Desolation Wilderness 6 Summits – July 4, 2016

A taste of what was to come…

So about a month ago I set out to do the Desolation 7 Summits Bay-to-Bay in a Day. I got up at 2am, had a quick shower and breakfast, drove to the Ralston Peak trailhead (about a 2.5 hour drive), and got ready to roll. During the final packing procedures, I made the call to bring the ice axe and microspikes to make sure I would not get shut down by snow. I then ran down Highway 50 dodging speeding cars and tractor trailers in what I hoped would be the most dangerous part of my day.

After a mile or two of this, I started up what I thought was the Rocky Creek Trail towards Pyramid Peak. As it turned out, I had missed the trail entirely and ended up bushwacking up a steep, rocky, manzanita-covered hill for an hour or two before eventually finding the trail on the final ascent to Pyramid, my first summit of the day.

Nice summit blocks!


From there I mostly stayed high and followed the talus/scree-covered ridge line to Agassiz and Price, as there was quite a bit of snow on the slabs below. I think most people descend to the slabs for easier travel here, and I did go down in one or two spots but didn’t stay down long. I ended up going under the snow briefly here:

Don’t go in there!!!!

The travel was a bit slow/arduous but the views off both sides of the ridge line were stunning!


Why I stayed high

On reaching the summit of Price it took a bit of time to find the best way off the ridge down towards Mosquito Pass at the top of Lake Aloha.

Not this way!

A bit of easy down-climbing eventually got me down to the snow, at which point I took out my ice axe and microspikes and descended the soft snow via a combination of downclimbing, plunge-stepping, and some pretty fun glissading. The spikes were probably not necessary, but the snow was steep enough that I was glad to have the ice axe to control my glissade speed. There were also multiple convex drop-offs ending in rocks that I did not particularly want to meet at high speed.

Steeper than it looks and a long way down to the lake.

Eventually I got off the snow and reached the discontinuous slabs that descend to Mosquito pass. Here I met the first people I had seen all day, a group day-hiking with their dog from a campsite somewhere nearby, who were in the middle of a snowball fight. We chatted briefly and I headed up the long, loose scree slope towards Jack’s peak.

I crossed some snowfields on the way up, which was a relief as they didn’t slide like the scree. Eventually I reached the summit via a loose, sliding scree chute that I was happy to be out of as soon as possible.

Someone shattered a whole lot of rock and dumped it up here.


The traverse from Jacks to Dick’s peak was more scree/talus hopping but much more stable and went without incident. From the summit of Dick’s there is a loose gully followed by a long scree field with a faint trail that leads to Dick’s Pass, where I got engaged to Amy in the moonlight, about 3 years ago. It’s a pretty cool spot and there was more snow this time.

Not sure what we’re seeing here, but it sure is pretty

On reaching the trail at Dick’s pass, I was happy to be done with the talus and managed to do some running down the trail towards Gilmore lake. I was starting to feel the weigh of the axe and spikes in my pack at this point, and knew I had quite a few miles to go yet.

I filled up my water for the first time at Gilmore lake, while a bunch of college students frolicked on the shore near their campsite. From there I headed up the trail towards Mount Tallac – the only summit of the day that I had actually been on before. I have skied up and down Tallac a handful of times over the years, always from the Lake Tahoe side, so I was on new terrain coming up the west side through grasses and flowers instead of snow.

I skied this a few months ago!


Tallac Summit view

It was beautiful, the trail was a bit wet in spots but overall in good shape, and the views of lake Tahoe from the summit were stunning as usual.

Lake Tahoe with Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake from the summit of Tallac

Coming back down the trail from Tallac, I realized I would be racing the daylight and tried to run as much as my tired legs would allow, which wasn’t a whole lot. The extra weight of the ice axe and microspikes in my new UD AK adventure running pack weren’t helping matters, but I eventually made it back down to Gilmore lake and then to Lake Aloha after passing Suzie and Heather Lakes.

Trees, mountains, lake, grass, rocks, and god rays.
This reminds me of a pirate island
Gilmore lake and the Pyramid-Agassiz-Price Ridge plus Jack’s peak from Tallac
This one shows Dick’s Peak as well at center right ( I think)

As I hiked down the shore of Lake Aloha, the trail signs were less than clear and I ended up missing a turn that would have taken me on the most direct route towards Ralston peak and the trailhead where I had parked my car. I realized my error pretty quickly (using both a paper map and quick GPS check on my phone); but rather than backtrack I decided to take the slightly longer route via Lake of the Woods since I had never been there. I eventually reached the Ralston Peak Spur trail just as it was about to get dark.

Lake Aloha sunset

It is only about a half mile each way to the peak on the spur trail, but I had a few more miles of unfamiliar descent back to the car so I opted to skip Ralston and do as much of the descent in the daylight as possible. As it turned out, the descent trail was easy to follow even in the dark, so next time I would opt to tag the Ralston summit as well for the full Desolation 7.

GPS route here (watch died at Lake Aloha so the route is incomplete): Strava Link

Total time was about 15+ hours of bushwacking, hiking, scrambling, running, navigating, and traversing some amazing ridges over an absolutely ridiculous quantity of talus/scree/choss. Five hours of driving, with about 5 cups of coffee to wake me up on the drive up and then keep me awake on the drive home. It was a bit early for the traverse due to the amount of snow still present, but it definitely made for spectacular views and a very alpine feel.

Thanks to Leor Pantilat for the inspiration (and for making it OK to skip Ralston on the first try). Also thanks to my good friends Dan Krotz, Brian Zeitler, and Jon Brooks, for doing it first and sharing some beta although I likely forgot all of it before actually getting up there. This was one I have been meaning to do for a while and it was a good one!

More pictures:




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