We’ve attempted and failed to hike Pyramid Peak more times than I’d like to admit. Poor planning, late starts and crappy weather have all thwarted past attempts. Our friend Nolan has had a similar experience. After climbing far more challenging peaks, we (jokingly) began to wonder if we’d ever make it to the top of “the elusive Pyramid Peak.”
Finally, this past weekend we made it happen. The weather was looking to be perfect. We chose the most direct route – Rocky Canyon from Highway 50. We were determined to finally knock this one off our list.
Basics: The Rocky Canyon trail consists of a 3.5 mile (and 4000-ft) hike from Highway 50 to the top of Pyramid. The beginning is very steep and the last stretch requires boulder hopping over a large talus pile at the summit. The trail is well traveled and easy to follow but a little tricky to find. Though it is shown on Google Maps, it is not an official trail and the trailhead is unmarked.
Directions to Trailhead: Parking is located along Highway 50 approximately 1 mile east of the Strawberry Lodge. If you reach the Pyramid Creek parking lot at Horsetail Falls, you’ve gone too far. After passing the lodge, begin looking for an overhead sign structure (used to provide chain info in the winter) on the right hand side of the the road. The sign structure is located at the start of a passing lane (also marked with a big green sign). The dirt area next to the overhead sign has enough room for several cars. If it’s full, there is additional parking further up along the road, but be wary of the “no parking” signs scattered along the highway. Google Map link to trailhead.
To reach the trail itself, cross over the creek and walk up the road a short distance. When you reach the old stone mile marker on the right side of the road, the trail begins directly across the highway. Make the short climb up the embankment and the path will become obvious.
Red Tape: Hiking or camping in Desolation Wilderness requires a permit year round. There are fees for overnight camping and a quota system is in place from May through October. Day hiking permits are self-issued at many of the trailheads. The trail described here does not have an official trailhead, but permits can be picked up at the Pacific Ranger Station located 4 miles east of Pollock Pines on Highway 50. More info can be found on the Forest Service website.
Trail Description: The alarm went off around 5:00am – far too early for a Sunday morning. We packed up some food and water, stopped for gas and coffee, then headed to Sacramento to pick up Nolan. The three of us arrived at the parking area below the trail shortly before 8am.
We crossed the highway and quickly found the trail. The trail starts out steep. My legs began aching almost immediately. I’m not in good enough shape for this stuff, apparently. After about a mile, the trail began to flatten out. We were still climbing but at a much easier grade.
I got hungry and we stopped for a short break about two miles in. It was cold in the shade, but warm and pleasant in the sun. After a few minutes, we continued onwards.
Somewhere around the 2.5 mile mark, the trees began to grow sparse. Views opened up behind us. We could see Sierra at Tahoe, Kirkwood and all the little mountains in between. (Yes, my geographical knowledge/orientation is based on ski resort location.)
After about 3 hours of hiking, we reached the large pile of rocks that make up Pyramid Peak’s summit. The wind picked up as soon as we got above tree line. It took us another 20 minutes to reach the top. We climbed up the rocks on the steeper east face of the summit. It would have been easier to go straight up from the south, but the east side kept us out of the wind.
We reached the top along with a dozen or so other hikers/climbers. They were all part of the Sierra Mountaineering Club. We ate lunch and soon the large SMC group headed down. We had the summit to ourselves.
It was windy, but not too cold. The wind shelters were useless to us – they were filled with snow! We signed the summit register, took some photos, then headed down.
The hike back to the car was uneventful. We were all happy to have finally made it to the top of this one. It wasn’t even that difficult! It was the perfect day for one last Desolation Wilderness trip before the snow sets in for the winter.