Fall Hike to Freel Peak: 10,886'
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
This hike was probably one of the highlights of 2020. One, because it's the highest peak in the Tahoe area, and two, because it was unexpectedly beautiful with fall colors and a sunset. And two additional events that made this hike notable were 1) the fact that my husband found a lost iPhone on the trail and we were able to contact the owner and return it to them and 2) we got to eat Base Camp Pizza on our drive home. Because I was starving by this time and it is the best pizza I've ever eaten.
The forest road to get to the trailhead was a bit rough and we had to make a few educated guesses to get there, but we made it. Once we arrived, we wanted to approach this hike briskly, because we were going to be racing against sundown on our way out. But that ended up being quite the treat.
This hike affords awesome views most of the way.
After about 4 miles of steadily climbing from the trailhead, you arrive at this "intersection" where you get a lovely view of Lake Tahoe before you begin the (brutal) 1-mile ascent to the peak. Speaking of hard work, it's a perfect time to have a snack before finishing out.
I honestly didn't stop to take any photos during this final 1 mile, because frankly, I was working hard and trying to stay focused on summiting. Let's just say you're navigating a barely legible trail through a very rocky and steep terrain. But then...
Just like that. You make it to the top. (Just kidding. It was a grueling mile.) It's incredibly vast and incredibly windy at the top.
View of Lake Tahoe from Freel Peak.
I'm not a huge fan of selfies (plus, I'm not good at taking them), so I started taking my obligatory watch pic at the summits. And even though my GPS watch did not accurately track my hike this time, I kept with my "tradition."
I kept checking the mileage on my watch on the way up to gauge how much distance was left to the top, and I remember thinking, "Gee. I feel like I've gone twice this far..." So when we got to the "intersection," I asked my husband what mileage was displaying on his watch, and sure enough, it was double what mine read. At least I wasn't going crazy... But I was hustling up the entire trek, so I was pleased to see that my time to the top was just under 2 1/2 hours.
You're higher than the trees. You're higher than most peaks in the distance. You can see for a hundred miles.
Speaking of seeing for a hundred miles... then my husband spots the smoke plume in the distance. It's the Creek Fire, a wildfire that started burning September 4 down near Fresno, CA, 140 miles away as the crow flies. It can be seen in the center of the below photo. Eerie. That fire ended up burning over 375,000 acres.
We didn't spend a lot of time at the top because, as I mentioned, we were playing beat the clock (sundown). So, I had another snack, and we headed back down at a pretty swift pace, watching the sun descend along with us. Even though hiking in the dark is not my preference, this instance brought an unexpected surprise.
As a result, some of my favorite sunset photos were taken on this hike.
Did we make it back to the car before dark? Nope. But almost. If I hadn't stopped to take so many photos of the sunset, we probably would have made it while it was still somewhat light.
After such a fantastically challenging hike, Base Camp Pizza takeout was in order as we passed through South Lake Tahoe, met the owner of the lost iPhone, and devoured our pizza in the car before we headed back home to the north shore.