Dramatic views at Thimble Peak

The Wall at Kirkwood from Chair 6

Thimble Peak was plastered with untracked powder the last time I hiked up the steep slope after a spring storm. A cloudless sky and spectacular view of the Sierra from 9,800 feet hasn’t changed as I approached the summit in midsummer. I was sweating and out of breath just below the peak; a cool breeze and a well-nourished marmot welcomed me. Two dark basalt towers stood aside the massive peak like vacant watchtowers. The marmot kept an eye on me, patrolling, as I inched my way up the craggy rock face.   

My trek began at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. I decided to take a shorter more direct route to Thimble Peak than the longer trails from Thunder Mountain or Horse Canyon. Below the Solitude chairlift, my hike became a treasure hunt of last season’s lost items. A lifetime supply of lip balm, lighters and right-handed gloves. Solitude was transformed from an intermediate run to a beginner slope — leveled by blossoming lupine and Indian paintbrush. Below me, Kirkwood’s Village Plaza looked like it could fit into a snow globe. Up ahead, cliffs walled me out, so I angled west toward Chair 6, also known as Cornice Express. Express, the name was a conundrum because the last quarter-mile is an uphill scramble and Kirkwood Inn & Saloon’s belly-buster burger I ate for lunch is living up to its name.  

The ridgeline to Thimble Peak meandered east and was flat for a good while — a welcome relief from the previous hour-long quad-burning climb. The path was barely visible; Silver Lake appeared and my stride stretched toward a series of rocky spires. A melodic wind hollered through a narrow gap in the mountain as I passed behind The Sisters. Here, double black-diamond chutes were exposed and the drop had a dizzying effect on me. Caples Lake and Thimble Peak were in the distance. Like a prehistoric monument, a conglomerate rock resembled the profile of a poodle. Inspecting the pooch from the opposite side, I discovered a plaque dedicated to Dick Reuter, one of Kirkwood’s founding fathers. Just  past The Wall, the rocky ridge requires climbing and not hiking, so I chose to slip and slide across the shaley slope below. It confirmed my direct approach route was a bad decision. The longer, less challenging trail from Horse Canyon or Thunder Mountain would have been a much better option.  

Trail along the ridge toward The Wall.

To truly summit Thimble Peak required an exposed climb and as I wedged myself between a pyramid of volcanic rock, I reconsidered. The route up is not very technical, but climbing alone, regardless of classification, is never a good idea. I looked down at what is known as the backside of Kirkwood — one of my favorite places to ride in the winter — and reacquainted myself with the naked terrain. In the distance, I located Round Top Peak, then Elephants Back, Hawkin’s, Steven’s and even Freel Peak were visible. A strong wind had its way with my ball cap and was a good excuse to descend and retrieve it. I worked my way around the peak, found my cap and a comfy place to rest. The dramatic view and peacefulness here awaked a feeling of gratitude. The plus-sized marmot popped its head above a boulder, chirping at me until I exited his territory.

Besides getting an early start, the best way to tackle Thimble Peak is a personal preference. Some hikers enjoy a scrambling, bush-whacking, high-altitude workout via the Kirkwood route, while others may opt for something less strenuous via the Horse Canyon Trailhead or the Thunder Mountain Trailhead.

Crag on Thimble Peak.

If you prefer taking in the stunning views with the least amount of effort, I suggest a lift up the mountain. Kirkwood offers lift access to 12 hiking trails on weekends through Sept. 2. Lift tickets can be purchased at the Kirkwood Mountain Sports or the Ticket Office in the Village Plaza. Disregarding the advantage of a lift ride, Thimble Peak is considered a difficult alpine hike and hikers should prepare accordingly. If it’s solitude you seek, I recommend approaching the peak from Kirkwood’s southeast side. I hiked more than six hours and besides the marmot, the only mammal I spotted was a tremendous buck with antlers hunters would drool over.  

Drive time from South Lake Tahoe to Kirkwood is about 40 minutes. Horse Canyon Trailhead parking is 4 miles west of Kirkwood on State Route 88 and a half mile east of Silver Lake. Thunder Mountain Trailhead parking is less than 2 miles west of Kirkwood on State Route 88. | kirkwood.com