GRANITE CHIEF (9,006'), NEEDLE PEAK (8,971'), AND LYON PEAK (8,891') CLASS 1-2
Location: 3 to 5 miles W of Squaw Valley, CA
Drive: Same as Tinker Knob, Route B, Drive.
Climb: See Tinker Knob, Route B, Climb. Proceed to the PCT junction, once signed, "...Tinker Knob 3 Granite Chief 1 1/2 " and take the signed PCT left. A sign here points the way back to the resort parking, reading "Granite Chief Trail." The trail traverses and drops a bit, and then climbs to the left (eastsoutheast) shoulder of Granite Chief, which appears as the big mass across the small lake/marsh enroute. Once the main Sierra Crest is reached, here, look ahead and to the right for a use trail. The ski run's wooden fenceline marks where, below its lower end, the use trail takes off. This sandy use trail quickly leads to the summit.
To climb Needle and Lyon Peaks, drop cross-country down to the westnorthwest from the summit area of Granite Chief. Downclimb over big, class 2 talus, staying to the top of the ridge leading west. The route, with some use trail, crosses over to the north side of the ridge for a short distance, then heads back to the south side of the ridge. Contour on dirt slopes around the left (south) side of the first undistinguished bump. Drop to the saddle at 8,640+ foot elevation. Continue westward, to drop and traverse a bit, and work around the lower left (south) side of the sharp, cliffy mass of Needle Peak. Climb up and around to its far (westnorthwest) side, where a short, high class 2, rock scramble leads to the highpoint. This high class 2 route starts at about the highest point of the brushy, dirt slopes on that side. Some more direct, class 3 routes, start from the south side of the peak, if desired.
To continue to Lyon Peak, drop and contour westnorthwest from Needle Peak. Go around the first small bump on its left (south) side, then continue west and make the final ascent to Lyon Peak's highpoint.
One can drop down from Needle or Lyon Peak, several hundred feet to a visible trail, below to the south, then climb back up to the crossing of the Sierra Crest, and the PCT. It is perhaps more skillful to maintain elevation, and traverse back, as level as possible, to the Granite Chief side trail.
WINTER SKI ASCENT: Route
A is as good as any. One could ride the Granite Chief Chair to
about 300 feet below the summit of Granite Chief. Perhaps more
sporting is to ride the gondola to its top and then ski over to
There are severe liability restrictions now imposed on "out-of-bounds" skiing by the resorts in this area. Permission is absolutely required before setting out from the resort area.
TRIP STATS: Route A, 3,500 feet gain with an additional 500 feet gain on the return, 8 miles one way, assuming one traverses low and level on the return from Lyon Peak. For Granite Chief only, it is 5 miles one way, with 2,900 feet gain, and 100 feet additional gain on the return.
Notes: These peaks are best
done all together, although one could just climb Granite Chief
and return. It would be possible to climb Tinker Knob, also, in
a long day. As stated, one could ride the ski resort gondola ($14,
regular fare, in summer 1998), if operating, and take the PCT
north to intersect Route A, avoiding much gain. Granite Chief
is on the eastern edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness, designated
by law in 1984. No permits are required for entry.
If already in the French Meadows Reservoir area, the "Tevis Cup Trail" offers a good approach. This trail traverses on the south side of the ridge upon which Lyon Peak and Needle Peak sit. It appears to be an simple matter to head cross-country north up to the ridge, and climb all three of these peaks.