Pyramid Peak at Desolation Wilderness – November 20, 2015

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With the idea of climbing Mt Shasta sometime next summer, we wanted to summit a few peaks in a snowy environment to get some experience. Pyramid Peak was the chosen one after looking at a few options (of which included Ralston Peak, Mt Tallac, and Freel Peak). After making sure that the weather is ideal and confirming avalanche risk is low, we packed our gears and embarked on this trip without really knowing what’s in store for us. The thought that most of us had at the beginning was that this is just going to be a “walk in the park”.

After work on Friday night, we drove up to Elk Grove and spent the night at Victor’s house to cut the drive time on Saturday morning. I knew the trip was going to be good when Jenny slipped walking down the stairs as we were getting ready to leave Victor’s house.

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Excited for a walk in the park

We grabbed breakfast around 7am and it was time to head out towards Desolation Wilderness. There are three different trails that lead up to Pyramid Peak. Our first option via Sylvia Lake was a bust when the road leading up to the trailhead was closed. As a result, we took the Rocky Canyon trail which was a 3 mile hike with 4,000 ft in elevation gain (pretty steep). The trailhead was not easy to find. We parked the car at turnout right off 50-E and had to walk back and forth on the side of the freeway to find the trailhead.

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The trailhead is literally right behind the trees above the car hatch

Less than ten minute after starting the hike, we had to take a quick break to remove all the jackets we had on. It wasn’t as cold as we had anticipated it to be. It didn’t take long after this for us to get lost. We were bush whacking for 20-30 minutes before eventually finding our way back to the trail. This will serve as a reminder next time to always bring a GPS.

The first mile of the hike was pretty much a steep climb with no snow. This was pretty difficult given the fact that we stopped for a break every 10 to 15 minutes (which explained why it took us nearly six hours to cover 1.5 mile). As we ventured higher, the temperature began to drop and snow was in sight.

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Found myself a nice resting spot

After trekking in the snow for a little bit longer, it became obvious that the snow was becoming deeper and difficult to walk on.

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Postholing – not fun

Fortunately, we decided to pick up snowshoes after the ranger had recommended it. The snowshoe we picked up was MSR Evo and it worked fine for the most part. However, there were some areas where the snow was too deep and we still ended up postholing. Henry was the first to get his snowshoe stuck in a deep patch of snow, and had to be dug out. This actually became a reoccurring theme for most of us as we all had our fair share of being stuck in the snow.

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Henry stuck a little bit further ahead

With the snow, the trail was pretty much covered. Our only guide was to follow the footprints left behind by the last person going through here.

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Maybe from the Google Map team who was here recently

As we lose more and more sunlight, it was time to find a camp site. While the area was covered in snow, we were able to find a nice patch of dirt that could fit all our tents. Though our campsite was pretty close to the creek, we opted to melt snow for water. The path to get down to the creek was covered in snow and I wasn’t certain how stable the footing will be, especially in the dark.

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Dinner time

The moon was pretty bright that night and it was pretty cool watching the reflection off the snow. The entire wilderness was pretty much lit up. After a few minutes of star gazing, we searched for a place to stash the bear can and got ready for bed. We heard a pack of wild animals which sounded like it could be coyotes, but that was enough to make me move my ice axe closer to the tent just so I feel safer. As usual, I was the last person to fall asleep. Jenny was complaining about the cold and after some Vodka, she was snoring like a bear. I need to copy Henry and bring some wine next time, but for now some hot chocolate will do.

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A necessity when camping in the cold

Waking up to the sound of the creek flowing was pretty nice. Surprisingly, my down jacket was enough to keep me warm throughout the night. Sometime during the night, my beanie disappeared from my head and I found it outside my sleeping bag, cold and damp. I had to sleep on it for a few more minutes to warm it up before getting up.

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View from tent

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Beautiful morning

Now that it’s bright enough, the mission for the morning is to collect water from the creek. I’m glad we didn’t attempt to collect water last night because most of the snow bordering the creek would have been a trap card to dip your feet into the cold running water. Later on the day, Henry collected some water and stepped into the creek by accident. The water froze quick enough where he had to unstrap from his snowshoe and dig it out.

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Mission accomplished

After snacking and eating a large dinner last night, I wasn’t too hungry this morning. I munched on some snack bars and had another cup of hot chocolate. This was obviously not enough when I found myself snacking every opportunity I got on the way up to summit.

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Breakfast time

Once we packed up the camp site, it was time to make further attempt to the summit. It was around 9am when we started and the plan was to summit around noon to ensure that we have enough time to come back down to the car before sunset.

Shortly after the we left the camp site, it was obvious that we weren’t going to make it to summit on time carrying our large backpacks with us. The trail (still following the footprints) was still steep and we find ourselves taking breaks every few minutes. Henry found a spot to stash our foods and suggested it would be better if we leave it now (about a mile away from summit) so we can cover more distance quicker.

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steep

Moments later, Pyramid Peak finally came to view.

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Still so far away

At this point, Cindy was using her phone as a GPS (we had signal due to proximity to Lake Tahoe) to track our distance. We were about a little over a mile away from summit. For the next few hours, it was a long grind up the hill as the peak draws closer.

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It was another hour before we reached the summit from here

As we approached the summit, I noticed that most of the trees here have been toppled over. Result of heavy snowstorm or maybe an avalanche from the past? Whatever it was, I definitely do not want to be caught here while it’s going on.

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Baby tree on lower right fears nothing

The final 100m or so before the summit was the most exhilarating part of the climb. It involved some Class 2 scrambling and there were some areas of the snow where it was at least 4-5 ft deep (Henry almost wrecked his leg when he descended and stepped on an area that sunk his leg). The wind was extremely strong towards the summit and a huge gust actually made me lose balance at one point.

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Every rock is loose until verified

We were late, but at 1pm, we finally made it to the summit of Pyramid Peak. The reward was a gorgeous view of the Sierra Nevada and Desolation Wilderness. I didn’t get a picture of it, but you could actually see Mt Diablo from the summit. The frozen lake view from the top was also pretty awesome. After enjoying the view and feeling a sense of great accomplishment, it was time to head down. From hereon out, it was a race against time to reach our car before sunset.

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The summit

360 view from the summit

The descent from the summit was pretty fun. It was steep so I had to walk sideways down since the only support I have is my ice axe. I slipped and slid down a few times and had to catch myself with the ice axe. This helped me down the summit a lot quicker though.

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down

Once we are down, we backtracked to our stash and retrieved the backpacks. Henry had to run ahead to collect some water to be filtered. Ironically, we ran into an issue where we did not have enough drinking water despite being surrounded by all the snow. When we picked up our backpacks, it was around 3PM. This gives us around two hours before sunsets, and from hereon out it was a rush to get back. Towards the end, we had to hike about 15-20 minutes in the dark before finding our way back to the car.

Overall, the trip had been a blast and I’m glad we did it. It was one of the most defining moment I’ve had and we learned a lot. There is probably no second time for this peak (at least from this trail) given the amount of physical exhaustion that I’m still experiencing today, but I’m happy that we were able to bag this peak.

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