Freel Peak • Highpoint: El Dorado County
• Range Highpoint: Carson Mountains

The summit is the left-most point

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Date: June 21, 2002 • Elevation: 10,881 feet • Prominence: 3,146 feet • Distance: 9 miles • Time: 5 hours • Gain: 3,000 feet • Conditions: Cloudy going up, storms developing as I descended

Freel Peak is the highest peak overlooking Lake Tahoe, located south of the lovely lake, in the Carson Mountains. It is also the highest point in El Dorado County, which is why I initially considered hiking it. Actually, I had not planned to hike Freel Peak on this trip. Rather, I wanted to hike in the Sweetwater Mountains near Yerington, but a big fire was raging down there. With those plans set aside, I headed over to Freel Peak.

I was still sore from yesterday's long, 15-mile hike up White Mountain Peak in Mono County. After a night in Minden, Nevada, I drove up and over the Kingston Grade, past the Heavenly Ski Resort, past the traffic in South Lake Tahoe, and proceeded to get a little confused. The guidebook said to take Pioneer Trail, which I did, but the next turn off I was supposed to take never came up, until I realized Pioneer Trail is a big loop and I was on the wrong end of it. I finally found the right turnoff, and followed a local paved road (Oneidas Street) into the forest to the pavement's end, where I parked and started in.

My map was the one printed in Gary Suttle's California County Summits book, so I followed his directions. There are two ways to make it to the main saddle below the summit: a 4-mile hike via the Tahoe Rim Trail, or a 2-mile grind up a sandy, steep use trail. The main path actually led me to the steep use trail first, which I tried to follow up until I lost the trail amid a thicket of brush and downed aspen. After backtracking down to the main path, which cost me about 40 minutes overall, I decided to take the longer route. I went south through a marshy meadow, then a good trail up to the Tahoe Rim Trail junction, which I took northeasterly to the main 9,800-foot saddle. This took about 2 hours.

Once at the saddle I started up a steep boulder-sand pile, which gained 400 feet quickly. There was no trail here, so I went uphill whenever possible. The slope then moderated slightly and I found faint use-trails. The route climbs toward a 10,600-foot subpeak of Freel, then contours and gains the actual summit. Although I was moving quickly, the clouds were building fast and I was concerned about possible lightning (I had been through two such storm cells in the previous 48 hours).

As I approached the summit, I met a couple and their dog on the way down. We talked briefly, then I pushed on to the top, where I made it almost exactly 4 hours after starting (counting my time going up the dead-end at the bottom). The views were great. Lake Tahoe was visible, as Freel Peak is the highest point of all the surrounding peaks, while to my south I could see nasty clouds amassing. I didn't stay long before heading down. I was back to the main saddle in less than an hour.

For the remaining hike down, I took the steep use trail, which was steep and sandy and loose, but saved me 2 miles and made up for lost time. I came to where I lost the trail coming up, and yes, there was no way I would have known that the trail was where it was. It wasn't obvious at all from below, even after I'd come through it. The bad portion is short, fortunately, exacerbated by downed aspen and heavy undergrowth. Then it was just a simple mile or so to my truck, and on my way to Reno.

In Reno, I picked up Adam Helman, and we'd continue the trip with another peak in California, and a quartet inside Nevada.

(c) 2002, 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.