I’ve been wanting to hike up Pyramid Peak for quite some time, but it just hasn’t happened (yet). On the occasions I have planned to do this hike, I’ve been stopped by major thunderstorms or crazy gusts of wind. This weekend, the weather was looking pretty perfect, but with a late start and the days already getting shorter, we didn’t make it up the peak. I will get there eventually. Instead, we hiked up to some high alpine lakes and enjoyed a beautiful and relaxing October day in Desolation Wilderness.
Basics: This hike is 6-ish difficult miles beginning at the Pyramid Creek trailhead on Highway 50. The unmaintained trail goes past Horsetail Falls (a neat destination itself) up to several beautiful lakes in Desolation Wilderness. Permits are required – day use permits can be issued at the trail. Overnight permits must be reserved in advance and picked up at the ranger station.
Directions to Trailhead: When driving up to Tahoe on Highway 50, the Pyramid Creek trailhead is on the left, about 2 miles past the town of Strawberry. The trailhead has a parking lot, but it’s a popular place in the summer so get there early. There is a parking fee.
Trail Description: We got a relatively late start; we were at the trailhead around 9:00 am. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that the government shutdown might affect Desolation Wilderness. We began making the left the turn into the parking lot when we realized the gate was shut! What the….? There was a piece of paper stuck to the gate with some words about facilities being closed due to a lack of federal funding. Rob wanted to use our 4WD to get over the curb and into the parking lot. I did not approve. We turned around and found some parking further down the road. I’m not really sure if the trails are supposed to be closed, but plenty of people were out hiking.
We parked near the driveway of an empty cabin. After running across the highway, we walked into the deserted parking lot and made it to the trailhead. Couldn’t they just leave the gate open? I don’t care if the bathrooms are locked. I don’t like running across highways.
At first, the trail was easy to follow. Soon, we lost track of it. We just continued towards Horsetail Falls which are visible from the road. Later in the day when we were headed back to the car we ran into a couple who had clearly hiked in the area many times. The man told us: “If you lose the trail, just keep going in the correct direction and you’ll find it again eventually.” That seemed to be the case for this entire hike.
I had checked the forecast and it said mostly sunny with a 20% chance of snow showers before 11:00 am. It snowed on us. Also, everything was wet. Granite is extremely slippery when wet, so we walked very carefully. Luckily, the sun did show up eventually – the hiking got easier as everything dried out.
We made our way towards the waterfall, then veered to the left and began climbing past it out of the canyon. We didn’t have much of a trail to follow, but the occasional rock cairn helped lead the way. We just stayed to the left of the falls and took whatever path looked the easiest. Rob mentioned that the hike seemed pretty easy. About five minutes later we were climbing up steep terrain using our hands and pausing every five minutes to catch our breath.
After a couple miles of climbing, we reached the top. We could see Pyramid Peak and many other rocky hills around us. We headed straight towards Pyramid Peak. We were not an actual trail, but the walking was now a lot less steep and much easier. We couldn’t see Pitt Lake or Avalanche Lake – we were on the other side of the small peak to the west of those two lakes.
After a short distance on much flatter ground we reached some unnamed lakes. We continued towards Osma Lake. From there, we headed north towards Toem Lake, then circled around to the east and stopped on the shores of Ropi Lake. We sat, ate lunch and enjoyed some sunshine.
After a nice long break, we packed up and headed home. We took a slightly different route – following the Pyramid Creek drainage past Pitt and Avalanche Lakes. As we clambered down past Horsetail Falls, we saw several other small groups of hikers making their way up. The forest is definitely still open, even if the parking lot is closed.
We again lost the trail on the way out. The highway was noisy and we just headed in that general direction. Slightly more traffic in the afternoon made it a little harder to run across the road, but we made it. I forgot about apple season – we hit all the Apple Hill traffic on the way home, but we listened to the 49ers game (and they won!) so the drive back was enjoyable.