Hiking Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak in one shot is a goal shared by many Tahoe locals and weekend visitors. It’s an arduous but relatively safe route that is mostly above treeline and offers 360 degree views for miles in all directions. Each of the three peaks featured in this hike sit above 10,000 feet, with Freel Peak also being the highest peak in the entire Lake Tahoe Basin (at 10,881 feet). There are some variations to this three-peak excursion, but the clockwise route described in this blog is the most common way of accomplishing the feat. So with a little prior planning and some moderately athletic preparation, you can successfully hike Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak in a day.
Trail Data (approximations):
- Location: South Tahoe – Luther Pass
- Category of Route: Day Hike, Multi-Day Hike
- Total Mileage: 12 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 4,100 feet
- Highest Point: 10,881 feet
- Trail: Alternating between hard-packed and sandy soil
- Confirm that the gate to Forest Service Road 051 is open and your vehicle is equipped for the road conditions
- Plan for the worst, hope for the best—this route features at least 5 miles of fully exposed terrain that sits at 10,000 feet of elevation or higher
- Begin your hike earlier than you would start a lesser day hike in order to give yourself plenty of daylight to work with, as well as enabling you to get off of the higher peaks before any afternoon storms roll in
- Adhere to all Leave No Trace principles
- There are few trail signs and markers on public lands in the Tahoe region, so unless there are tracks to follow, the correct route may be difficult to identify–when in doubt, turn back
- Be prepared for inclement weather and carry plenty of warm clothes, food, and water
- Leave an itinerary of your plans with someone who’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time
- Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them
The most simplified version of the parking instructions for hiking Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak is this…take SR 89 about 9-10 miles south of Meyers, CA, to Forest Service Road 051 (.75 miles beyond the Luther Pass sign), drive up that road for 3.5 miles, park in the big open dirt area on the left, and hit the trail.
Those were the basic instructions I received from a friend I had run into on top of Mount Tallac on January 7, 2012. Winter had not yet arrived that year and many people were peak bagging in the Lake Tahoe Basin well into January. I was looking to hike Freel Peak the following weekend, but the only route I knew was long and grueling. I described this to my friend on Tallac that day, and that’s when she mentioned a slightly easier approach to Freel Peak. My friend’s instructions were simple and accurate, but I didn’t pay close enough attention to some key details and clearly didn’t ask enough questions. Needless to say my hike of Freel Peak the following weekend became an experience I, nor the friend who hiked with me, will never forget (and became “that which we do not speak of” forevermore). But don’t worry, I’ll share with you details of the experience later because there were countless lessons learned that day.
If you’re already familiar with the Luther Pass area, take those above instructions and run with ’em. But I recommend reading further for detailed information about Forest Service Road 051, which is where you’ll park for this route.
Freel Peak and Jobs Sister are technically located within the Lake Tahoe Basin, but both peaks are on the border between the Lake Tahoe Basin (managed by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit) and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The reason this is important is because the most common trailhead to access Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, or Jobs Peak (and the route I’m describing) is via Forest Service Road 051 (AKA Willow Creek Road on some maps and Crystal Mines Road by some Tahoe locals) and it’s located within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. This rugged and rough dirt road features an access gate that is controlled by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest office in Carson City, NV (not the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in South Lake Tahoe, CA). The reason this is important is because the gate at the entrance to Forest Service Road 051 is locked for many months out of the year. Mostly it’s locked during winter months, but in 2017 the gate remained closed until the end of June due to the harsh conditions remaining from the 2016/17 Snowmaggedon (i.e. epic winter). When it did open, the road featured some deep ruts and mud/water zones where it would’ve been too difficult to negotiate with a standard passenger vehicle. The day I drove the road (July 4, 2017) to assess it for vehicle access, I witnessed a Toyota RAV4 safely coming down the road, but on my way out I met some folks who were in a newer Ford Mustang that only made it about a half mile past the gate before turning around. If you’re planning to hike Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak, you don’t want to add another seven miles (round trip) of road walking if you don’t have to. Trust me. I’ve traveled this road by foot voluntarily and by necessity many times and the additional miles make an already long day, longer. So, before you leave the house consider the time of year you plan to hike Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak via this route and confirm that the gate is unlocked and that your vehicle is appropriate for driving this road.
When you’re positive the gate is open, take SR 89 out of Meyers, CA, and head south for approximately 9 miles to Luther Pass. Three-quarters of a mile beyond the official Luther Pass sign (on your descent into Hope Valley) you’ll find Forest Service Road 051 on the left (north side of SR 89). This road is easy to miss because it’s surrounded by trees and lacks any official indicators other than a small stop sign for traffic leaving the road and turning onto SR 89. Slow down at about a half mile beyond the Luther Pass sign and keep your eyes out for the road, but be aware of traffic backing up behind you because this is a 55mph zone. You don’t want someone thinking you’re a slow-driving tourist taking in the sights and then passing you on the left at 65-70mph while you’re target fixated on finding the road and making the left hand turn onto it. Most people don’t even realize Forest Service Road 051 exists, so they’re not prepared to come to a dead stop driving downhill in a 55mph zone, as is the case when you have to wait for oncoming traffic to clear before making the left hand turn onto the road. I apologize for belaboring what may seem like mundane details about the fine art of driving an automobile, but everything I write is born out of direct experience and it’s my desire to help you to avoid catastrophe.
