On top of the world on Tinker Knob

Alpine wildflowers find life of the exposed ridge of the Sierra Crest. | Sean McAlindin

High above the Town of Truckee, the Sierra Crest cuts across the sky, the peaks of this geographically perfect ridge watching over our mortal souls. One of the most prominent points along the crest from nearly every vantage in Truckee is none other than the sky-high shark fin known as Tinker Knob.

This summit is named after Soda Springs Hotel owner James A. Tinker and his prominent nose, according to “California Place Names.” He was a rough, hard-drinking teamster who earned his keep hauling freight and mining machinery to the North Fork of the American River. You’ll need more than a bit of Tinker’s ambitious wherewithal to reach this relatively remote peak. Fortunately, there are several options of varying difficulty to approach the climb.

The quickest and easiest way is to drive up Cabin Creek Road off of Highway 89 outside Truckee. In late summer, you can make your way within 2 miles of the crest to the ridgeline between Deep Creek and Cold Creek. A steep, yet invigorating hike will take you directly to Pacific Crest Trail and Tinker’s summit just above.

An early summer Sierra Crest flows into the northern distance. | Sean McAlindin

The second and most popular way to reach Tinker Knob would be to park at Donner Summit near Lake Mary and walk the gently rising Pacific Crest Trail over Mount Judah, Mount Lincoln and Anderson Peak. This 8-mile hike offers astounding views from the Nevada desert to California’s Coast Ranges. A 7-mile option from the south begins at Granite Chief trailhead; though shorter in distance this route requires more advanced navigation to reach the crest.

For our early summer conquest, my friend Karl Obermeyer, son of Austrian skier and Warren Miller bestie Klaus, and I decided to take the adventurous route. From Donner Memorial State Park, it’s a 4-mile drive up Coldstream Canyon to Lost Trail Lodge. Although it is not marked, there are two left turns one must make along a network of logging roads to reach this point. Early season travelers should be prepared to ford at least one creek along the way before reaching the parking area at the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad. Lost Trail Lodge, which offers lodging and back-country tours, is a half mile up the road from there.

Karl Obermeyer treks through deep snow lingering high in the mountains. | Sean McAlindin

A Walk into Untamed Wilderness

Passing the lodge, we enter a world less traveled. A steady, yet gradual climb along a four-wheel-drive road reveals awe-inspiring views of Cold Creek and its erosive power roiling far below. Eventually the path narrows into a single-track trail that winds its way up through the dense moss-covered woods where red snow plants emerge from the thick undergrowth.

As we rise through the forest, breathtaking waterfalls roar down towering faces of shining granite. Suddenly, the face of Anderson Peak appears high above us. We leave the trail, climbing through deep, snowbanks toward the Sierra Crest. On reaching the stunning divide, a vast untamed vista materializes: the deep-blue basin of Lake Tahoe to the desolate crags of Granite Chief Wilderness to Castle Peak and the Sierra Buttes to the north. On the clearest of days, one can see as far as Mount Lassen from this far-flung elevation.

A snow plant emerges from pine needles between the melting snow. | Sean McAlindin

After a quick stop at the Sierra Club’s Benson Hut, we wander up the Pacific Crest Trail with early-season alpine wildflowers sprouting all around us. It feels as if we are on top of the world. In the distance, Tinker Knob rises like a breaking wave beckoning us farther. A short scramble up the peak reveals a flat, rocky summit at 8,949 feet. After taking our time to drink in the 360-degree vista and sign the logbook, it’s time to descend.

The snow is still deep up high, so we slide our way down back into the canyon of Cold Creek to find the trail we left hours before. Bushwhacking our way home, our legs are tired, yet our souls are full. Although this route to Tinker Knob requires more hiking and route finding than others, it’s the magic of exploration that makes it well worth the effort. | summitpost.org