Ralston Peak (9,235') in Desolation Wilderness
The route described is a picturesque and fun day trip off Highway 50 (6,600') to the top of Ralston Peak (9,235') in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. It runs along the southern flank of Ralston Peak with spectacular views to the west of Pyramid Creek canyon and, higher up, of the Crystal Range and Desolation Valley. It can be accomplished in a day or can be the start of a multi-day snow camping trip in the Desolation Wilderness. For multi-day trips, stop for a permit at the El Dorado National Forest Information Center located just off Highway 50 on Camino Heights Drive a few miles east of Placerville. The Center's phone number is (916) 644-6048.
Take Highway 50 east out of Sacramento. Approximately 1.5 miles after the small town of Twin Bridges, take the turnoff to the left (north) towards Pinecrest Camp and follow the main road up to a small bridge over Tamarack Creek at about 6,600'. Park at the roadside near the bridge. If you drive past the bridge, you will be on church property, and the church people will probably ask you to park on the other side of the bridge.
At the bridge, walk about 100 yards up the road and begin skiing up the moderate slopes to the northwest through the trees. By angling to the northwest, you will soon reach the Ralston Trail, which runs upwards along the ridgeline. If visibility is poor, stay well to the east of the ridge, because it drops sharply to the west for over 1,000' to Pyramid Creek. The photo at right features two telemarkers taking a rest on the climb up the ridge, surveying the mighty chasm between Ralston Peak and Pyramid Peak. Continue up the ridge until the angle steepens and then begins to flatten out. To the northwest you will see the wide open east face of Pyramid Peak and the high bowl of Desolation Valley.
From the peak, a variety of descents are available. Along the northwest shoulder of Ralston Peak are a number of fine north-facing descents of varying angles dropping down into Ralston Lake. To the south is the wide bowl leading down Tamarack Creek and back to the car.
The photo at top shows the spectacular view from the summit to the north, including Lake Tahoe in the distance and a bit of Fallen Leaf Lake. The photo (below left) shows the view from the summit to the west, including the giant east face of Pyramid Peak (in the center) and Mt. Price (on the right). The photo (below right) shows the very steep southeast shoulder of Ralston Peak.
Story and photos by: Erik Riegler
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