PYRAMID PEAK (9,983') CLASS 2
Location: 3 miles NW of Twin Bridges, CA
Drive: See Mt. Price, Route B, Drive. Drive some 5 miles up the
Wrights Lake Road to the signed, "Lyons Creek Trailhead."
Climb: Follow the dirt track east along the south side of Lyons Creek, which becomes a trail after 0.3 mile. Follow the trail, and in the next few miles, you will cross a number of small streams or stream beds. After 1.5 miles from the start, a signpost "Bloodsucker Lk Sylvia Lk Trailhead" marks a trail going left and back. Do not take this trail. Note it for your return. After 3.2 miles from the start, come to the wilderness boundary, with a sign.
From about here, one could leave the trail and head cross-country right (south, then east) to contour and climb around the point 8662' on the peak's west ridge. Come to a lake at 8,400' and then ascend the slopes, to the east, up the peak.
Otherwise, continue on the trail, and in 1.2 miles more, come to Lyons Creek. This will necessitate a 25 foot crossing in the early season. One may cut cross-country to the right, avoiding this crossing, and head southeast 0.5 mile to Lake Sylvia. If you cross the creek and stay on the trail, you will have to re-cross the creek to continue to Lake Sylvia. Come to a post "Lyons Lake Sylvia Lk Lyons Creek." Take the right trail.
At Lake Sylvia, there are many good campsites. Work your way cross-country to the south end of the lake. A 450 foot, 30-40 degree talus slope, which may have snow early in the season, is climbed to a saddle in the ridge to the south. An ice axe may be advisable with snow present. One may also climb talus, then class 2-3 cliffs to its left or right. Also, one can head further, straight up the Lake Sylvia drainage to the northeast, and then head right (south), after 0.3 mile, over or through class 2-3 cliffs to the main ridgetop to the south.
Once the ridgetop is gained, follow it eastnortheast up along its center, looking for sporadic use trails heading straight up. You will pass through groves of stunted pines, and then crest a hill to see the summit mass. Head directly up on class 2 talus, and continue to the obvious highpoint.
Drive: Take U.S. 50 to a point 1.0 mile west of the old site of Twin Bridges (now the signed, Pyramid Creek Trailhead, parking lot) about where the highway has a wide, now paved, signed, turnout on its north side, near some old cabins. This point is 11.3 miles west from Meyers Junction (west junction of U.S. 50 and Highway 89 south) or 42 miles east from the junction of U.S. 50 and Highway 49 in Placerville, CA. Try to park well off pavement. There is a spot, for two or three cars, on the south side of the highway, in a wide sandy shoulder. As of 2008, rangers report cars are being ticketed for improper parking. There are many "no parking" or "no stopping" signs. You are at your own risk here. Cabin owners may have your car towed, if on their property, and the fees for retrieval can be very expensive.
Additional parking is available,
for a self-pay fee of $5 (The America the Beautiful Interagency annual pass and the Golden Age Pass are still said to suffice, instead of this
fee, and there seems to be an annual forest pass available for $20--USFS, July, 2013), at the site of the former Twin Bridges
Store, now the signed "Pyramid Creek Trailhead." This
is a good-sized, paved parking area, with stone restrooms, on
the north side of the highway. This fee parking area is gated
and closed in the off-season and winter. Starting from this official
parking area to get to the use trail will require a mile hike,
back west along Highway 50, which requires extreme caution. The
traffic moves very fast along this stretch. Do not walk in traffic!
There are concrete barriers along the north side of the high speed
highway. No trail exists for this. There may be a chance that
you can be cited for hiking on the highway. For what it's worth,
I declined to follow my former suggestion and cancelled my planned
climb, this way, in summer, 2008. There needs to be improvement
on what to do about such dangerous hiking and uncertain parking
ops for this use trail, this way. Many hikers may prefer to take
the primitive trail or route to the top of Horsetail Falls, and
then head cross-country for the summit, with then no further use
trail at all, over rough, up-and-down, terrain.
