Hiking Stats as of 11/19/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Mar 8, 2014 - Pyramid Peak


Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 8.21 miles

Elevation Gain: 4,122 feet

Trip Time: 7:09

Maps and Stats:
One of my favorite climbs was a winter ascent of Pyramid Peak last winter - my first real winter climb of a significant peak. Pyramid Peak is a no-nonsense uphill climb, rising over 4,000 feet in about 4 miles, making it the largest elevation gain for any peak in the Lake Tahoe area. Pyramid is the highpoint of the Desolation Wilderness and listed on the SPS, WSC and OGUL Peak lists. Although I had done Pyramid last winter, Kyle had yet to climb it as we ran out of time before we could traverse over to Pyramid Peak on summer hike we did over at nearby Mt. Price and Mt. Agassiz. We weren't too sure of the snow conditions, as recent storms had certainly dumped snow at the higher elevations, the only question would be how deep and how far down the slopes the snow would be.

Kyle and I met up at the Target in Rancho Cordova at 8:30 and were at the little parking area at about 10:15. There is no trailhead for the Rocky Creek trail - so having prior knowledge of where to start heading up the embankment is critical. My previous trips were made a bit more challenging by not finding the correct starting point, and bushwacking my way up until I could find the trail. Today this would not happen, as I documented exactly where to begin. We made our way about 100 feet down Highway 50 before crossing over and heading straight up the embankment. We found the "trail" and began the steep climb up the hillside. At these lower elevations there was no snow, although the waterfalls coming down Rocky Creek indicated the presence of melting snow above. While there was no snow at 6,500 feet, spotty snow began at 6,600 feet and sustained snow cover was present around 6,800 feet. By 7,000 feet the snow was deep enough to require the use of snowshoes, which we had been carrying (I had strapped to my pack, Kyle simply carried his by hand).

After putting on the snowshoes, we resumed the steep uphill climb, which remained sustained and unrelenting until flattening out a bit we approached the crossing of Rocky Creek at 7,500 feet. Last year I had crashed through the snow cover and into the shore of the creek as I attempted to cross it, and so this year I was a bit more cautious as we made our way across the snows which lay over top of the running creek below. Kyle went across first, and then I made my way across without incident. Once on the other side, we resumed our trek up the mountain. We were quite fortunate to be able to follow a set of tracks in the snow - we had seen a blue car in the parking area and could tell that a party of two had gone up this way in the recent past; most likely the occupants of that car. So we followed those tracks up, thankful that route finding would not be too much of a concern on the day. The tracks led us up to the top of a ridge at 8,250 feet - bringing our gain on the day up to 2,300 feet but leaving us another 1,700 feet to go. From this vantagepoint we got our first views of Pyramid Peak, still quite far away.

We continued following the tracks in the snow, and about 15 minutes later we came across a guy leaning up against a tree. We asked him if he was on the way down and he replied that he had given up his ascent attempt at this point and was waiting for his wife, who had gone on without him, to return. We said we would tell her that we saw him at the tree, and continued on our way up. After another 10 minutes we ran into the guys wife, who said that she had given up her attempt a few minutes earlier after reaching the southeastern ridgeline leading up to Pyramid. She had felt that the steep snow slope leading up to Pyramid was too difficult to attempt and decided to head down. We asked her if she had been making the tracks that we had been following, as her aborted attempt would leave us with no tracks to follow if this was the case. She confirmed that she had been breaking trail and that we should follow her tracks up to that ridgeline but then we would be on our own after that. So we headed off, leaving her to return to her husband. Shortly before reaching that ridgeline that she had attained, we stopped and realized that she was off-course. We could see Pyramid Peak to our left, and the gentlest slope was running from out of the southwest. At this point we realized why she would have to turn around if she thought that was the way up - there is no way we would try such a steep ascent in the snow either. But getting out of this mess wasn't really that difficult, we just had to make a left turn and head up to the SW ridgeline. Well, not straight up, as our current position made that climb too steep as well, but by making a series of switchbacks, going up the ridge while going back in the direction we came from, and thus aiming for the lower portion of the ridgeline at which point we would then turn back around and head up. We got up to the ridgeline, and now could see an obvious route up to the top, although we were still 600 vertical feet from the top.

Those last 600 feet were very steep and quite tiring, as the efforts of snowshoeing uphill and the thinning air combined to zap our energy. Adding to the challenge was the onset of a series of boulders covering the final 300 vertical feet. Navigating through the boulder field with snowshoes was a considerable challenge, and we tried to stay on the snow as much as possible. The slope angle and rocks required considerable caution to avoid twisting an ankle or slipping down. As I rested, Kyle made his way past the last of the boulders and found a nice clean snow slope leading up to the top of the mountain. I soon joined up on top, arriving at 2:30, where we were treated to spectacular winter views of the entire area. Looking north, we saw the ridgeline connecting Pyramid to Mt. Price and Mt. Agassiz along with the bowl that we had descended on our summer hike last year. The summits of Agassiz and Price looked spectacular, covered in pristine snow. Looking southwest, we could actually see the faint outline of Mt. Diablo poking up above the haze in the Central Valley. To the west was what looked like a lake (I believe it is actually a reservoir). To the northeast lay Freel Peak and a scenic frozen lake, to the east was Fallen Leaf Lake, northeast we could see the fine looking summit of Jacks Peak. We could also make out Mt. Rose on the other side of Lake Tahoe, the ski slopes of the Sierra at Tahoe resort, the impressive looking Mokelumne Peak, the fine looking Round Top and the Sisters and finally back down to our starting point (at the bottom right of the shot).

Of course we had to get some summit shots, (Kyle and Kerry). We also spent some time looking around for a summit register - naturally it was a bit of challenge, as the top was covered in snow, but there was a large pile of rocks that we suspected held the summit register. So Kyle set to work trying to find the register, but digging through those rocks was just too tough with the snow and ice, so he took to a less subtle way of looking for the register, kicking away at the rock pile to try and loosen things up. This had no effect, and he soon gave up and we decided to forgo signing in and instead began the descend. While steep snow is tough going up, it can be somewhat more pleasant to descent. Kyle immediately began sliding down at every opportunity of which there were several along the way. Because we simply followed our tracks down, we didn't come across much of anything new on the way down, although with more energy I didn't mind heading over to investigate cool looking ice formations on the rocks or icicles on the trees formed by melting snow.

As we got back down into the easier snow and bigger trees, we came across a massive fallen tree that somehow we had missed seeing on the way up. We could see a huge boulder weighing several hundred pounds that was caught in the roots of the tree and was carried up when the tree fell - an amazing display of the sheer size and strength of this once mighty tree. Around 6,800 feet we took off our snowshoes, replacing them with microspikes to better handle the icy conditions we encountered in the warmer afternoon temperatures. We knew we were nearly down as we followed our progress against the large dome shaped hill which was across the freeway. This was quite an interesting sight - not really a dome, as it is connected to the adjacent hill, but it looked like the hillside somehow collapsed, leaving a sheer side facing us. As we reached the bottom, we had to take care not to get going too fast down the embankment next to the freeway, as the cars were whizzing by. For future reference, I took some shots of the key landmarks that should be looked at to correctly find the trail. Notably, this Sewer and these trees which cross each other. The elevation profile and Google Earth views of this trip illustrate just how steep this one is - a good challenge to be sure. We were back at the car at 5:20 PM and started home, tired from another fun outing in the Sierra.

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