Touring along the Echo
Ridge, against the backdrop of the Crystal Range
Across the Wilderness. One of the most
rewarding tours in the Tahoe area is a trip across
the Desolation Wilderness. Passing over high
ridges and through rugged lake basins, this trip is
all about the gorgeous scenery.
This trip is best done as a
2-3 day tour. Take more days if you want to go at a
slower pace and/or bag some peaks along the way.
Because this is a point to point tour, you'll want to
arrange a car shuttle or be extremely confident in your
There are any number of
variations on this trip, but the general idea is to ski from
the southern end of the Desolation Wilderness, through the
Lake Aloha basin and then out to a car stashed at Emerald
Bay (or vice versa). If you have an extra day, you can
also ski up to the Sierra Club's Ludlow Hut at Richardson
Lake and then out via McKinney Creek. I'll describe a
few options from south to north, and you can tailor this
information to suit your desired trip.
The best places to start a
trans-Desolation tour are either Ralston Peak, Echo Lakes or
Echo Ridge. The first two starting points are
described in detail on the
Ralston Peak page. Basically, ski over Ralston
Peak or over the Echo Lakes and aim for the Haypress Meadows
area. The Ralston Peak alternative is more direct, but
involves substantially more climbing.
you are up for some mellow ski touring, I recommend the Echo
Lakes start. If you want to burn some calories and
make some turns en route, try the Ralston entry. From
Haypress Meadows, it's an easy jaunt NW over an 8,340'
saddle to Lake Aloha.
(photo by F.
Hochsteadter: Tele skiing on the south face of Jacks
A compromise between the
two alternatives described above is start your tour by
skiing over Echo Ridge. This is my favored approach:
It avoids the tedious flat slog across Echo Lakes, and the
climb over Echo Ridge is not as demanding as Ralston Peak
(the snow coverage is also generally better on the east side
of Echo than on the south side of Ralston). Climb up
the east ridge of Echo Peak to the flat summit ridge
(described on the
Echo Peak page). After tagging the summit of Echo
Peak and enjoying the views, descend down the west side of
the ridge and ski to the 8,160+' saddle between Echo Peak
and Keith's Dome. Contour around the south side of
Keith's Dome, traversing above Haypress Meadows, and aim for
Adventurous types who are
expert skiers (with full packs!) can also start this tour by
skiing over Pyramid Peak. To do so, climb the SE ridge
and drop down either the east or north faces of the peak to
the Lake Aloha area. This option is described on the
Pyramid Peak page.
Once you get to Lake Aloha,
enjoy the views as you ski along the NE shore. If you
have some time, At the end of the lake you have a
bunch of options. A few are discussed here in order of
difficulty and adventure:
standard route is to drop down to Heather and Susie Lakes
(losing quite a bit of elevation), and then climb up towards
Half Moon Lake below the south face of Dicks Peak. From
Half Moon Lake (a good
camp spot), you ski over Dicks Pass to Dicks Lake, wrap around
the north side of Peak 9,190', and ski out to Emerald Bay via
Maggies saddle and Granite Lake.
(photo courtesy C. Gallardo: descending Dicks Pass)
Another option is to climb up to "Janine Peak" (Peak 9,579' --
located just east of Dicks Pass) and ski down its steep NE
chutes. This will drop you down to Azure Lake.
From here, ski up to Maggies saddle and out to Emerald Bay.
Resist the temptation to drop down the Cascade Lake drainage
-- the vegetation is thick down there, and the traverse above
the west side of Cascade Lake is sketchy.
- A more adventurous route
for those who prefer ski mountaineering to ski touring is to
ski over the east ridges of Jacks and Dicks
This route crosses some steep terrain and should only be
attempted when avalanche hazard is minimal. From the
northeast end of Lake Aloha, drop down towards Heather Lake.
Don't ski all the way to the lake. Rather, after about
1/8 mile hang a left and start climbing up the steep SE face
of Jacks Peak, essentially following the inlet stream of
Heather Lake. You
won't be able to see the summit until you reach a gap at
around 9,000'. From here, ski almost due north and aim
for the 9,520+' saddle just east of Jacks Peak. The
north side of this saddle is steep and care should be taken
finding a safe route down. Descend about 350' to the
flat bench below, and then traverse north along the 9,200'
contour towards Dicks Peak (see photo above, taken from east
ridge of Dicks Peak looking across to Jacks Peak). If
you have the time and the inclination, tag the summit of
Dicks Peak; the views are simply outstanding. Either
way, you'll want to cross the east ridge of Dicks Peak at
the 9,400' saddle just east of the summit. From here,
moderate slopes lead down a broad ramp to the west side of
Dicks Lake. Although higher, this saddle is far more
gradual than Dicks Pass. From Dicks Lake, skirt around
the north side of Peak 9,190' and then ski out over Maggies
saddle and Granite Lake.
The best route to Emerald Bay
from the Dicks Lake/Azure Lake areas is to ski over the pass
in between the two Maggies Peaks ("Maggies Saddle"), and then
past Granite Lake to the Bayview Trailhead along US 89.
This is pretty straightforward, but if you need it more beta
can be found on the Dicks Peak
Along the east shore of Lake
Aloha, staring up at Jacks Peak. The Jacks-Dicks route
follows the obvious snow ramp just left of center and crosses
the flat ridge right of the summit (photo: E. Ongerth)