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Benson and Bradley Huts
Via Emergency Escape Route


Summary

Difficulty 5 Advanced
Length 14.0 miles one-way
Starting
Elevation
7100 feet
Cumulative
Elevation
Change
+3500, -4550 round trip
Navigation Road, map and compass
Time Very long day or three shorter days if staying at huts
Season January through early April
Snowmobiles Low from start to mileage point 8 and not permitted beyond mileage point 8 [Please report illegal use of snowmobiles in this area.]
USGS Topo 7.5' series, Norden, Granite Chief, Tahoe City
Start Sugar Bowl Academy (formerly the home of Alpine Skills Institute), 3.9 miles east of Interstate 80 and 0.2 mile east of Donner Ski Ranch on Donner Pass Road.

For day trips, people often park at Donner Ski Ranch and walk east on Donner Pass Road to the start of the tour at the Academy. Do not park there overnight. One option is to drop people and gear off at the trailhead, park at the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge, and the driver hitch a ride back to the starting point.

An alternative starting point is the Mt. Judah Lodge at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, 0.9 mile south of Donner Ski Ranch and Donner Pass Road.
End Highway 89 at the intersection with the Pole Creek road, 6.2 miles south of Interstate 80, 7.5 miles north of Tahoe City, and immediately south of Pole Creek.


Description

Benson and Bradley huts can be linked into a two-hut, three-day tour, which is unique in California. Although the route from Benson to Bradley via Tinker Knob (coming soon) is the more commonly skied route, there is no doubt that the route described here is as good or better (definitely better in the eyes of the author). The terrain is more varied, the sometimes horrific traverse around the west side of Anderson Peak is avoided, the route avoids much of the ridges exposed to wind, and the circuitous route is simply interesting with lots of opportunities for carving turns.

Although this route can be skied in one day by very strong skiers in spring, it is ideally a three day trip with each day being short enough to provide time to explore and yo-yo on the slopes.

The first day of a three-day tour takes you through Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and along a windswept ridge to Benson Hut perched on the ridge at the base of Anderson Peak. The second day takes you off the ridge down what is called the Foul Weather Emergency Escape Route (from Benson Hut) to the South Fork of Cold Creek. From the creek you ascend to another ridge, descend to Deep Creek, and ascend to another ridge before dropping down to Bradley Hut. The third day is a relative piece of cake when compared to the previous two; it is a 5-mile downhill run on a snow-covered road.

Image of ridge leading to Anderson Peak
Ridge running from Mt. Lincoln (off photo to right) to Anderson Peak. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

This tour passes through areas that are known to be prone to avalanche and where cornices are known to form. Some of these dangers are mention in the tour description, but they are not the only places where you must exercise extreme caution.

Benson Hut is small and rustic, but offers heartwarming shelter from the winds that often scour this area. The hut can be near entirely covered by snow in a good winter.

Image of Benson Hut
Benson Hut. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Image inside Benson Hut
Downstairs in Benson Hut. Courtesy of Curtis Oldenburg.

Image inside Benson Hut
Downstairs in Benson Hut. Courtesy of Curtis Oldenburg.

Bradley Hut is the newest of the Sierra Club Huts in the Lake Tahoe area.

Image of Bradley Hut
Bradley Hut. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Image inside Bradley Hut
Bradley Hut.

Make reservations to stay overnight at this Sierra Club hut by contacting:

Clair Tappaan Lodge
P.O. Box 36
Norden, CA 95724
530-426-3632 (phone)
800-679-6775 (toll free)
530-426-0742 (fax)
ctl@sierraclub.org

You do not have to be a member of the Sierra Club to use these huts. As one might expect, however, reservations for weekends and holidays are difficult to obtain. Volunteer for a summer or fall work party at one of the Sierra Club's huts to get reservation priority (contact Clair Tappaan Lodge for more information).

The traditional start point for tours to Benson Hut and beyond is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Donner Pass Road at the Sugar Bowl Academy (formerly the home of Alpine Skills Institute). An alternative start point is the Mt. Judah Lodge at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. The lodge is 100 feet lower than the traditional start point, but this route saves 0.7 mile. Refer to the Benson Hut tour for details about the Mt. Judah Lodge start.

Be aware that the route that begins from the traditional start point crosses Sugar Bowl Ski Resort leased lands, but you have the right to travel this route without paying. You can thank Snowlands Network for protecting this free access.

Regardless of the route you choose, you will encounter many groomed ski slopes. You should avoid these slopes where possible and exercise caution when crossing them.

Mileage Log
Numbers in parentheses
correspond to mileage points on map

Miles: 0.0 - 0.2
Elevation change: -50 feet

Locate the snow-covered road 50 feet west of the Sugar Bowl Academy parking lot (1) and follow it south for 0.2 mile until you reach the location where the road turns west (right) (2).

Miles: 0.2 - 2.0
Elevation change: +900 feet

Ski south for 1.4 miles and then southeast for 0.4 miles until you reach a point on the ridge just south of Roller Pass (3).

Image of Castle Peak
Castle Peak

Miles: 2.0 - 2.2
Elevation change: +250 feet

Climb southwest on the ridge toward Mt. Lincoln for 0.2 mile until you reach a point where you can safely traverse south to the southeast ridge of Mt. Lincoln (4). You should climb higher than shown on the map if you are in doubt about the avalanche danger on the east slope of Mt. Lincoln.

