Although little known and rarely climbed--it is visited but once a year on average--Jeff Davis Peak is unquestionably the most impressive summit in the Lake Tahoe area. Located just off Blue Lakes Road, several miles southeast of Carson Pass, the peak is a dramatic crag that is near-vertical--and seemingly even overhanging--on three sides. Even by its easiest route, the peak is an interesting, airy, and occasionally spicy class 4 scramble, a rarity and a real treat amidst the gentle terrain of the Tahoe Sierra. The summit is a decomposing volcanic plug that rises up in stark contrast to the surrounding rolling ridgeline, and is more reminiscent of a desert peak than a typical Sierra mountain. It is a striking sight.
Besides being an interesting and unusual climb, the peak is also host to some fine summit views: Highland Peak and Reynolds Peak to the southeast, Mokelumne Peak to the southwest, the aptly named Nipple and Round Top to the west, and Red Lake Peak to the northwest.
Like several other peaks in the vicinity, the peak's politically incorrect name can be traced back to Confederate sympathizers who formed a strong presence in the area; see the etymology section for details. (Named in a similar fashion are Round Top, derived from the hill of the same name at Gettysburg, and Pickett Peak, named for another Confederate figure, General George Pickett).
During the summer and fall months, when the Blue Lakes Road is open, the peak is a very short hike from the road--about a mile and 700' of gain, one way. Take SR 88 2.5 miles west of the SR 88/SR 89 junction (about six miles east of Carson Pass), and follow the signed and paved Blue Lakes Road south for about 9 miles to a summit along the road, at the saddle between The Nipple and Jeff Davis. Park on a wide shoulder on the west side of the road, just before the road heads downhill again.
Follow an old jeep trail on the south side of the pass east towards the peak, passing over a minor bump enroute to the small saddle just west of Jeff Davis Peak. Contour around the south side of the peak to the base of the standard route, which ascends the south side.
In winter and early spring, the Blue Lakes Road is closed, and the peak is most easily approached out of Red Lake along SR 88, two miles east of Carson Pass. Follow the obvious road south from Red Lake for 1.6 miles to a junction just past the road's signed, bridged crossing of Forestdale Creek, and head east along a 4WD road for 2.5 miles to the Blue Lakes Road. Follow the Blue Lakes Road south for 3.5 miles to the usual summer starting point. This is popular snowmobile and cross-country ski terrain in the winter, and so makes for fairly easy going even on snowshoes.
The peak is located in the Mokelumne Wilderness, and is subject to the usual wilderness red tape. A wilderness permit is not required for dayhikes, but is needed for overnight trips. Given the extremely short approach, these are generally not necessary to climb the peak, but you can contact the Amador Ranger Station should you need a permit: 26820 Silver Drive, Pioneer; (209) 295 4251.
If approaching the peak from Red Lake in the winter, a sign at the trailhead indicates that a Sno-Park permit is required, although there is no such designation at the actual trailhead parking.
The peak is most commonly and easily climbed during the summer months (June through October), but the standard route is steep, south-facing, and generally snow/ice-free throughout the winter, making climbs practical year-round.
Good backcountry camping options are limited, but fortunately the peak is a short enough hike in the summer that these are also unnecessary. Abundant car camping options are found nearby at the Blue Lakes, in Hope Valley, and along SR 88 in the West Carson Canyon.
Highway 88 campground information.
"The peak was called 'Sentinel Rock' on the Wheeler atlas sheet 56-B as Sentinel Rock. The present name was apparently not recorded on maps until the district was mapped by the USGS in 1889; however, it may have long been used locally, as many of the inhabitants of nearby Summit City (now abandoned [in the late 1860s]) were Confederate sympathizers during the civil war. Jefferson Davis (1809-89) was president of the Confederacy, 1861-65."
- Erwin E. Gudde, California Place Names