Thunder Mountain (9,408' and 9,410') July 15, 2001
Upon getting my car fixed, and with the cessation of the daily thundershowers that hit much of the Sierra, I was game for exercise after weeks of inactivity.
My buddy Rex and I motored up Highway CA 88 to the Thunder Mountain Trailhead just west of Carson Spur. We were both out-of-shape after either vacations, or the lack of partners, for me.
It was to be a beautiful day. Only one other vehicle was parked at the trailhead. We began hiking by 10:10 a.m., and walked up the trail, built sometime in about 1996, and passed the snow deflectors for avalanche control atop the ridge to the left (east). I wished to test a new memory card, and began taking digital photos as soon as I could.
The trail begins through a forest of red fir, then progresses upward to mountain hemlock. Soon, we passed by huge volcanic crags, two known as the Sentinels. We gained views of the Kirkwood ski resort below to the southeast, and passed even more large crags. I expected that we would quickly ascend this easy summit, and proceed then onto another peak. I kept notes on the changes for the peaks guide. Ski area boundary warning signs were now along much of this ridge.
Topping a slight saddle amidst towering pinnacles, we investigated some use trails, then I became uncertain of the trail's direction. We followed the main trail down a bit to come to a new junction with a post. One trail apparently leads from the top of a Kirkwood ski lift, only some one mile from the summit of the 9,408' point, with only a few hundred feet of gain. Some hikers told us that the lift ride was some $10. We were to see many others hike this way. If not much exercise, incredible views for the uninitiated awaited at the top.
I chatted a bit with other hikers, then we topped out on the 9,408' point about three hours after our start. I took pictures of everything, and the best view of Silver Lake is seen from this point. A large plastic box made for a register, and heaps of scraps and notes were scattered about inside, with a few small books. I chose to organize the entries by stuffing the loose pages and scraps into a large plastic baggie, taking out some junk, and leaving a larger notebook which might last till next year. This is a very popular peak, now!
We started back down by 2:12 p.m., then chose to climb the point 9,410', which seems lower. Leaving the trail below the point, Rex measured, with his altimeter, the cross-country gain to the top to be about 200 feet. Finding no trace of other summiteers, we chose to leave a small set of cans and a book. This point, by the maps, is the highest point of Amador County. I took pictures to show the point designated 9,408' does look higher.
We ambled back to the trail, and enjoyed speaking with other hikers. The views had become sharper, with the air clearer. I shot even more photos, and we both thought this was an extremely well-spent, and pleasant, day. Back to the car at 4:50 p.m., I motored east a few miles to Kirkwood to check the new resort construction, and to check on my start description to climb Thimble Peak from here. Most everything seemed about the same.
There is now a "Thunder Mountain Loop" trail. A junction 0.5 mile before reaching the top of the point 9,408' marks a trail down going south then west to Horse Canyon. This would lead back to Highway 88 a few miles west of the Thunder Mountain Trailhead. A primitive parking area with a small sign marks this small spot to park. Either a ride must be arranged, or another car needs to be left here to complete this shuttle. Don't walk along the highway! It is a high-speed roadway, with blind curves, and although we saw many cyclists today, it is safer to hike instead on trail straight back to your car. This Horse Canyon trail is also very dusty, used by ORVs.
The stats on our climb was some 7.5 miles with roughly 2,000' gain round trip. Our very leisurely pace, with long rests and chats, came to total almost seven hours round trip. My new memory card did well, with some 155 digital images shot, and with three movie clips.
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