Trail running is often times synonymous with lots of elevation gain, whether that be simply because that’s where the trails are (going up and down passes, mountains and drainages), or because it seems to be a point of pride among race directors to make their events more grueling than the next. Many of us are hunting for steep climbs to hone our skills and train our bodies. The following places are where the DPMR board members head when they are looking for a “vert sufferfest”!
All of the routes mentioned below are shown in this Caltopo map: https://caltopo.com/m/CNKNQ.
- Mileage and vert listed below are for one-way (the climb up) and do not include the descent.
- Routes are color-coded on the map:
- purple = steepest (around 1,000ft gain per mile or more)
- red = moderate (around 500 ft gain per mile).
- At higher elevations and/or on north slopes, you will have to wait until later in the season for the snow to melt. If you are a Caltopo paid user, you can check out the daily / weekly satellite imagery to know exactly when the snow is gone.
In Truckee, head to Johnson Canyon for Tamsen’s for a steep but loose climb up 750ft in 0.7mi, or take the Donner Lake Rim Trail to Drifter Hut for 1,200 ft in 2.6 miles. Castle Pass to the summit of Castle peak gets you 1,100ft in 1.1mi.
The Truckee River heading towards Reno tends to have less snow, and melts out faster, making it a good option for early season vert close to home. In this area, you can find Goliath aka Nine Pound Hammer aka Stooges trail, which offers 1,200ft in 1.3mi. If you go all the way up to Cone Peak Rd, you’ll get 2,500ft in 3 mi. Another option near there is the Floriston Schoolhouse trail. To the first road intersection, you get 1000ft in 1.5mi.
In the North Tahoe area, run the Broken Arrow VK route in the Palisades at Tahoe ski area for 3,000 in 4.3mi. Or run up Granite Chief for 3,000 ft in 5 miles. Head to Incline for Old Powerline (1,300ft in 1.2 miles), Diamond Peak (1,600ft in 1.9mi), or Chimney Beach to Marlette (1,900ft in 3.8mi). Snow Valley Peak from Spooner Summit offers 2,200ft in 6 miles.
Mt Rose is a good climb too and gets you up high (for Tahoe) at 10,785 ft. Mount Rose from the east side starting at Galena TH (via Dry Pond) is just shy of 5,000ft in 5.5 miles, but you will need to navigate cross country between Dry Pond and the summit (the route shown on the Caltopo map is very approximate). Start at Mt Rose Summit for less climbing – 2,000ft in just under 5 miles.
On the West Side of the lake, there is Rubicon Peak (2,000ft in under 2 miles) with stunning views at the top. Note that there is a small class 3 section to access the summit. Don’t push it if you aren’t comfortable! Twin Peaks via Ward Creek offers 2,300ft in just under 6 miles.
In South Lake Tahoe, try Mt Tallac in the Desolation Wilderness for about 3,300 ft of climbing in 5 miles. The summit sits at an elevation of 9,739 ft.
If you don’t mind a little driving, head east to Reno and Carson City for big climbs that are sometimes snow-free in the winter and/or melt out a lot quicker than climbs in the Tahoe area. For Genoa Peak, if you head up from Sierra Canyon it’s 10 miles; and about 4,500 ft. There is a direct route that is 5 miles and 4300 ft but it involves about 1.5 miles of cross country travel along the east ridge (you might find yourself in a manzanita mess). Benna’s Punisher off of Timberline/the Dry Pond Trail in Reno is 1200 ft in 1.25 miles. Peavine Peak from Robb Dr offers 3,000ft in 3.5mi. The Carson K2 “the duck” is 1,000 ft in 1 mile (over at the south end of Washoe Lake). Or, head to the Ash Canyon Rd Climb out of Carson City (which is the starting section of the TRT race) for 2,600ft in 3.8 miles.