Miles: 2.2 - 5.0
Elevation change: +900, -700 feet

Traverse to the south and then ski southeast along a ridge for a total of 2.8 miles until you reach Benson Hut (5). The best route is usually along the very top of the ridge except for where you pass to the southwest of Peak 8374. Be aware that the lee side of the ridge between Mt. Lincoln and Anderson Peak is littered with cornices; be sure to stay sufficiently away from these.

The net elevation gain in this section is only 200 feet, but along it you will climb 900 feet.

Image of ridge between Mt. Lincoln and Anderson Peak
Along ridge between Mt. Lincoln and Anderson Peak (upper right)

Image of skiers on ridge with Mt. Lincoln in backtground
Along ridge with Mt. Lincoln in background. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Image of cornices
Cornices on ridge. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Image of Benson Hut
Bradley Hut. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Miles: 5.0 - 5.1
Elevation change: -250 feet

Descend north, retracing your route to the hut, for 0.1 mile until you reach a saddle (6).

Miles: 5.1 - 6.1
Elevation change: +150, -800 feet

Descend to the northeast from the saddle, and then ski southeast, east and finally northeast for a total of 1.0 mile until you reach a ridge (7). Be aware that a cornice can build up on the lee of this saddle and the upper reaches of the Coldstream drainage contains avalanche prone slopes (see photo below).

Image of skier descending from saddle near Benson Hut
Descending from saddle near Benson Hut. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Image of avalanche debris
Even trees are no guarantee of safe passage from avalanche. Courtesy of Curtis Oldenburg.

Image in bowl at headwaters of South Fork of Cold Creek
Upper reaches of the Coldstream drainage. Courtesy of Curtis Oldenburg.

Miles: 6.1 - 7.0
Elevation change: +700 feet

Ascend the ridge to the south, and then traverse and climb south along the west slope of Peak 8284, for a total of 0.9 mile until you reach another ridge that descends to the southwest from Peak 8284 (8).

Image of skiers on ridge leading to Deep Creek
On ridge heading south

Miles: 7.0 - 7.9
Elevation change: +50, -350 feet

Simultaneously descend and traverse south, skirt around the east side of a bulge in the cliff that descends from Tinker Knob, and finally descend slightly east of south for a total of 0.9 mile until you reach a clearing (9). You will be traveling across avalanche terrain in this section.

Miles: 7.9 - 8.1
Elevation change: +150 feet

Traverse and climb to the east until you reach more level and open terrain (10). If you encounter a road, do not follow it unless you are sure that it is leading you in the right direction and then don't follow it for more than a short distance.

Miles: 8.1 - 8.4
Elevation change: +300 feet

Gradually climb south and then southeast for a total of 0.3 mile until you reach a saddle (11).

Image of skiers heading to final saddle
Heading to saddle (behind trees on left). Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Image of Silver Peak (left)
Silver Peak (left)

Miles: 8.4 - 8.7
Elevation change: -450 feet

Descend southeast for 0.3 mile until you reach the flat area to the west of a distinct knob (12).

Image of skier descend from final saddle
Descending from the saddle. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Miles: 8.7 - 9.3
Elevation change: -350 feet

Loop around the south side of the knob until you are on its east side and then ski east for a total of 0.6 mile until you reach Bradley Hut (13). You should be able to find the snow-covered road that skirts the knob.

Image of skiers rounding knob
At the base of the knob with the road visible between the left and center skiers. Courtesy of Vic Taugher.

Miles: 9.3 - 9.9
Elevation change: -300 feet

Find the road at Bradley Hut, and follow it as it meanders to the east, for 0.6 mile until you reach a distinct open area (14).

Miles: 9.9 - 10.9
Elevation change: -400 feet

Continue on the road as it meanders east for 1.0 mile until you reach a road junction (15) where the main road turns 180 degrees to the right and heads west.

Miles: 10.9 - 11.0
Elevation change: -50 feet

Turn right and follow the main road west for 0.1 mile until you reach the point where the road turns 180 degrees to the left (16).

Miles: 11.0 - 11.7
Elevation change: -200 feet

Continue east on the road for 0.7 mile until you reach a road junction (17). The road that continues east (straight) is an abandoned road that is fraught with erosion and downed trees. You can reduce the length of the tour by 2.4 miles by following it to the end point; read more about this section of road in the Pole Creek Loop tour. The road to the south (right) leads to the bridge over Pole Creek.

Miles: 11.7- 12.2
Elevation change: +100, -50 feet

Turn south (right), cross the bridge across Pole Creek, and then continue on the road to the southeast for a total of 0.5 mile until you reach a road junction (18). The road to the west (right) is part of the Saddle Trail Loop and the Silver Peak tours. This tour continues on the road to the east (straight).

Miles: 12.2 - 14.0
Elevation change: -600 feet

Continue on the road to east (straight) as it follows a convoluted route for 1.8 miles until you reach the end point on Highway 89 (19).

Elevation Profile
Elevation profile
Link to elevation profile
Link to waypoint data
Link to full page map
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