Location: Desolation Wilderness – Lake Tahoe, CA
Duration: 3 – 4 hours
Elevation Change: 3,806′ – from 6,177′ to 9,983′
Recomended Map: Pyramid Peak Trailhead, California
Map of General Route:
When viewed from Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area or the summit of Mt. Tallac, this bald beauty at the south end of the Desolation Wilderness will likely become your next goal. Got a 4000′ climb in you? It will feel easier going up and harder coming back, as the snow gets too soft in the afternoon down low. Park near Horsetail Falls on Highway 50, where there is no wintertime designated parking. Please ask Eldorado County why both sides of the highway have endless room to park, with NO PARKING signs everywhere. They are probably trying to avoide a huge sledding and snowplay area forming. Leave a note on your car that says “I know what I’m doing and skiing Pyramid Peak! I need the car to be here when I get back!”. I haven’t heard of anyone receiving a ticket here. But I don’t know many people who have even done this ski tour either.
The approach down low often looks too thinly covered, but deep snow pack and firmer snow is gauranteed 500′ above your car. Getting up or down that 500′ south facing slope can be dangerous in the typical warm weather at 6000′ in the sun. Stay out of the Horsetail Falls drainage going and coming as well. The terrain is steep and suspetable to wet slide conditions. Basically, if you can easily push your ski pole basket straight through spring corn snow more than a few inches, you need to get off that slope. You can also access the peak from Aloha Lake in an unforgettable overnight Desolation Wilderness tour coming in from Echo Lake or the dreadly closed-for-no-reason-all-winter Fallen Leaf Lake Road end trailhead.
Pyramid Peak looks un-skiable from most all vantage points because it’s so far away, especially the north slope. The North and East slopes beneath the summit are about 45 degrees steep for 1000′. I’ve skied the north side once ,but my perception is that it is usually wind hardened. Big rocks pepper the slope even in a big winter. Go for it just to point and brag to your friends from the north. There is no cornice at the top and you can look straight down. Dont’ slide off or drop a ski up there, it’s firm snow and a cozy small bald round summit.
The south and SE sides of the summit get a lot of wind too, and it’s not going to be very smooth up there. Skiing Pyramid Peak is more of a tick list adventure and a day with no other people. Splitboarding isn’t going to be great on the lower half going up or down, due to traversing and flat terrain in the middle, and unconsolidated mank down low. But what else do you have to do? Go for it!
Avalanches hazards and ski conditions are hard to predict in high, windy, treeless areas like this. Just take the south side back home if you’re unsure. When conditions are right, a beautiful 2000’ east-facing bowl begs you to ski down to Gefo and Toem Lakes. You won’t notice any lakes; these small guys are usually buried by a huge snow pack. Head south from here towards the Horsetail Falls Drainage, but be sure to climb back up to your skin track on a warm day to avoid the steep, low elevation, east facing terrain that will fall apart in the Horsetail Falls Drainage. If the snow coverage is deep, with cold stable powder, or rock hard conditions, this is a fast and fun way out to your car. It affords the maximum turns as you can descend the entire East side of the mountain. The lower half of the east slopes roll over steep, melting slabs, and require experienced BC skiers to navigate. Again, newer BC skiers are best to return the way they came.
I’ve heard of skiers climbing and descending Pyramid Peak from hwy 50 in the Rocky Canyon drainage, seen on my map. I haven’t tried this because it puts the start a little lower in elevation. You do get better snow coverage and firmness down low however, due to the west facing side of this drainage. Maybe next time.