever been on. Some grades were 24%. The road was not striped for two lanes and when two cars would meet we'd have to go real slow to pass. Later in the day I hiked Corral Ridge, the highpoint of Calaveras County.

(c) 2000, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.