Hike to Phoenix Lake
edited March 24 2018

Finally, after not getting out at all for the month of July, I got back on the trail again with an old friend from high school. The goal was to make the top of Old Man Mountain in the Tahoe area, a very distinctive Half-Dome looking small mountain. Unfortunately, a late start and a wrong turn on the trail conspired to keep us from going up, but Phoenix Lake, at the foot of the mountain, was well worth the trip.

Phoenix Lake with Old Man Mountain in the background, August 2 2014.

The trail was dry and dusty in parts. A bunch of Jeepers were setting up for a major event the following weekend, but the ones we talked to were all real friendly. Once you get off of the Jeep trails, there are no dirtbikes or other motors on the hike.

Fordyce Lake

The trail winds through a bunch of small ponds and lakes and follows a ridge to Phoenix Lake. The weather was comfortable, in the 80s probably, and the lake water was clean and warm and irresistible.

I would have nothing else interesting to say about this trip if it weren’t for getting shot at.

Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but anyway, while we were swimming in the lake, a group of six or so hillbillies that we saw on the opposite ridge above the lake decided to start taking potshots at a tree trunk in the middle of the lake, about fifty feet from where we were hanging out. They weren’t trying to hit us, but their aim wasn’t phenomenal either, and it certainly didn’t enhance the otherwise calm, pleasant atmosphere out there. It was getting late anyway, so we decided it would be best to head back to the car.

Directions: from highway 80, take 89 North out of Truckee. The signage for 89 North can be a bit confusing; if you exit too early (taking the exit for Truckee), you’ll end up on Donner Pass Road. Don’t sweat it, just hang a left on Donner Pass Road and continue straight through the first roundabout. The second roundabout will put you back on 89 North. From there, drive about 14 miles to Jackson Meadows Road —. There is no sign for Jackson Meadows Road; it's a left turn just past the Kyburz Flats area. Look for a road sign for Webber Lake, Independence Lake, and Jackson Meadows Reservoir. Make an immediate left at the fork just off the highway, by the sign for Treasure Mountain Road, to stay on Jackson Meadows Road (Forest Service Road 07). Follow Jackson Meadows Road until you’ve just passed Webber Lake, and then turn left (going south west) onto Forest Service Road 86. Follow the signs for “Meadow Lake’, if they exist. Continue going south on Meadow Lake Road. Near the southwest shore of Meadow Lake, the road will split; do not turn right, do not go towards Jackson Meadows. Hug the southern shore of Meadow Lake until you reach a small clearing; there will be a sign for Summit City, along with some historical information about the area. Find a reasonable place to park here, this is as good a stopping spot as any.

View of Old Man Mountain from the ridge trail

Restrooms: there is a single-stall pit toilet at the Summit City camping area, probably a minute’s walk from where you parked. Just head toward the camping area. There’s no running water. When I was there, the restroom was well-stocked with toilet paper, but as usual, bring your own. There are no other restrooms in the vicinity.

Camping: you can camp right on the shore of Meadow Lake and I’m eager to do just that soon. The lake is beautiful, there’s a really lovely sunset on it, and the campgrounds aren’t too crowded or noisy (or expensive).

Mosquitoes: there were surprisingly few mosquitoes for an early August trip around an area full of small lakes and ponds. They aren’t completely absent, but they shouldn’t bother you too much. I don’t know if it’s because of our dry conditions right now, or we just got lucky, or there’s something in the area they don’t like.

Hiking: from Summit City, follow the sign towards Baltimore Lake. For the first few hundred feet, you’ll be on a Jeep road; watch out for an uphill trail spur off to the right, and follow that. If you continue downhill on the Jeep trail, then you’re on the wrong trail. The hike will gently ascend to a ridge; stay on the ridge all the way to Phoenix Lake. You’ll get views of Fordyce Lake and others along the way. Once you’ve reached Phoenix Lake, I think the best way up Old Man Mountain is to follow the shore of the lake towards the left, all the way to the base of the mountain, and then climb the ridge, cutting across the shallow face just below the top of the peak.