Auburn area trails are also a great option for year-long vert hunts. Our favorites include: Canyons Devil’s Thumb – Last Chance (3 mi, 1,500ft gain), Canyons Michigan Bluff – Loop 6 (5.22 mi, 2,000ft gain), Castle Rock (0.64 mi, 700ft gain), Euchre Bar Trail (1.5 mi, 1,800ft gain), Foreshill Bridge (0.63 mi, 850ft gain), K2 Training Hill (1 mi, 860ft gain), and Kennebeck Trail (0.78 mi, 870ft gain), Western States up to Foresthill (2 miles, 1,200ft gain)
Farther from home, if you don’t need high elevation training and are willing to deal with the entry permit and lodging hassles, head to Yosemite Valley for some epic, vacation-worthy climbs, namely Yosemite Falls (2,900ft in 3 miles), Glacier Point (3,300 ft in 4.7 miles), and The Mist Trail (2,000ft in 2.8 miles). You can more easily stay outside the park and do day trips into Tuolumne, for climbs such as Mt Dana (3,000ft in 2.5 miles), which also gets you to higher elevations (which also means you need to wait for snow to melt).
Once the snow clears (usually late June), head down 395 to hit up some of the big Eastside passes and peaks. Climbing Mammoth Mountain from Twin Lakes via the infamous “Dragonback” ridge offers 2,400 ft climbing in just under 3 miles. Or, take advantage of the Reds Meadow/Devil’s Postpile shuttle to increase vert without increasing the downnhill pounding on your legs. Summiting Mammoth Mountain from Red’s Meadow will earn you 3,400 ft in 6.2 miles. You can run back to your car, or take the gondola down to your car (you board the Red’s Meadow shuttle at the base of the gondola) to make it a zero down day.
Head to the big passes south of Mammoth for big climbs and more isolation, namely Sawmill, Shepherd, Pine Creek, Italy, Baxter, and Taboose. You’ll get some high altitude training and vert at the same time.
- Sawmill is the most fun to run, but it starts way down in the desert, so you need to start early in the morning or wait until Fall. 6,600ft climbing in 8 miles.
- Shepherd Pass is a close second in terms of fun running. You’ll earn 7,000 ft of climbing in about 12 miles if you make it to the pass (which usually requires crampons or microspikes and an ice axe to cross the snowfield that guards the pass). You’ll probably pass multiple mountaineers heading to/from Williamson and Tyndall (a couple of 14ers), trudging under heavy loads.
- Pine Creek trailhead has multiple good options. Because it is a relatively low trailhead (at 7,400 ft), more climbing needs to be done to reach surrounding passes. Head to Pine Creek Pass for almost 4,000 ft climbing in 7.5 miles. Or go high and head to Italy Pass which rests at about 12,400ft. You’ll get 5,300 ft of climbing in 9.5 miles.
- Baxter Pass and Taboose Pass are two other good options for vert. They offer about 6,300 ft vert in 6.5 miles and 6,000ft in a little over 7 miles, respectively.
- If you don’t want to drive as far, and are interested in a bit more of an adventure, try Horse Creek Pass out of Twin Lakes (Bridgeport area) for 3,600ft climbing in 5.4 miles and some seriously quality High Sierra scenery. The top third or so of this “trail” is rugged and hard to follow (gps is helpful). You will be navigating talus fields and small moraines. Just like Shepherd’s pass, a snowfield guards the pass most of the year. Depending on when you go and your comfort level on steep snow, you might want to bring crampons or microspikes or a light ice axe, or simply not doing the last bit to the pass. This trail is the official end of the Sierra High Route. Consider climbing the iconic Matterhorn Peak (class 2 from the pass) for an additional 2,100 ft climbing.
And finally, we can’t talk about major vert and altitude trail running without mentioning Whitney! If you can score permits, climbing Mt Whitney is a pretty epic training run. Not many 14ers in California have a run-able trail to the top! You’ll do 6,400ft in the 10.5 mile climb, experience some amazing scenery, and score some high altitude training at the same time.
All the routes listed above are shown in this Caltopo map: https://caltopo.com/m/CNKNQ