Last weekend my friend Jonathon and I got out for what was most likely my last snowshoeing trip until next winter. We began our day at the Spooner Summit Tahoe Rim Trail crossing with no particular destination in mind. The TRT to the north was completely melted of snow, with only patches of white visible through the trees further up the mountain. The north facing slopes to the south looked much more promising, the mountains still covered in plenty of snow for our snowshoes.
We headed across the highway to catch the southbound Tahoe Rim Trail, passing through Zephyr Cove’s snowmobile fleet. Dozens of snowmobiles sat idle, with no sign of activity about the lot. Another good indication that winter sports are winding down. We strapped on our snowshoes, and walked over to the trail kiosk. Typically there is a trail stomped into the ground here, but today there weren’t too many signs of organized activity. Mostly just random tracks on the hillside, both from hikers and snow machines.
We loosely followed the TRT, but it soon became hard to follow under the snow. Instead we followed snowmobile tracks that were headed in the right direction, since the snow was firmer and easier to walk on. When we blazed our own trail, the snow was really unpredictable. Every few steps a leg would crash through the snow up to the knee, making it hard to find a good rhythm.
After a couple miles of walking, we had South Camp Peak and Genoa Peak in view. They still looked pretty far off though, and we weren’t sure we wanted to go that far. Just off to the east though was Duane Bliss Peak. It looked like a fun climb right in our vicinity.
Not only had I not considered climbing Duane Bliss Peak on this outing, but I’d never considered it ever. It’s certainly a respectable mountain, but it’s overshadowed by other larger peaks in the area. At only 8,658 ft tall, it doesn’t stand out in elevation, and there are no trails going to the top. It’s also steep on all sides. But one thing I’ve noticed this winter, is that mountains like Duane Bliss are ideal for winter climbs. It’s actually easier in the snow, since in the summer you’d have to contend with steep sandy slopes and thick brush.
The Peak is named for Duane Leroy Bliss (November 30, 1833 – April 21, 1907), a 19th-century Nevada timber and mining magnate. According to Wikipedia, he founded the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company from Gold Hill, Nevada. He eventually controlled every facet of the business from the land to the timber, ships and barges to move the timber, flumes and the railroad system he built. The Bliss Mansion is a historical landmark across the street from the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City. In 1907 he completed the renowned Glenbrook Inn which became a tourist destination for the elite families of San Francisco. Glenbrook Bay is clearly visible to the west from the top of the Peak.
We crossed through a grove of Aspens in a small meadow, then began our steep ascent up the west face of Duane Bliss Peak. We engaged the heel lifts on our snowshoes to make the climbing easier, and we were really thankful we had them. It was slow going, but we gained elevation quickly.
The snow became patchier the higher we got. We navigated from snow bank to snow bank, sometimes having to walk through the soft forest duff in between. Eventually we could see the top, and it was almost completely snowless. We ditched the snowshoes and made the final climb to the top in our hiking boots.
After leaving the snowshoes behind we reached the first false summit. And then another one. Finally, we could see the real top. Expansive views of Lake Tahoe and the mountains to the west opened up behind us, and as we neared the peak, Carson City and the Carson Valley came into view to the east. Genoa Peak was about as far south as we could see, but we could see as far north as Mount Rose and its surrounding mountains.
I signed us in to the Peak Register. A lady from Sacramento was the previous person to sign in at the beginning of the month. Previous entries were fairly spaced out in the log, suggesting that the peak is not often climbed. We enjoyed the views and took a lot of photos, but the wind was freezing. The peak was not the most ideal place for lunch on this day.
We went back down and retrieved our snowshoes, then headed to the east side of the peak to find a warm spot for lunch. We found a level spot under a huge pine tree out of the wind. Evidently this giant tree survived the clear cutting of Duane Bliss and his contemporaries. We warmed up, enjoyed a nice lunch, then began planning our route back.
We decided on a different route down that took us to the northwest side of the mountain in a direction towards Spooner Summit. We found a nice draw that was snow-covered and fairly free of obstacles. In previous outings this year, a rapid descent down this type of terrain would have been easy. But with the warm Spring snow, the way down was slow going. You just never knew when you’d sink down into the snow, so running down the hill wasn’t really possible. A brave snowmobiler had passed through this steep draw in days past, leaving us a firm track to follow at times. But it too was hard to descend at times. Mostly I was just amazed that the snowshoes allowed me to walk down this terrain at all. Without them, I would’ve been rolling down the mountainside.
Once off the mountain, we followed official snowmobile trails and even found the TRT at times where the snow was melted. Eventually we found our tracks from earlier in the day, and followed them out. We really had to look hard though, because the snow was melting so fast that our tracks were starting to disappear.
Duane Bliss Peak is a great snowshoe hike even though it is not real popular. Its close proximity to the trailhead makes it a good destination for a shorter day trip. With the heavy tree cover and without a defined trail, it’s a fun place to practice your navigation skills. But probably most rewarding of all are the excellent views from the top.
More info about this hike can be found on Summit Post.
More photos of this trip on Flickr.
(And thank you Jonathon Springer for the use of some of your great photos!)