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Pyramid Peak Ski Descent

Spring skiing on Pyramid Peak

(C. Gallardo photo - click for larger version)

What:  A long approach and hefty climb to the summit of Tahoe's most distinctive peak.

When:  Since this tour is mostly south facing, Pyramid is usually tackled in the springtime.  But don't wait too late, or you'll be hiking on dirt in the lower reaches.  If you're willing to spend the night, the north face of the peak makes a fine mid-winter trip.


Overview

Pyramid Peak caps the impressive Crystal Range, a string of summits that lies west of (but higher than) the main Sierra crest.  From the top of virtually any Tahoe area peak, the unique shape of Pyramid Peak can be seen and it literally begs to be skied.  But it doesn't give up the goods easily; you're looking at one of the longer approaches for a day ski, and the most vertical in the Tahoe Sierra.  Is it worth it?  You bet.

In winter, the usual route up and down Pyramid Peak is via the SE ridge from Twin Bridges.  The peak can also be approached from the Desolation Valley, but this generally involves a multi-day trip with a base camp near Lake Aloha.  In the spring, after the snow has melted out on the hillsides above Twin Bridges, it is also possible to hike in to the base of Pyramid's east and north faces via Horsetail Falls Canyon.  This option is nice in late season because it avoids the heinous shrubs and brambles that crowd the hillsides above US 50, but it does involve some non-trivial rock scrambling with ski gear on your back and therefore isn't for everyone.

Trailhead & Map

Both of these routes depart from the Pyramid Creek trailhead at Twin Bridges.  This well-signed turnoff is located just west of Twin Bridges on US 50 (about 7 miles west of Echo Summit).

 - Click here for an annotated route map.

 


 

Route #1 -- SE Ridge from Twin Bridges:

 

Stats:

Distance:  Around 3.7 miles to the summit

Elevation Gain:  +3,900'

Twin Bridges Trailhead:  6,100'

Pyramid Peak:  9,983'

This is the standard winter route up Pyramid Peak.  Because the starting point is at 6,100 on south facing slopes, be prepared for an initial bushwack unless the snowline is generously low.  To maximize travel on snow instead of bushes in these conditions, try to angle up to climbers' right and get on an aspect that doesn't receive direct sunlight all day long.  Because I'm your friend, I won't lie to you -- this initial climb up from Twin Bridges is not fun.  It is basically 2,000' straight up with little shade and a major highway beneath you.  But don't despair; once you hit the small peaklet at 8,100', you leave all that behind you and you enter the Desolation Wilderness.  Continue up the now prominent ridgeline between Pyramid Creek and Rocky Canyon and eventually you'll reach a flat bench just above treeline at 8,800'.  Rest here for the final push to the summit, which is now right in front of you.  A final 1,100' climb gets you to the top.  Enjoy the awesome views.


 

Route #2 -- Bushwack via Horsetail Falls (late spring only):

 

Stats:

Distance:  Around 4.3 miles to the summit

Elevation Gain:  +3,900'

Twin Bridges Trailhead:  6,100'

Pyramid Peak:  9,983'

 

This is an alternate route that can be used when the lower reaches of the SE Ridge route are snow-free (and thus choked with nasty bushes).  As noted above, this route involves some rock scrambling near the top of Horsetail Falls canyon and thus isn't a route for the unadventurous.  But if you are up for the challenge, then put your skis and boots on your back and follow the summer trail up Pyramid Creek.  Follow the trail along the west side of the creek as it climbs steeply up in between the granite walls of Horsetail Canyon.  Before you reach the falls, leave the trail by angling upwards and to climber's left.  There is some mild Class 3 scrambling here, which may prove difficult with a full pack (see photo).  Many people have been injured attempting this route, so be aware of your abilities.  If in doubt, try the other route described here or consider another peak.  After about 1/3 mile of steep off trail climbing, the hillside begins to level off and you will finally exit the canyon.  The crux is behind you at this point.  From here, aim cross country towards Toem and Gefo Lakes at the base of the east face of Pyramid Peak.  Depending on the time of year, these lakes may or may not have sufficient snowcover and getting through this marshy area can be tedious.  If in doubt, skirt the lakes on the left side by climbing up towards the east face of Pyramid, then contour above them on the west side.  At some point, you should be able to skin up into the bowl on the NE side of Pyramid Peak.  Follow this up to the summit.

 


 

Getting Down:

After you enjoy the incredible views of Desolation Valley from the summit, its time to enjoy the rewards of the climb.  Its possible to ski off Pyramid in almost any direction.  The west side leads to Lake Sylvia.  There's also a sweet little chute off the NW side of the peak.  While these look like fun descents, you'll have an effort penalty in the form of a much longer hike back out to get to your car.  The south face provides the most direct route back to Twin Bridges and can have sweet corn.  The north and east faces are the steepest sustained lines and are highly recommended. 


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