Once you spot the road (the first section is paved) turn onto it and proceed uphill. At the gate, which is set back in the forest and not visible from SR 89, the road turns to dirt. To safely navigate the 3.5 miles of dirt road that leads to the trailhead, you need a vehicle with moderate clearance. Prior to the road’s most recent grading (circa 2013), you would’ve needed a four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance to negotiate a series of deep ruts soon after the gate. No matter what, this road has many obstacles such as rocks, roots, and ruts that will wreak havoc on a small two-wheel drive car. For my first 12 years living at Lake Tahoe, I drove a two-wheel drive coupe and never bothered to even attempt to drive up this road (even after it was graded), which is one reason why I have so much experience traveling it by foot.
After approximately 3.5 miles from the gate you will find an open dirt area that should show obvious signs of vehicle use and probably a couple of parked vehicles. This parking area will immediately follow the second small bridge that you will cross. While standing on Forest Service Road 051 and facing that parking area, look to the far left of the parking area and you will find the trailhead. It may take you a minute to locate it because, again, there aren’t any signs and it is tucked back in some trees and bushes. You will know you’ve positively found the trailhead when you’ve located the small foot bridge that crosses Willow Creek. This is where you want to begin your hike.
FYI … Forest Service Road 051 continues up the hill for another mile or so and splinters off in various directions, but the main road eventually dead-ends at the base of the trail that leads to Jobs Peak. If you were only hiking to Jobs Peak, park near the end and save yourself a short road walk. However, if you’re hiking Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak just park at that larger area near the main trailhead.
Here’s a map to assist you in finding FS 051 (aka Willow Creek Road) for accessing the trail to Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak.
The first thing to note about hiking Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak is that most people travel this route in a clockwise direction (as I am describing in this blog). The reason for this is that there is a steep sandy section below Jobs Sister. It’s not something you have to worry about falling off of or needing specialized climbing gear or skills, it’s just really exhausting to hike up this 800 foot section of vertical beach. And minimizing exposure (i.e. not getting trapped in one section for too long) will increase your chances for a successful and safer hike. Other than that, it’s six of one and a half dozen of another whether you choose to hike clockwise or counterclockwise. But know that this blog is written with the intention of hiking the traditional clockwise route.
About 1 mile after setting off on your adventure from the trailhead near the parking area, you will reach Armstrong Pass and link up with the Tahoe Rim Trail. At this junction choose the trail that travels northeast (to the right as you are looking toward Lake Tahoe) and in the direction of Star Lake and Freel Peak. If you traveled south along the Tahoe Rim Trail you would end up at the Big Meadow Campground near SR 89. If you took the trail that travels northwest (along the left side of Armstrong Pass as you look toward Lake Tahoe) you would link up with Fountain Place Road and the Corral Loop mountain biking trail system. So, veer right and contour the west-southwest facing aspect of Armstrong Pass.
After approximately 3 miles you’ll reach a small saddle between Trimmer Peak (nearer Lake Tahoe) and Freel Peak. There will be a sign indicating that Freel Peak is one mile away. Take that trail and start heading uphill. You will have to negotiate a number of small switchbacks through weather-beaten trees and, at this point, you will have reached about 10,000 feet in elevation and be fully exposed to the elements (and continue to be exposed for the next five miles).
Here is a panoramic video from the top of Freel Peak on the morning of June 20, 2015.
Lake Tahoe averages about 275 days of sunshine each year, which is why so many of us love living here. However, we’ve also experienced our fair share of punishing storms. So, when tackling the hike around Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak, never assume things are going to magically work themselves out when shit goes sideways. Respect the mountains by having contingency plans. To me that means carrying a topographic map of the area and identifying evacuation routes, keeping a close eye on the weather throughout the day, having adequate protection against the sun, wind, and rain, carrying enough food and water to last me beyond the allotted time to complete the route, and to continually monitor my hiking pace, as well as my mental and physical states.
The five mile stretch above 10,000 feet is my favorite part of this route. However, it’s also arguably the most dangerous section because once you begin your ascent of Freel Peak there just aren’t that many places to go in case of emergency. Fortunately, because there are endless panoramic views along this route, you can navigate by line-of-sight and you can spot bad weather from miles away. But again, make sure you have some contingency plans if something goes wrong.
Traveling from Freel Peak to Jobs Sister and then from Jobs Sister to Jobs Peak is easy to navigate. You literally can see where you are going the entire time. When you descend Jobs Peak and reach the saddle that either leads back over to Jobs Sister or continues downhill into the forested area, well, pick the trail that goes downhill. You’ll make your way down through the forest for approximately 1.25 miles and eventually end up back on Forest Service Road 051. Walk the road for about 1.5 miles back to your vehicle. Mission accomplished!
One last self-indulgent note … Although some people refer to this hike as Tahoe’s “Triple Crown,” I avoid using that term since it already holds an established place of honor in the hiking world. For those who aren’t familiar, the Triple Crown refers to the big three American long-distance hikes (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail). Each one of those hikes takes between four and six months to complete. Also consider that in the horse racing and baseball worlds the term Triple Crown refers to season-long accomplishments. As a former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker (1999), I can tell you that hiking Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak in one day is hard, but it ain’t that hard. It is ultimately a day-hike, so let’s try to keep some perspective on the matter. Please forgive me and my obsession with semantics.
Here is an infographic I created about Freel Peak. Order your copy at RedBubble.