At 9,716 ft elevation, Peep Sight Peak in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness doesn’t stand out as a mountain worth bragging about climbing. There are much taller peaks in the area and throughout the Sierras. Even the trailhead for this climb is somewhat remote and inconvenient to get to. The draw to climb Peep Sight Peak are the many large and interesting conglomerate rock formations that top this mountain. Also worth the journey are the wide open views of the wilderness, with many other noteworthy peaks visible from the trail.
This hike is started at the Tryon Meadow trailhead on the Highland Lakes road, which is a well graded dirt road off Highway 4 just west of Ebbetts Pass. Low clearance vehicles should be able to make it if care is taken. The trailhead is signed, and will be on your right (west) about a mile before Highland Lakes. Plenty of room to park and turn around off the main road is provided.
The trail immediately enters the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Wilderness permits are not required for day hiking. The first section of this hike follows rolling terrain through the woods on its way to Milk Ranch Meadow. Very little overall elevation gain is made during this first leg, so it’s easy to get this section done quickly.
Within just a few minutes on the trail, you’ll realize that this area is used for open cattle grazing. The water crossings are trampled with hoof prints, and the faint odor of cattle byproducts is present for much of the trail. This means bring plenty of water with you, and be real selective of your water sources when filtering or treating creek water. We were frequently surprised of the terrain these cows could get into. These are some tough cows.
This hike was done on July 27th with temperatures in the 90s back in Carson City below. The tree cover was welcome for the first part of this hike, since the trailhead is at around 8,500 ft and still a bit warm. There are plenty of opportunities for shade until the real climb begins. Breaks in the trees allow for good views of the jagged Raymond and Reynolds Peaks to the north.
After circling around the base on the north side of Folger Peak, the trail arrives at Milk Ranch Meadow. It’s very scenic here, but obviously a very popular place with the cattle. There are fences here, and even an electric one that I verified is live, but they don’t seem well maintained. It appears that the cows can still go wherever they want. The trail is a little confusing through the meadow, with frequent forks. All the trails seem to parallel the meadow though, and it looks like new trails were made around fallen trees. Just follow along the meadow, and you can’t go wrong.
When you reach the top of Milk Ranch Meadow, it’s time to climb. The trail leaves the meadow through a little break in the fence between two trees. The trail from here appears to receive very little use, and is hard to follow at times or just disappears altogether. Sometimes the trail is just what appears to be erosion from water runoff, and you wonder if you’re really on the trail. There are also a few times when you must scout around to pick up the trail again. A good trail map and compass is very helpful on this hike. I used the Carson-Iceberg, Emigrant and Mokelumne Wilderness areas map from National Geographic with good results.
As you start to climb, great views of the surrounding peaks come into view.
Eventually we came to the creek that drains the northeast side of Peep Sight Peak. Just past the creek the trail disappeared completely and a barbed wire fence blocked further progress. There was no indication where the trail might go, other than the map showing the trail continued somewhere past the fence (we’d eventually find the trail 50 yards away to the west on the way back). We decided to go off trail at this point, and followed the creek drainage up around the north side of Peep Sight Peak. It was at this point that our hike strayed from the most direct route. We would’ve been better off time and mileage-wise to hunt for the trail beyond the fence; however, looking back, there are no regrets for taking the route we did. We did some great exploring, and saw some amazing country that we wouldn’t have got to see otherwise.
Following the creek up took us through a lot of wildflowers. Eventually the conglomerate rock closed in on us, and there was just a narrow slot where the creek has cut through. I climbed up the slot to see what the route ahead looked like, and was surprised to see the beginnings of a big tabletop mountain and the peak just ahead.
Once up on the table area of the peak, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know where the arch and other formations were located on the mountain. The highest point of the mountain was directly ahead, but didn’t appear to host any formations. We decided to hike the table around the peak to the west.
Walking the table provided great views of the surrounding area, including Bull Run Peak to the southwest. After a rest, I decided I would ascend to the ridge over the talus to try and find the arch. Once up at the ridge, there was no sign up the arch. I was very near the top though, and had some great views off both sides.
I continued south along the ridge in search of the arch. Eventually I found the tall crag that stands alone, appearing to watch over the valley below. It was truly a sight to behold, and I knew the photo wouldn’t do it justice. Next time I’ll have to get a person standing next to it for size comparison.
A little further south along the ridge, and I finally found the arch, the “peep sight” that the peak is named for. I climbed through and around it to get some photos.
After regrouping with my dad, we filtered some water from a spring and made plans to hike out. Following the ridge to the southwest didn’t look too terribly hard, and we would eventually join back up with the trail. Down below, there was a big wash with steep exposed sides. We tried our best to avoid it as long as we could. Eventually the terrain forced us down into it, and we had to scramble down loose banks to the creek below. This turned out to be another good water source, mostly free of cattle evidence, so we filled our bottles again.
The hiking became much easier now, and we finally reunited with the trail. It was nice to walk along easily for a while. I was surprised at how much elevation we had lost though, and we had to climb out quite a bit.
Eventually we came to a high point on the trail. We were right below the arch and tall crag. Now revealed was the best way to reach these two landmarks. Apparently I had looked over the edge from the top in the wrong spots, and didn’t see this route. Someone looking to do this hike with the least amount of mileage will want to climb here. Another good option would be to go up where we did, and down here to make a loop. Going around the southwest end of the mountain was definitely not the best way, and we lost too much elevation.
The trail started to descend back towards the point where we left the trail to begin our ascent. It was very hard to follow. Occasionally we would find the remnants of old trail blazes in the trees. They’re easy to miss. Some scouting was required to find the trail again.
Eventually the trail disappeared in a meadow. We continued walking through the woods, and found the barbed wire fence where we turned off to make our ascent. We had finally come full circle.
It was starting to get late in the day now, and we did our best to make haste. Occasionally we would lose the trail, but then find our footprints again. It was nice to get down to Milk Ranch Meadow again for some easy hiking. The bugs were virtually non-existent on the way up, but now that evening was drawing in, the mosquitoes would bug us if we lingered anywhere too long.
After hiking between 10-11 miles, we got back to the trailhead at 7:30 PM, much later than we had anticipated. Having explored the area now though, and knowing the best route, we can shave several hours and difficult hiking off the next trip. We wouldn’t have phone signal again for more than hour into our drive back. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones anticipating an earlier return home, so some apologizing was required to worried family members.
I highly recommend this hike into a little used part of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. We didn’t encounter another hiker all day, so the hike ranks very high on solitude. Anytime we thought we heard other people, it just turned out to be a cowbell from a wandering herd of cattle. Having a compass, good map, and sticking to the south face to make your ascent will make your hike much easier. Bring lots of water or a means to treat or filter your water, and choose your water sources carefully. There aren’t too many places the cattle haven’t been. Backpackers looking for an extended stay in the wilderness can enjoy a few different loop options off this same trail.
More photos of this hike can be found here on Flickr.