North Face of Ralston
Ralston Peak is an easy access gem for a peak
located in a wilderness area. This mountain
serves up varied terrain and great scenery.
Ralston Peak is located on
the north side of US 50 opposite the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski
area. The south side of the peak viewed from the
highway is not terribly impressive -- a broad non-descript
ridge that rises above the Pyramid Creek canyon near Twin
Bridges. From the north, however, Ralston looks like a
challenging peak with plenty of terrain to get you excited.
Ralston is usually accessed
from US 50 at Camp Sacramento or the Aspen Creek Tract.
It can also be accessed from the Desolation Valley or Echo
Lakes area, although this obviously requires a much longer
Click here for an annotated topo map
Route #1 --
Aspen Creek Tract
When climbing the south
side of the peak, I prefer Aspen Creek as a starting point;
the trailhead here is 500 feet higher than Camp Sacramento,
and the preferred route makes a long upward traverse to the
summit that is easier than following the summer hiking trail
from Camp Sacramento. There is a small turnout at
Aspen Creek Tract that will accept a few cars. I have
not had trouble parking here, but you should inquire locally
if you are unsure about the rules.
Cross over the highway and
start climbing. Stay on the left (west) side of the
unnamed creek that shows up on the topo map. After
several hundred feet of climbing, you will emerge from the
tree-cover and have nice views down the North Fork of the
American River towards the great rock wall of Lover's Leap.
Aim for the flat area at around 7,800' from where the creek
drains. Angle left from here, gaining the ridge that
leads south from the vicinity of Cup Lake. Follow this
ridge up to the high saddle on the main Ralston ridge, and
then continue all the way up to the actual summit of Ralston
Peak. Note that there are some great runs in the
vicinity of Cup Lake and the "Ralstonia" peaklet that juts
out of the hillside nearby. This might even be enough
to sidetrack you from going all the way up to the summit.
Snow conditions on the
south face returning back to your car can be tricky.
This area is an excellent place to go when there is fresh
snow after a storm. Otherwise, given the southerly
exposure, it tends to set up rather quickly when the temps
rise and the clouds disappear. If the snowcover is
sufficient (the lower elevations tend to be a bit thin),
this is a great corn run -- even in midwinter! The
north face can be skied from here as well (see description
below), but remember that you'll have to climb back out to
get to your car. Another option is to leave a shuttle
car at the base of
Echo Peak and make a long day out of traversing these
two peaks. We did this shuttle tour on a powdery day
2003 and it was a most excellent trip. Highly
Route #2 --
Another fine way to
experience Ralston Peak is to ski over it as you exit the
Desolation Valley (i.e., as the final leg of a
trans-Desolation tour), or to make a longer day out of it by
skiing in and out from Ralston via Echo Lakes. Both of
these routes would take you up the NE shoulder of the peak
from near Tamarack Lake/Haypress Meadows area.
If coming from Echo Summit,
park at the Sno-Park (permit required) and ski out across
the upper and lower Echo Lakes (and make sure they are
frozen!). From the inlet of the upper lake, start a
gradual ascent up the creek, following the right-hand branch
up to Tamarack Lake. Up to now, the skiing has been
mostly flat touring, but now the fun begins. Climb
steeply above Tamarack Lake to the saddle due west of the
lake. At the saddle, turn left and follow the NE ridge
to the summit.
If coming from the
Desolation Valley, ski southward generally along the summer
path of the Pacific Crest Trail. At Haypress Meadows,
start climbing up the NE ridge of Ralston Peak and follow it
to the summit. Be forewarned that this ridge gets
blasted with wind and develops some major cornices.
Stay far back from the edge as a falling cornice can kill
you and also trigger a deadly avalanche onto anyone below
Pick your lines down the
north face of the peak. The NE face above Ralston Lake
has some major cliffs and should be scouted first and skied
with caution. Great runs can be had down the huge and
empty bowls on either side of the summit. Remember if
skiing the bowl on skier's left of the summit (off the NE
Ridge), pick a safe spot to bypass the cornices that will
almost certainly be prevalent along much of the ridge.