I left Roseville (Sacramento) at approximately 4:45 am and arrived at the Bayview campground trail head at 6:30 am. The temperature was in the low 30’s, so I was eager to get going to warm up. The trail gains elevation steeply (about 1,600 ft) in the first 2 miles or so, winding its way past Granite lake to a saddle between Maggies peaks. It is well maintained and obviously well used. At the saddle, I began to encounter sporadic snow fields, none of which posed any problems as the slope is very gradual and the snow was well compacted.
The next few miles were very uneventful however the trail loses about 400 ft just after the saddle. It was an enjoyable hike past the Velma Lakes trail junction on the way to Dicks Lake. The vistas in Desolation are fantastic. About a mile before Dicks lake, where the trail regains some of the lost elevation, I encountered the first real snow field. It was hopeless trying to follow the trail at this point, so I just headed uphill towards the lake. The snow was slick and firm, but the slope wasn’t steep enough to require crampons.
After gaining the saddle, I got my first view of the peak. It was completely snow free. Surprisingly enough, Dick’s lake was still partially frozen, and Dick’s pass looked to be under at least 2-3 feet. As I followed the trail ascending the pass, it became increasingly difficult to follow. Broken sections of snow gave way to solid cover at about 8,700 ft. I tried to head straight uphill to a point even in elevation with the pass, then contour along the rest of the way. About a mile before the pass, the angle of the slope I was contouring along became excessively steep, and I began to worry that a slip would land me in the lake almost a 1,000 ft below. It was time for the crampons. Being that this was my first experience with them, I was a little unsure. That along with the fact that I left my ice axe at home made for some slow, cautious hiking. Maybe it’s me, but contouring on a 45 degree slope with crampons is super painful! After about 30 minutes of hiking I finally reached the pass and was elated to get the crampons off.
Just after the pass, a well defined use trail begins a moderate climb to the south of an unnamed peaklet to the east of Dicks. Be sure to stay to the south and about 100 ft below the top of this bump, as you will lose this elevation just before the real peak. The real climbing begins at the base of the east ridge. The couloir between two ribs leading to the top of the ridge was still snowpacked, as was much of the north face. I decide to head up on the left side of the couloir, hoping to avoid anything more than class 3. At one point I found myself right back in the middle of the couloir, looking at snow covered class 4 rock. After a few minutes of route finding and backtracking, I was able to find an easier route to the top of the ribs. As the summit ridge is gained, the hiking becomes much easier, and a good use trail reappears. I was on the summit at about 11:15 am. The views were great. Immediately to the southwest is Jacks peak, Pyramid Peak, Mt Agassiz and Mt Price. To the south I could clearly see Round Top and Highland Peak. Lake Tahoe dominated the eastern view, and to the north, Tinker Knob, Granite Chief and Castle Peak were all visible.
After a leisurely lunch, I headed down. I wasn’t overly excited about following the same trail on the way back to the car. Looking at the north face of Dicks, it looked like I could save some time by heading straight down, following a small ridge to the west of Dicks Lake, then picking up the trail after the lake.
So off I went. Right off the bat I was second guessing myself. The rock was super loose, and the slope was much steeper than it looked initially. Each step I took brought down a lot of decent sized rock. At one point I set a rock the size of a small TV loose. I was able to hoarsely yell “Rock!!” as it bounded down the mountain. Fortunately I could see the entire path, and was sure nobody was below. After about 20 minutes of this and after some banged up shins, I was off the face, and onto another light use trail. I followed the ridge to the west of the lake, going around any obstacle. There were some really large snowfields left, and I was able to get some excellent standing glissades in. They made the detour completely worth it. The original plan was to stick to the west side of this ridge, but somehow (probably on the glissades) I ended up on the east side closest to the lake. The terrain became much trickier as there are bench like steps leading down to the lake. In and of themselves, they weren’t too bad, but many of these small cliffs were still covered in snow. I was able to find my way down to a point a few hundred feet above the lake, and I was stopped in my tracks. The bench I was on and needing to descend, ended in a cliff about 20 ft high. I couldn’t see any alternative routes down. Add to that a snowfield butting up right to the bottom of the cliff. There was a four to five foot gap between the cliff and the snowfield because the rock was so much warmer. That made many of the possible routes impassable, as I wasn’t keen on falling into this gap. Finally I was able to find a crack big enough for some good holds that led to a 3 inch ledge where I could skirt my way along the cliff to a spot that was free of snow.
I’m really not that experience with class 4 climbing, and I was super paranoid of slipping into the gap between the rock and snow. None-the-less, I managed to get myself down the cliff safely, launching more than one explicative in the process! I guess it makes for a decent story.
Down at lake level, the hiking was again pretty easy. Soon, I picked up the trail, hit some a few more good standing glissades, and had a good hike out to the car. It amazed me that I didn’t see another soul until about 1:00 pm. In Desolation Wilderness!! I was back to my car by 2:45 pm and back in Sac at 4:30 pm. All in all this was a great early season hike, I’d recommend to anyone.
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