Location: Desolation Wilderness – Lake Tahoe, CA
Duration: 4 – 6 hours
Elevation Change: 3,474′ – from 6,500′ to 9,974′
Recomended Map: Desolation Wilderness Trail Map by Tom Harrison, USGS Topographic Map 7.5 Minute Series: Emerald Bay, California & Rockbound Valley, CA
Map of General Route:
Dick’s Peak is a highly recommended pilgrimage for Lake Tahoe loving backcountry skiers. It is right in the middle of Desolation Wilderness, yet not too difficult to reach. Dick’s is fun to visit from a different route each time and test your map skills, as this peak is hidden for much of your ascent. My favorite route to the summit takes the average skier 4-5 hours, starting at the Bay View Trailhead at Emerald Bay on Hwy 89.You are basically following the summer trail, which climbs through a saddle between Maggie’s Peaks. Take off your skins and glide down a few hundred vert to the base of Janine’s north ridge, and contour around to the north, without gaining any vertical to Dick’s Lake. Skin up to Dick’s East Ridge, and carefully walk up to the summit with skis on your backpack. Good skinners can go right to the summit in times of safe snowpack. Bring ski crampons on a long treeless journey like this. Boot crampons are a good idea for less experienced climbers determined to scale the last bit with confindence.
When snow is deeper mid winter, I like going to Dick’s with a little less climbing from the Eagle Falls Trailhead. This is the path that has no DOWN. 3000′ of UP will get you to the summit from your car with just the right route. Coming back would be hell. I like to climb the Janine Ridge and then Maggie’s to make it a 5000′ day. You could ski off the saddle of the Janine Ridge and Maggie’s twin summits and maybe call it a 4500′ day. I think the long beautiful ridge of East facing ski paradise between Maggie’s and Dick’s might actually be called Kalmia Ridge, with Kalmia Peak above Kalmia Lake. I sometimes call it Janine’s, as there is a decades old summit register box note dedicating this unnamed spot after someone named Janine. I recommend going out to the Janine Ridge in a half day ski tour from either Bayview or Eagle Lake Trailhead BEFORE attempting the one day Dick’s Peak tour. You’ll enjoy the long day more when you have an idea of where your going. Dick’s Peak is really the “peak behind the peak behind the peak”.
If you like to do things the hard way, be a mountaineer and take the epic ridge tour from top of Mt. Tallac’s Bowl. You can see Dicks from there nicely, but you’ll be going up and down a fair bit with some crafty ski carrying transitions. In the springtime, you’ll be taking your skis on and off too much. Coming back from Dick’s to Mt. Tallac makes a lot of sense however, in um…a…car shuttle dare I suggest? Here’s where a car shuttle is cool in my view. See a LOT of terrain you couldn’t do in a day as an out-and-back. A huge day that only makes sense if the snow is cold. Descending any terrain on skis late on a warm day is a mistake, let alone 3000′.
The north side of Dick’s is often wind scoured, but well worth the effort for the views and your tick list. Don’t ski the north slopes if you are concerned about avalanche danger. High elevation, treeless bowls like this are less predictable than the tree runs you normally ski around Tahoe. The slope isn’t nearly as steep as it looks from across the lake, and you can drop in fairly easily from near the summit. I usually traverse hard skiers right to a more protected slope above the south end of Dick’s Lake. Your easiest option to get back to the car is to retrace your steps. You’ll have to put your skins on and trudge back up to the saddle in-between Maggie’s Peaks. From here you will likely get to enjoy excellent powder skiing in the trees above Granite Lake. Follow it’s drain at the east end and ski along your skin track all the way back. This is some long schloging in both directions, when you could be skiing better terrain on the way home.
Again the hero 5000′ day tour to Dick’s for very strong backcountry skiers is to ski down to Dicks’ Lake, and skin 800-1000’ up the west side of the Janine Ridge (not named on maps). Now you get to pick out your point of entry for a run that is too good to be true down to Azure Lake. You will still have to climb 800’ to the Maggie’s Saddle, from the north end of Azure Lake, and keep the leg strength to ski ANOTHER 1500’ down to the car from there….probably in manky snow. This is some of the most beautiful ski terrain in the world! There are some steep, avalanche prone slopes above Azure Lake. I especially like skiing off the highest point of the Janine (Kalmia Ridge), where you can find corn or winter snow if you pay attention often. Take it right down across little Kalmia lake, and then down to the north side of Azure Lake. Skin the east side of Azure Lake and find some water melting in the rocks before climbing up to the final descent off Maggie’s. There are excellent ski descents to be had above the south end of Azure Lake as well, dropping from the north end of the Janine Ridge.
The south side of Dick’s offers a perfect, 35 degree, 2,000’ slope that can grow perfect corn even in mid-winter. This is a better ski than the north side if you time it right, but requires an ugly climb back up to the Janine Ridge from south slopes that cook you. Another way to ski the south side of Dicks is to start or end with a Mt. Tallac descent via car shuttle.
If you DON’T have a shuttle car and STILL want to see Dick’s and Tallac in the same day, start at the Bayview Trailhead. When you return, descend the trees on the north side of Mt. Tallac at the end of the day. You’ll end up in the Cascade Lake drainage, and start a short and scenic adventure schlog back to the car above a buried summer trail shown on the map. This route home reveals clues you’ll need to ski the Dog Leg Couloir, hidden on the south side of Maggies Peak.
Don’t be afraid to spend a night or two and explore.