TELLS PEAK (8,872') CLASS 1
Location: 3-4 miles SE of Loon Lake
Drive: Take U.S. 50 to the well-paved road signed "Ice House Road Crystal Basin Recreation Area," which is 9.3 miles west of Kyburz, CA, or 22.6 miles east of the junction of Highway 49 and U.S. 50 in Placerville, CA. Posts "17N12" and "3" mark this road north. Set your odometer here. Essentially, follow along the generally double yellow line past Icehouse Resort, ignoring the spur roads.
Anyway, after 2.9 miles from U.S. 50, pass the Cleveland Corral Information Center. Here, you will be driving through the 1992 Cleveland Burn, which destroyed over 20,000 acres of forest lands. There is a restroom with flush toilets here. In 6.7 miles from U.S. 50, come to a junction and go straight on the main, striped, blacktop road following signs to "Icehouse Res 5 Loon Lake 25." Pass the old Ice House resort, and, at 10.5 miles, come to a junction with a narrow, paved road going east to "Wright's Lake 11" also signed "11N37" and "32" N.F. This will be the start of the approach to the Wright's Lake Road continued in the description of Mt. Price, Route A, Drive.
To continue to Tells Peak, go straight following the sign "Loon Lake 20." After 12.7 miles, pass the USFS "Crystal Basin Ranger Station" where information might be obtained. Pass the many campgrounds, and finally, after 21.7 miles, turn right on a narrow, paved, one-lane road signed, "Cheese Camp Road Tells Creek Equestrian Camp 6 Desolation Wilderness Trailhead 6," and also signed, "13N22" and "36." Follow the narrow, main, paved road, ignoring the many dirt road spurs. In 3.9 miles more, come to a signed fork and go right, following the signs "Tells Creek Horse Camp Desolation Wilderness Trailhead" and sign "36." At 5.6 miles, turn right on a short, slightly rough, dirt road signed, "Locked Gate 500 feet Wilderness Parking Tells Cr. Horse Camp" to a large primitive lot with a message board. A self-serve wilderness permit station is located here. There are no facilities.
Climb: From the parking spur road, hike back to the main road and go right (northeast), around and past the locked gate signed, "No Vehicles." Follow this dirt road to a three-way road fork in 0.6 mile. A road going left is marked, "13N22F." Take the middle fork going straight ahead. In 1.2 miles from the parking, come to a weather station and a broken signpost "Highland Trail Tells Horse Camp" which marks the trail. Go right on this trail, leaving the road. After 0.7 mile, cross a boggy meadow. Several posts signed "trail" mark the route. The trail goes through a large expanse of the plant known as "mule-ears." Then, go right at a fork with an old signpost "Shadow Lake Highland Trail." Follow the posts "Highland Trail," and after 0.5 mile, come to a creek crossing and meadow. After 0.3 mile more, come to a sign, "Desolation Wilderness Visitor Permit Required El Dorado National Forest." Climb on a partially overgrown, steeper, rubbly trail up a manzanita-filled slope, then cross streams and follow a winding, sometimes hard-to-follow trail. Come then to Forni Lake. The peak is visible on the far (northeast) side of the lake. The trail climbs right (east) steeply from here, and is often indistinct. Follow it the best you can. Basically head for the low saddle at 8,640+ between Tells Peak and the bump to the right (south). The route goes up and then left (north) to the summit. There are two large boulders that may serve as the highpoint.
WINTER SKI ASCENT: Route A is a possibility. The Loon Lake Road is usually plowed, but the narrow, paved, approach road would not be. An entire string of peaks was skied once by a Mother Lode Chapter, Sierra Club ski touring group from Loon Lake.
TRIP STATS: Route A, 2,400 feet gain, 5 miles one way.
Notes: Tells Peak is a challenging, trail navigation problem, although technically easy. An ambitious day to climb all four peaks, Tells, McConnell, Silver, and Red, is partially described next. There are plenty of campgrounds in the Crystal Basin to help make an early start. There are many peaks without names along this northern extension of the Crystal Range, but the elevations drop off sharply north of Tells Peak.