From my house in South Lake Tahoe, the dominating skyline comprises the burn-scarred Angora Ridge, Angora Peak, and Echo Peak. I’ve spend most of my workout runs heading up and down Angora Ridge, but I’ve yet to make a proper summit of Angora Peak and I decided it was high time to see what there is to see from the nearest highpoint to home.
From Echo Peak, the ridge extends north and becomes steep and craggy. There are three summits along this ridge according to my topographic map: “Peak 8760,” “Indian Rock,” and “Angora Peak,” moving from south to north. I’ve stood atop Peak 8760 two years ago on a ski tour from Echo Peak, and atop Angora Peak earlier this year, when ski touring up Angora Ridge. Both times, the goal was to summit “Angora Peak” and both times I felt like I had failed. On the first attempt, we were stopped by steep, mixed snow/rock/ice and awkward ski boot scrambling. On the latter, we decided to turn around because of sub-par ski conditions and wanting to get into work before 10 AM.
This time, having recently heard of Flagpole Peak, a striking high point north of Echo Lakes, I wanted to traverse all of the high points in the Echo Lakes basin, moving counter-clockwise from the south: Flagpole Peak, Echo Peak, Angora Peak, Ralston Peak (time allowing), and Talking Mountain. Looking at the topographic map now, I realize that Becker Peak (east of Talking Mountain) should probably also be included in such a traverse.
I hit the trail from Echo Lake Chalet around 4:30 PM, quite a bit later than I’d planned, but still hopeful that I’d be able to complete the loop before dark. After less than a mile of hiking, Flagpole Peak rose high above the trail to the north, its namesake flag flapping in the wind. Echo Lakes seem like a perpetually windy area as whenever I’ve been to Lower Echo Lake there have been large whitecaps blowing across from the west.
Flagpole Peak is a picturesque granite peak, towering high above Lower Echo Lake. Soon I saw a good opportunity to head off trail and up the granite slabs towards Flagpole. These slabs continue at a comfortable angle, with scrub oak sometimes barring easy trespass and the occasional Juniper standing by to rake my hair. About a hundred feet short of the summit, the climbing becomes a bit more staunch with some class 3 scrambling along wide cracks with big loose crystal and a bit too much lichen.
The climbing eases up towards the summit and some class 2 scrambling quickly brought me to the flagpole which I presume to mark the summit. I was interested to find that along with the American flag were tied a shirt and a pair of boxer briefs; in the crack below the pole, a pair of pants. Maybe there is some sort of tradition of streaking from Flagpole Peak down to Echo Lake?
Underwear notwithstanding, the view from Flagpole Peak is quite spectacular. Not only does the peak tower above Lower Echo Lake, but it also soars high above the north side of Echo Pass. I have driven over Echo Pass more than 20 times and never before noticed Flagpole Peak, high above to the left, on account of my eyes being magnetically drawn towards the beautiful Lake Tahoe. Now, I don’t think I’ll be able to miss it.
From the summit of Flagpole, I made my way quickly down to a broad ridge which heads gently up towards Echo Peak, soon finding a use trail. In the late afternoon, late summer weather it felt like fall and I breathed it deeply in, enjoying the moment.
The route up Echo was gentle and upon estimating that I had about 90 minutes until sunset, I realized that it might be prudent to head back to the trailhead after Angora Peak rather than completing the traverse around the south side of the basin. I would probably have another 60 minutes of light after sunset, but Talking Mountain looked heavily tree-d and as far as I knew there was no trail along that ridge meaning it would be slow going and would get dark fast.
From Echo Peak was yet another gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe and the remaining traverse of Angora Ridge. I only stayed a moment before heading along the ridge, marveling at how much taller the trees were than the last time I had been up there in deep winter.
Another broad ridge extends north from Echo Peak before becoming more rocky and exposed. I saw that if I were to descend a few hundred feet to the north the slope became less steep and seemed like easy climbing, but I was intent to stay as high along the ridge as possible. I made it to Peak 8760 and admired the view down “The Hall of the Gods,” a steep couloir heading down into Desolation Wilderness and one of the more extreme ski lines in this area of Tahoe. I continued along the east side of the ridge here, making it past the steep couloir with some easy class 3 moves.
From there it was some easy scrambling across to Indian Rock where I found a surprising number of hangers placed for climbing.
I made my way over to the last major summit along the ridge by an easy class 2 route and took in the view. By now the sun was very low in the sky and I realized that my goal of making it to Talking Mountain was no longer realistic so I decided I might as well enjoy sunset on Angora Peak before heading back to the trailhead.
From Angora I briefly considered dropping straight down towards Angora Lake, heading straight home, and hiking back in the morning or finding a friend drop me off at my car, but after making sure I had a working headlamp I ultimately decided to turn around and head back the way I’d come. Rather than taking the technical route along the ridge, I figured I’d drop down a few hundred feet east of the ridge. As it turned out, this was quite brushy and not especially easy going.
In the waning twilight I made it back to Peak 8760 only to find that the western Hall of the Gods couloir has a matching couloir down the east side of the ridge. I quickly made the class 3 climb up to the ridge, desperate to make it to the trail before dark.
Finally I made it to the broad ridge along Echo Peak and, donning my headlamp, jogged back down along the trail to my car. The run along Echo Lake was magical, with the stars above and light from cabins below reflecting off the lake.
I made it to the car at 9:30 and headed home.
Elevation Gain: 2,700 ft
Total time: 05:06:16