South and above that flat geographical place called Kirkwood Meadows is Thimble Peak basin. It tilts up sharply from Caples Lake to a low point or saddle south of Thimble Peak. That tilt is about 25 per cent in the two plus miles (and 1,000) feet of altitude) it climbs between lake and saddle. The saddle leads south-easterly from Thimble, at 9,827 feet, the highest prominence in the area, to a 9,774 foot peak, nameless on forest service and geological suvey maps, a mile away.99But an old Kirkwood Trail map calls the "nameless" pinnacle Scout Carson Peak. Nearby is a small lake long so named. And the old Kirkwood map names the mile long hogback between Scout Carson and Thimble "the Silver Saddle."
The basin so described forms but a small part of the giant mountain and meadow Kirkwood Ski Resort, although the basin is federally owned forest land. Yet, that portion historically has no peer. The tales the short steep basin could tell would out-talk 100 meadows.
From the basin's northern ridge which splits runoff northerly into Kirkwood Creek, and southerly down to Caples, skiers spray powder on runs called Iron Horse, 100 Easy Ridger and Herringbone Strait down to the basin bottom.
The descent is fairly steep ... but at bottom chairlift four or Sunrise awaits to whisk skiers a mile away and 1,200 feet up to near the saddle by Thimble. Imagine that climb in a covered wagon instead of a chair-lift! One wings you; the other makes you a beast of burden. From the top of Sunrise chair, the view is grand and the runs called Devil's Draw, Happiness Is, Elevator Shaft and Cold Shoulder are exhilarating as they unravel down the basin and the ridge. The view was grand then, too, if emigrants had enough energy left to enjoy it.
Where skiers today in that snow-covered basin ski downhill, overlanders yesterday upon snow -crusted and muddy ground double-teamed wagons to surmount the pass. Today it is the highest point reached by chair-lift at Kirkwood Ski Resort; yesterday it was the highest summit or pass on the whole California trail from the wide Missouri. Too bad persons naming runs off chairs Iron Horse and Sunrise didn't know that history. If they did, some of the runs might have been named Backbone, Second Summit, Sidling Ground, Mormon's Way, Carson or Western Pass, or other names applied to the basin and
saddle since 1848.
Before non-Indians came to this part of the Sierra, Washoe and or Paiutes from the eastern side of the great mountains probably used the pass on trips to get salt, at the salt springs on the Mokelumne River, or to get salmon further downstream. In the winter of 1844, Fremont's men headed northwesterly but probably viewed the broad meadow, its sentinel peaks and the pass.
In '48, the Mormon Battalion, heading toward Salt Lake, "worked" or cleared a road easterly and passed by Kirkwood Meadows. Wrote an expedition diarist, Henry W. Bigler, on July 24: "Moved about six miles and camped just over the summit .... The wagon broke down and two were upset." Camping near Thimble Peak, the Mormons "laid by" on the 25th, repairing wagons while "others worked a road down the mountain some two miles."I02 The first mile of which today could be covered in moments by that Sunrise chairlift rising over historical ground. In '48, too, and going westerly, at least one group of backpackers and three or more wagon trains followed the trail the Mormons broke up the basin and down to the mines.
The big immigration began in '49. And many diarists recorded what is was like surmounting the second summit or Silver Saddle today. In '49 the first emigrants were calling that hogback the "backbone." W.G. Johnston named it so in his diary. He also told of double-teaming wagons, with eight to 10 mules ahead and the men at the wheels, inching up the summit. Did they take time to sightsee? "The fatiguing labors endured prevented us from enjoying and almost observing the grand scenery of these mountains while passing over them," Johnston wrote. Chances are, however, that when the top was achieved many took time to rest, and view the majestic valley-meadow north of the trail.