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Pole Creek & Tinker Knob

What:  Opportunities for intermediate to advanced ski touring in a beautiful alpine valley.  Optional pass crossings and peak climbs.


When:  Best in late winter and early spring.  Relatively low elevations (avg. of around 7,450') mean that you should hit this tour before the snow gets too thin on the high ridges. 


This tour offers a wide range of options to the backcountry traveler.  This is either a moderate day tour up a lovely alpine valley to the base of an impressive alpine wall, or a strenuous outing over a high divide, into an adjacent drainage and up to the summit of one of the higher peaks in the area.  You can do this tour as a round trip back down Pole Creek, or you can make this a one way tour and ski out either to Squaw Valley or Sugar Bowl via the Donner-Squaw High Tour, or up and over Silver Peak and back out to Highway 89.  Depending on your stamina and how much terrain you want to cover, this is either a day tour or a 2-day outing.  The trailhead is near the confluence of Pole Creek and the Truckee River, just off Highway 89 about 2.5 miles north of Squaw Valley Road.  Limited roadside parking is generally available for a few cars at the trailhead (just across from the Olson Construction building).

Tour Stats:

One Way Mileage:

Around 3.9 miles to the head of Pole Creek

Around 6.1 miles to the summit of Tinker Knob



Trailhead:  6,070'

Highpoint:  8,949' (Tinker Knob summit)

Finish:  6,070' at Trailhead, 6,200' at Squaw Valley, 7,038' at Sugar Bowl


Map:  USGS Granite Chief and Tahoe City 7.5 minute maps.  If skiing to Sugar Bowl, you will also need the USGS Norden 7.5 minute map.  (Click here for an annotated on-line topo map)


Initial Route up Pole Creek

The tour starts at Highway 89, near the confluence of Pole Creek and the Truckee River.  From the trailhead, follow the Pole Creek drainage to the west, ascending gradually up a serpentine logging road.  After about two miles, you will cross Pole Creek on a bridge.  (note: a side trail joins the main road here which leads back down to Highway 89.  If you take this trail in, you will save about 3/4 mile, so I recommend it.  The trail starts right behind the "Elevation 6,000" sign on Highway 89, about a quarter mile north of the trailhead.  There is no parking here, but it is a short walk from the main trailhead).  After crossing Pole Creek via the bridge, follow the road on the north side of the creek until you reach the Sierra Club's Bradley Hut (which was relocated here from the Five Lakes Basin after the Granite Chief Wilderness boundary was stupidly drawn to include the area around the cabin).

At the head of the valley, an impressive alpine wall separates the Pole Creek drainage from the North Fork of the American River, which lies immediately to the west.  Above you and to the left is the rocky summit of Silver Peak (8,424'), which affords incredible views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding peaks of the Tahoe Sierra.  At this point, you have a few options.  You can climb and ski Silver Peak; you can climb over the Pole Creek/American divide, descend to the North Fork of the American River and then ascend Tinker Knob (and continue on to Sugar Bowl if you desire); you can cross over into Shirley Canyon and ski down to Squaw Valley; or you simply go back the way you came.  

Silver Peak

The most popular option on this tour is to skin up to the summit of Silver Peak.  To do so, either head SW from the Pole Creek bridge (staying on the south side of the creek), following trails up to the NE ridge of Silver Peak.  Alternatively, if you are near Bradley Hut at the head of Pole Creek, head south and angle upwards towards the summit, following the corniced north ridge.  From the top, a beautiful panorama opens up to the south.  Looking out over the Squaw Valley development, you can see nearly all of Lake Tahoe, as well as the snowy peaks of the Desolation Wilderness and Carson Range.  From the summit, you may either descend back down to Pole Creek via the NW face and ski back out to Highway 89, or, snow conditions permitting, you can descend the more moderate SE face of the mountain into the Silver Creek drainage, and follow this path back down to Highway 89.  If you choose the latter, be aware that you will reach the roadway about 1.5 miles south of where you started, which means either a car shuttle, hitchhiking or a long walk in tele boots.

Tinker Knob (with optional tour north to Sugar Bowl)

A more challenging variation of the tour (which may, depending on your speed and hours of daylight, require an overnight stay) is to cross over into the valley of the North Fork of the American River, and then climb up to the summit of Tinker Knob (8,949').  To do this variation, skin up and climb over the high ridge at the head of Pole Creek (the gap just to the south of unnamed point 8,597' and the gap north of point 8,506' are both suitable alternatives, but mind the avalanche danger on these steep slopes).  From the top, descend to the valley floor slightly north of Mt. Meadow Lake.  From here, follow roughly the path of the PCT up to the ridgetop just SSE of Tinker Knob.  From this point, the route to the summit of Tinker Knob is fairly obvious (see photo).  From here, you can either return the way you came, or you can connect to the Donner-Squaw High Tour and ski out either to Squaw Valley or to Sugar Bowl.   

Shirley Canyon to Squaw Valley

An easier way to ski down to Squaw Valley from Pole Creek is to cross directly over into Shirley Canyon to the SW, and then descend the canyon to the Squaw Valley fire station.  To do so, climb up to gain the moderate pass between unnamed points 8,506' and 8,426' (located just NW of Silver Peak), and then ski down into Shirley Canyon and follow the Squaw Creek drainage to the point where it exits the canyon into Squaw Valley proper.

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