SIERRA BUTTES (8,587') CLASS 1-2
Location: 2 miles N of Sierra City, CA
Drive: Take Highway 49 to Bassetts Junction, which is 5.2 miles east from Sierra City's former Mountain Shadows Restaurant (the Red Moose Cafe, 2012), or some 6.8 miles west from Yuba Pass to the east. There is a cafe, gas, a motel, a store, and a map board here. Drive north on the excellent Gold Lake Road signed "Gold Lake 7 Grayeagle 17." Follow the highway north 1.4 miles and take the paved road to the left (west) signed "Sardine Lake Packer Lake." Come to a fork after 0.2 mile, and go right, following signs to "Sierra Buttes 7" with another sign "93." Stay on the main paved road. Pass the parking marked, "Packsaddle Campground and Trailhead," which provides some overflow parking, and continue another 0.4 mile, or about 3.7 miles from Gold Lake Road, past a lot signed, "Tamarack Lakes Trailhead*." Continue up signed, "steep narrow road," winding up on paved road to a high saddle after another 1.4 miles, to turn left. A sign here reads "Sierra Buttes 4." Past here is another overflow lot. Continue past on good gravel road 0.15 mile, signed "Sierra Buttes Lookout 4," to a large primitive parking area signed" Sierra Buttes Trailhead," with room for maybe 20 cars. This is 5 miles from the Gold Lake Road Highway. A sign board is located here. No facilities are available. The dirt road continues for high clearance vehicles, signed "Sierra Buttes OHV Trail 2 1/4."
Climb: Go past a USFS gate to the left (east) southward on a track toward the peak. A sign reads "Sierra Buttes Trail 12E06." Ignore the blocked off spurs in the next several hundred yards. The track soon turns into a regular trail. After 0.7 mile or so, take an unsigned, left fork, uphill. The signed, right fork is the PCT. In 100 feet, or so, come to the old Tamarack Connection Trail 12E30, marked by a downed wooden post, to the left and downhill. Continue straight and up. Come to a small, primitive parking area, and continue straight through. A jeep road here goes right. Here, on the way back, and further along on the hiking trail, signs read, "trail." After a steep, rubbly section through open forest, come to another jeep road, near the summit. Turn left on it, up the hill. Follow this jeep road to the final, airy, staircase, and climb to the lookout on top.
*The older, and alternate, way, before maybe about 1999, starts from the Tamarack Lakes Trailhead. A sign indicates "Sierra Buttes L.O. 4" and "Tamarack Lakes 4WD recommended 1." Follow the trail, which starts as an old logging road, south. Climb steadily, shortly gaining views of a small, unnamed lake on the left (east). This trail climbs to the northwest ridge. It comes to Route A near its junction with the PCT. Go left and follow Route A to the top.
Drive: Take Highway 49 to Sierra City. About 50 yards west of the former Mountain Shadows Restaurant (now possibly the Red Moose Cafe), a side road north signed "Butte Ave" leads to another sign in 0.1 mile. Turn left, following the signs to "Sierra Buttes Rd Look Out Disposal Site." Cross a wooden bridge in 0.2 mile. In 1.3 miles total from Highway 49, a graveled road signed, 'Sierra Buttes Road," takes off to the right. If you come to the dump, you have gone too far. Drive up the "Sierra Buttes Road" road as far as you wish, usually, with a regular car, to the sign full of holes indicating 4WD only, with a fork here dropping left to a mine. Park without blocking the road.
Climb: Continue on the main dirt road, taking the uphill forks. Follow this 4WD road to the west slopes where Route A from the other side is encountered. Follow the trail (Route A) or roads to the top. The Pacific Crest Trail intersects this route, and, from the bottom where it crosses Highway 49, may also serve as a summit trail, but the many switchbacks and extra distance discourages all but the strongest hikers to try that way.
WINTER SKI ASCENT: One must usually park at Bassetts Junction, and, carry skis, or ski up the Gold Lake Road. Route A can be followed, or, to begin a direct route, one may follow the road to Sardine Lakes. To get to Sardine Lakes, take the left fork at 0.2 mile from the Gold Lake Road on Route A, Drive, following signs to "Sardine Lakes Resort" and, after 0.6 mile, come to a parking lot. Go right up a 4WD road that leads to the dam. Assuming the ice is thick enough (only experience can tell), one may ski across the lakes to the far end. Proceed southwest up to the bowl that leads to Young America Lake. Steep (35 degrees) slopes lead up to the west slopes of the peak, where Route A can be joined.
TRIP STATS: Route A, 1,600 feet gain, 2.9 miles one way; from Tamarack Lakes Trailhead, it is 2,500 feet gain with 4 miles one way. Route B, 3,400 feet gain, 3.5 miles one way. Winter ski ascent through Sardine Lakes, 3,300 feet gain, 5 miles one way, starting from Bassetts Junction.
Notes: Sierra Buttes is
one of the most prominent peaks in the Northern Sierra, and is
easily recognized from many of the peaks north and west of Lake
Tahoe. Its summit crags are very scenic. From one point on the
walkway that encircles the lookout tower, one may look straight
down several hundred feet to the snowfield or rocks below. Without
the stairs, the peak would be some class 3, by a deep gully not
generally visible from the hiking route.
Route B, with its south-facing exposure, offers a partially snowfree route during drier years and earlier in the spring. Sometimes, a lower gully on this side is filled with snow, and makes a good glissading shortcut for persons with ice axe and snow skills, allowing a descent of as much as 1,500 feet in a very short time.