Mount Lola: July 2001
MILES: 10 miles R/T
MAP: Tahoe National Forest
I once included this jaunt up to the highest point in Nevada County in a list of the 10-toughest hikes in the area, with its 2,500 feet of gain in five miles. But I’ve since been told that just finding its trailhead is challenge enough for some folks.
On July 1, Don Lewis led a group of 11 Nevada County Hiking Club members up the peak named for Lola Montez, an Irish dancer who re-fashioned herself with an exotic name and reputation in the Gold Rush gold camps near Grass Valley.
Take Highway 89 north out of Truckee 141/2 miles to the Independence Lake-Jackson Meadow turnoff. Go one mile to a sign “Independence Lake 2” then left onto a dirt road. Cross a small bridge then, at an intersection, look for a large stump lying on its side and hang a right. Go 11/2 miles (ignoring a sign: “Road closed 4 miles ahead”) over two cattle guards, yellow then red. After about3/10 of a mile, you’ll see a “Mount Lola Trailhead” sign and parking.
We pulled on our boots and headed up a flowery slope. This is an exceptionally early wildflower season, and we were not disappointed. I was enchanted as we soon crossed a small creek thick with tiger lilies, monkshood and yellow monkeyflowers. The trail wound upwards alongside and back and forth over Coldstream Creek under an intermittent canopy of Douglas firs and Jeffrey pines.
After a couple miles, a dirt road came in from the right. On the road, we crossed a small bridge over Coldstream then took the left fork. After 100 feet, a tree with pink surveyor tape, a “candle” blaze and a metal diamond marked a left turn off the road onto a footpath again.
As we climbed steadily, someone noticed a very large, snow-white wing with dark under primaries attached to a heavy bone. We scratched our heads over what bird could have such a huge wing – an mutant, albino vulture? Another clump of feathers and bones was spotted, and Chris Crain hit the nail on the head: “White pelican.” Sure enough, the remains had the heavy “keel” breastbone of a water bird. White pelicans breed in summer on large bodies of water, hundreds of miles inland.
The trail paralleled a dirt road then entered a vast green meadow with paintbrush, penstemon, lupine, aspen and ladies thumb bordering a meander. A faint road on the left presaged a real one on the right, which the trail crossed after about 75 feet. We crossed Coldstream again, climbed a ways, then re-crossed the creek. Another short climb brought the sound of falls, and we took a short detour to a pretty cascade.
Now we began to climb in earnest as trees became scattered and weatherbeaten. Wyethia (mule’s ears), pennyroyal and lupine fields framed views of ridges with patchy snow and the bare ski runs of Mount Rose, Northstar at Tahoe and Heavenly Valley. Looking back when we stopped to catch our breath, Independence, Boca and Prosser lakes appeared. We crossed a small snow patch; Don’s guidebook says Lola is unapproachable until mid-July in a normal snow year.
The peak, with its two elaborate, stacked-rock wind shelters, was labeled with a “9,143 feet elevation” sign. Jerry Sakai, Chris and I spread out my TNF map and tried to ascertain the names of the peaks and lakes in the 360-degree view. Don came over and set us straight by identifying White Rock, Fordyce and Palisade lakes and Castle and Basin peaks, Red and Old Man mountains, Black and Sierra buttes. He concluded with “And that faint white mass way over there? That’s Mount Lassen” – hundreds of miles away, as the pelican flies.
NOTE: Due to a washed-out bridge over Little Truckee Creek, Lola cannot currently be accessed from the west from the Henness Pass Road route.
This article was originally published on 8/13/2001.
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