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  • Writer's pictureJason Sheck

Leavitt Lake - Jeep Road & Hike

Bri and I have been busy since Father's Day with various personal travel, visits from friends and family, and dodging the smoky air. The wildfires in the region have kept the skies pretty smoky since the latter part of July. The last couple weeks have been especially smoky as a result of the Caldor fire burning south of Lake Tahoe. The smoke got to a point that walking, hiking, and biking all became hazardous to our lungs! In addition, and similar to early September 2020, several of the national forests in the area closed to public use. The closures include all types of access including camping, hiking, biking and Jeeping.

With the skies smoky and the national forests around Lake Tahoe closed, we needed to leave the immediate area to find clearer skies and open national forests. So, we made our way down US 395, stopped at Mountain View BBQ in Walker, CA for lunch, and then headed to Sonora Pass (HWY 108). About 11 miles west of US 395, Leavitt Lake Road takes you on a 3 mile journey up a mostly smooth forest road to the Leavitt Lake basin. There are a couple challenging sections on the road that would be very difficult to pass with a crossover, or lower-to-the-ground SUV. Though, I have recently seen a Youtube videos of folks making their way up the road with crossovers using the help of spotters and very careful driving. Kudos to those drivers and spotters! There were about 15 different sets of campers up at the lake, many of them equipped with roof top tents and various overlanding equipment. There was a combination of pickup trucks, Jeeps, and assorted 4x4 Toyotas up at the lake. Everyone we came across was very friendly, but I still considered it very busy at the lake. Apparently social media has affected traffic to the area! The last time Bri and I were at Leavitt Lake was a few years ago, and we had to hike all the way from HWY 108 so there was almost nobody up at the lake - it was peaceful and surreal.

Our plan for the afternoon was to take a hike, so Bri and I set out on a route that circumnavigated the Leavitt Lake Basin by climbing up to the ridge east and above the lake, then making our way across the ridge, and finally the back down to the lake via a different route than we went up. Overall, the hike was very challenging. Bri and I haven't been hiking a lot the last few weeks so between that, the over 10,000' elevations, and smoky air, we were pretty tired at the end of the hike! The views of the lakes below us were amazing. We were looking at Leavitt Lake, Kennedy Lake, Lost Lake, Koenig Lake, and Latopie Lake. The terrain we hiked through was pretty rocky and unforgiving. A few of the miles we hiked were along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). As a result of the national forest closures on Northern California, there were several hikers skipping those areas and restarting on Sonora Pass. We saw about 14 PCT thru=hikers, which was fun! In addition to interesting hikers, we saw some deer working their way up to greener and grassier grounds in the early evening. We eventually made it back to the Jeep with about 30 minutes of daylight remaining, and headed back to HWY 108.

It was a great day that got us out of the smoky Tahoe air, exercised our heart an lungs, and put the Jeep to work!

What did I learn?

Offroading and overlanding are as popular as people say they are and folks are spending a lot of money on their rigs. Many of the rigs at Leavitt Lake were fully equipped with a all the goodies you see on Youtube...from overlanding trailers, roof top tents, changing tents/portable bathrooms, LED lights, generators, elaborate cooking equipment, etc. Business is good if you're selling these products!

Getting started on the east end of Leavitt Lake.

Didn't take long to get steep...up up and away!

Almost to the top of our climb, starting to feel high!

Finishing the high-elevation portion of our hike and about to head down to Latopie Lake, then Koenig Lake, and finally Leavitt Lake via a very difficult trail to follow. The trail disappeared into nothing over-and-over as we descended, and left us scrambling down some very steep and loose terrain. We're somewhere around 10,800' in this photo.

I think they're Mule Deer...but I can't discern between Mule Deer and their subspecies Black-Tail Deer.

The Jeep, with some of the ridges we hiked along in the background.

A few photos of Levitt Lake Road, including a couple of the more challenging areas. Pictures never do these sorts of things any justice...

A picture from HWY 108, looking southwest above the Leavitt Meadows Pack Station.

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