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The naming of Tahoe's mountains
By Andrew Becker | Tahoe.com
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Many Tahoe residents carry on their love affair with the area's beloved mountains superficially. We slide down their flanks, exalt in their summits and feast upon them with our eyes, but what do we know of them? For instance, few of us know anything of their history or how Tahoe's mountains came to be named.

The Sierra as we know it today began to be uplifted between 10 million and 20 million years ago during what is known as the volcanic episode. The first inhabitants of Lake Tahoe were the Washoe, and Tahoe was a summer camp for them.

Little of their heritage remains as the rich language of the Washoe and their names for Tahoe features have been supplanted by Anglo names on current maps save for three features: Lake Tahoe itself, Truckee and Mt. Tallac.

It was not until 150 years ago that the first white man saw the lake. Noted explorer and adventurer John Frémont, along with his cartographer Charles Preuss, first witnessed Lake Tahoe from what is believed to be the summit of Red Lake Peak (10,063'), south of South Lake Tahoe in Alpine County, Feb. 14, 1844. At the time, Frémont did not name the lake, but simply referred to it as "a big mountain lake."

This was the first recorded ascent of a Tahoe mountain, but neither man named the mountain. This historic mountain was first called "Red Mountain" but was re-named after the lake at its base to the southeast on an 1864 map. Tahoe's mountains get their names from a variety of historical references, Anglo settlers and unique personalities. But just as the mountains have evolved, so have many of the names.

Many of Tahoe's mountains take their names from historical places or events.

Mt. Tallac
(9,735')
Tallac means "Great Mountain," and is the only mountain that has a Washoe name. The original name for the mountain south of Emerald Bay was "Tahlac" which is thought to be more of a common noun than a proper name. White settlers referred to Tallac as "Crystal Mountain" on their maps in 1873, but it soon came to be known as "Tallac Peak" a name that appeared on a map in 1881.

Mt. Pluto
(8,610')
Now serving as the backbone of Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski Area, Mt. Pluto was one of the last volcanoes in Tahoe to erupt and first appeared on an 1874 map. Pluto is the name of the Roman god of the underworld and is named for plutonic rock, evidence of volcanic activity.

Rubicon Peak
(9,183')
Overlooking D.L. Bliss State Park at 9183', Rubicon Peak's name is taken from the Rubicon River which Julius Caesar crossed in 49 BC. The phrase "to cross the Rubicon" means to completely commit oneself and is an audacious and auspicious name for this peak, whose first map appearance was in 1881.

Genoa Peak
(9,150')
On the East Shore, Genoa Peak was named after Columbus' birthplace, because a cove in the mountain reminded Elder Orson Hyde, the first probate judge in western Utah (when Nevada was still part of the Utah Territory), of the Genoa harbor.

A naming trend for many of the area mountains was based on the names of early settlers, ranchers and homesteaders of Tahoe.

Freel Peak
(10,881')
The highest mountain in the Tahoe Sierra, Freel Peak, southeast of South Lake Tahoe, was named by William Eimbeck of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1876 for squatter James Freel, a native of Illinois, a miner and rancher, who settled at the foot of the mountain. Before Eimbeck named it, Freel Peak was called "Bald Mountain" and "Sand Mountain" and was part of "Job's Group of Mountains." Nearby Job's Sister is the second highest mountain in Tahoe at 10,873'.

Mt. Rose
(10,778')
It is not known with certainty how the third highest peak in Tahoe received its name, but the North Shore's Mt. Rose is named for either Jacob H. Rose, an early Carson City pioneer, or Rose Hickman, who was a friend of Washoe City newspaper editor H.S. Ham. The Mt. Rose Highway is the highest year-round, open Sierra pass at 8,900'.

Ellis Peak
(8,740')
Ellis Peak, which stands behind Homewood Mountain Resort and about four miles due west of Tahoma, takes its name from Jock Ellis who had a dairy, then a sheep ranch in the area. The name appeared in 1881.

Scott Peak
(8,289')
Scott Peak, as in Scott chair at Alpine Meadows Ski Area, is believed to be named for the Scott family who settled in Squaw Valley in 1880, also ran a dairy and later built Deer Park Springs Inn. Scott Peak appeared in 1955.

Ward Peak
(8,637')
In the vicinity of Scott Peak and in the path of the Pacific Crest Trail is Ward Peak, named for either Ward Rush who on April 1, 1874 homesteaded 160 acres in the area or John Ward, a former silver miner who lived in the area.


Tahoe has always attracted the adventurer, the eccentric and the passionate.

Dick's Peak
(9,974')
One such unique person was Captain Richard "Dick" Barter of which Dick's Peak in Desolation Wilderness Area is named after.

Barter was also known as "the Hermit of Emerald Bay," where he lived. Besides his role as caretaker and craftsman, he was a lover of Lake Tahoe and would spend hours drifting in his boat when he wasn't preparing and working on his own grave. His namesake appeared on an 1889 map.

Maggie's Peak
(8,699')
Barter took part in the naming of Maggie's Peak as well. Mary McComnell named the southern peak "Fleetfoot Peak" after referring to Barter who said that the peak should be named in honor of the first woman to summit it. She found the peak to be rather romantic and learned it had no name and named it so after her ascent on Sept. 12, 1869. The pair of mountains was also known as "Round Buttons" and the name is most likely related to Mary McConnell.

Jakes Peak
(9,187')
Northwest of Emerald Bay, this peak is named for Jeffrey "Jake" Smith and in memory of other persons who died in an avalanche at Alpine Meadows in 1982.

Heavenly Valley
Heavenly Valley is a purely commercial creation.

Duane Bliss Peak
(8,729')
Just as D.L. Bliss State Park on the West Shore, this mountain is named after the Lake Tahoe lumberman who co-founded the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Co and cut down most of Tahoe's timberlands, including 750 million board feet of lumber and 500,000 cords of wood in a period of 28 years. He also built the 200 passenger steamer Tahoe, the "Queen of the Lake."

There are numerous other mountains to visit and learn about in the Tahoe area. A little background helps one appreciate the mountains even more.

Sources: Tahoe Place Names by Barbara Lekisch, History of the Sierra Nevada by Francis P. Farquhar and Geology of the Sierra Nevada by Mary Hill.


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