Andesite Peak is less crowded and easier to summit than its taller neighbor Castle Peak. It’s a fun hike to the top with good views towards Castle Peak and the surrounding valleys.
Directions to Trailhead: From I-80, exit at Boreal/Castle Peak. Head south, then turn left towards the Boreal Inn and Donner Summit Sno-Park. Park anywhere along Bunny Hill Drive and be sure to display your Sno-Park permit. The trailhead itself is on the north side of the freeway. It’s impossible to miss. Google Maps link to trailhead.
Red Tape: Sno-park permits are required to park on Bunny Hill Drive between November 1 and May 30. Permits cost $5 and are available for purchase at the Boreal Inn. Permits can also be purchased online for an additional $1.95 at the California SNO-PARKS website. Annual Passes are available for $25.
There are several routes to the summit of Andesite Peak. It’s possible to snowshoe directly up Andesite Ridge (1 or 2 miles), reaching the peak from the southeast side. We opted to take the main snowshoe trail towards Castle Pass, then approach on the ridge from the northeast side. Our roundtrip distance was around 6 miles.
On this trip, we decided to try out our still relatively new Altai Hok skis. They are something in between skis and snowshoes. Basically snowshoes with a bit of glide in them. I think the official name is “ski shoes.”
After passing the gate and main trailhead sign, we turned right at the first junction. The left trail is mostly used by snowmobiles. Skiing on the Altai Hoks felt a little easier than walking on snowshoes, but that’s not to say it was totally effortless. To glide, we had to be going relatively fast which made us very tired, very quickly.
At the second junction, approximately 1/4 mile from the trailhead, we took the left fork. The trail on the right heads down into a big meadow. The left trail continues up towards Castle Pass.
We were there early – probably some of the first people out on a normally very crowded trail. The first person we saw was a guy riding a bike with snow tires! He stopped and chatted for a while. He said he was training for a race in Utah. It looked like a lot of fun. Rob mentioned that we could rent some snow bikes and try them out sometime in the future.
We continued up the trail towards the pass. As the trail got steeper near the top, our skis started to slip backwards. The Altai Hok skis do not have full-length skins, so the traction isn’t perfect on steep, icy slopes. It was a little challenging, I ended up taking my skis off for the last few feet of uphill trail.
We took a break at Castle Pass. People were now starting to come up the trail behind us. Most of the herd was headed toward Castle Peak. We turned the opposite way and headed up the ridge towards Andesite Peak.
We got some practice on the skis by turning around and skiing down short sections of trail. We both fell a few times. It’s not easy to turn when your heels are not attached to anything. Also, like snowshoes, the Altai Hoks are used with regular hiking boots. This does not provide much rigidity, making it very difficult to have any kind of control.
The slope on the ridge was pretty tame until we were nearly at the summit. The last couple hundred feet were surprisingly steep. We took off our skis and kicked steps to the top. It was steep enough that I got to break out the ice axe and practice self arresting. (But not steep enough to actually be scary.)
After lunch on the summit, we retraced our steps back to Castle Pass. And we both fell a couple more times. The trail was now quite busy with a seemingly endless stream of snowshoers coming towards us. Rather than taking the same trail back out, we dropped down into the valley and skied a route closer to the PCT, paralleling the main trail. We ended up in a dry, snow-filled creek bed that led us into the main meadow. There were a number of tents set up at the edge of the meadow. We skied through the meadow and were back up on the main trail in no time.
It was mid-afternoon and the snow was very slushy by the time we reached the car. We are definitely looking forward to using the Altai Hok skis some more – perhaps on flatter terrain. We had a ton of fun, but we both came to the realization that we are terrible at skiing on them. Maybe next time we’ll try snow bikes!