Mt. Lola is the highest Sierra peak north of Interstate 80, the high point of Nevada County, and the northernmost point from which the waters of Lake Tahoe can be seen. Not far from the county line, a subsidiary bump along its north ridge called Lola North is the highpoint of Sierra County - thus the two are often combined by county highpointers in a single outing.
Formed from an ancient volcano, Mt. Lola is a surprisingly unassuming mountain, even for the northern Sierra. Most of its sides are rounded and easily climbed, and it is outflanked by the more rugged features of its neighbors, Castle Peak to the south and Sierra Buttes to the northwest. But for a nondescript mountain it offers possibly the finest views of the northern Sierra region from its northern edge where the range melds into the Cascade Range (Mt. Lassen can be seen from the summit on a clear day) south to the Desolation Wilderness on the southwest edge of Lake Tahoe.
The Pacific Crest Trail passes beneath the peak to the west, and most of the land surrounding Mt. Lola including the peak lie within the Tahoe National Forest. To the north the Little Truckee River has carved out a wide canyon running east-west, and the beautiful Perazzo Meadows lie at the base of the peak through which the river meanders. The land here is a checkerboard of private and public lands, a result of settlement incentives handed out in the 1800s.
The peak is not a difficult climb, requiring only 10mi RT and 2600ft of gain during the summer, all of it on trail. Consequently it is climbed frequently. Even in winter it sees many visitors. The entire area north of the peak is part of a large OSV (Over Snow Vehicles) winter playground, and it is not unusual to find snowmobiles at the summit in winter (in fact, probably 95% of winter visitiors on the summit arrive on snowmobiles). Without resorting to snowmobiles, a winter ascent is considerably more arduous - more than 20 miles RT over snow. If you're looking for solitude in winter, don't go on the weekend. The snowmobiles do offer one advantage if climbing on foot - their packed tracks can be extremely helpful after a fresh dump of snow.
The peak is most easily approached from the north. From I80 east of Truckee, take SR89 north for 14.5 miles, turning left on NF07, a decent paved road maintained by the forest service that heads west following the Little Truckee River on its north side. In winter the road is not plowed so you must start from the plowed OSV staging area just off the highway where FS07 starts.
After 1.6mi on FS07, turn left (south) at a stop sign onto a graded gravel/dirt road, crossing the Little Truckee River on a one lane bridge. A half mile after the bridge turn right (west) at a 4-way junction and stay on this road. Ignore several spur roads, cross Deans Crick on a bridge, pass more spur roads, drive by some private homes, and 4.0mi after leaving the paved FS07 you should find a parking lot on the left side with a sign marked Mt. Lola Trail. The is five miles long, taking one up Cold Stream Canyon to the East Shoulder, and onto the summit. This approach and route are described in more detail on Pete Yamagata's excellent web site. An alternative set of directions can be found in Gary Suttle's book, but they appear more complicated and require some backtracking on the drive. Pete also has additional directions to get within a mile and half of the summit for those with 4x4 vehicles with good clearance.
The peak can also be reached from I80 starting from where the PCT crosses the highway in the vicinity of Boreal Ski resort. This is a long approach. Follow the PCT past Castle Peak and the Peter Grubb Hut to a trail junction to White Rock Lake. From White Rock Lake head northeast and climb the class 2 Southwest Ridge to the summit. Some maps show a trail heading up and over the summit from White Rock Lake.
None to speak of. There are no Wilderness regions on any of the approaches, and you are free to camp on any of the surrounding National Forest lands. Please respect the private inholdings that checker the area. These are primarily sites of privately owned summer homes, and there are almost no restrictions on the Forest Service roads that criss-cross the area.
When To Climb
The peak is most easily climbed in summer and fall, but can be climbed year round. The North Ridge and the East Shoulder can generally be climbed in winter without axe or crampons. These are the two principle routes used by snowmobiles, and snowshoes or skis should suffice for the ascent.
No permits are required for backcountry camping in the National Forest.
"The mountain preserves the memory of the great lover and lesser actress Lola Montez, who precipitated a revolution in Munich in 1848. In the 1850s she found a fruitful field for her endeavors in Grass Valley and other mining towns of California."
- Erwin Gudde, California Place Names
Lola Montez was one of the most colorful characters in the Wild West, a woman to be reckoned with who had a robust inclination towards self-promotion. Jerome Krause's version of her life is grossly embellished, but makes for interesting reading.