Climb: Proceed from the
wide turnout, near the cabins, east along the highway to a embankment
about 100 feet east from the point where the major creek flowing
down unsigned Rocky Canyon goes under the highway. A big, "P.P.
9983" or "T" spray-painted on a few rocks once marked
the approximate location of the start of the use trail. The faint
start of this use trail is more precisely about 15 feet east of
the highway marker "50 ED 59.00."
One may also follow a poor, brushy, rocky use trail that starts on the immediate right (east) side of the same major creek, slightly further west. The aim is to locate the main peak use trail which is not otherwise signed in any way.
Climb up the highway embankment's use trail, and scramble steeply up on then a more distinct use trail, through manzanita and ponderosa pine forest, going both right, then left. A big, fallen log is crossed. As one gets higher, the use trail gets better. Trend generally to the left (west). After about 400 feet gain, one will be slightly above level with the top of the "Hogsback," the lower, major rock formation in front of the cliff face of "Lover's Leap" across the highway. The trail, at this elevation, follows above the right (east) side of Rocky Canyon's major creek. The trail will be quite obvious here. It climbs steeply, with dips, staying well above the creek, then turns up and right (east), then north again, and levels out at an aspen grove at the 7,400 foot elevation. The use trail crosses left (west) here over the creek, through willow thickets, and proceeds roughly northnorthwest above the left fork of the major creek. The use trail may get fainter, but has several diamond and arrow shaped markers on trees to point the way. Some ducks may mark the use trail, also. From about the 8,500' elevation, one heads cross-country, or on use trail, roughly north, straight up to the summit. The large, conical talus slope to the top is generally visible from below. The last 400 feet requires agile, class 2, rock-hopping.
WINTER SKI ASCENT: Follow
the Route B description, using the use trail if free of deep snow.
Otherwise, this approach from the old Twin Bridges site may be
better. The site of the old Twin Bridges store is now a wide,
paved, fee parking area, at the bottom of the major grade and
sharper curves of U.S. 50. Somehow, you may park legally nearby
(there may be some haphazard spots to leave a car), as this official
fee parking area is gated and closed in the off-season and winter.
They do ticket, with plenty of "no parking" or "no
stopping" signs. Once safely and legally parked (if at all
possible), climb and contour cross-country around to the northeast,
going through and up the manzanita covered, southeast slopes of
the peak. You can climb up granite slabs to avoid much of the
brush. The snowline often begins at the canyon rim. Go up northwest
on the peak's southeast ridge to a small saddle at 8,080+ feet
elevation. Sidehill and climb on the left (southwest) slopes through
open forest to the flat area at 9,200 feet elevation. Proceed
to the south ridge (ahead on the left) where most will ski past
the highest stands of low-lying tree cover to a point where the
ridge steepens, and often bare rock is exposed by fierce winds.
Rime ice may be encountered, so ski poles, ice axe, and even crampons
will come in handy. Continue to the highpoint.
In late season, much of this will turn to a ribbon of skiable spring conditions. Sometimes after late February, the entire south slope will be excellent spring snow! In a heavy snow year, the entire route may be skiable at times.
TRIP STATS: Route A, 3,300 feet gain, 6 miles one way; Route B, 4,000 feet gain, 3 miles one way; winter ski ascent, same as Route B.
Notes: Pyramid Peak is the
highest point in Desolation Wilderness. It is the highly recognizable
peak on the Sierra skyline from the Central Valley and the Coast
Range, on a clear day. It is seen as the far peak rising straight
ahead above the eastern portions of Lake Tahoe Boulevard (U.S.
50), and also, it is quite visible from the Nevada side of the
One can climb the peak from a backpack camp in the southern part of Desolation Wilderness. Lake Aloha makes a classic base camp, with the peak visible as the sharp, high peak at the southwestern end of the Lake Aloha basin. One can scramble cross-country to the southern slopes for the easiest way. There are many fees and restrictions on overnight use in Desolation Wilderness. Contact the local ranger stations for more information.
The peak can also be reached cross-country from the Horsetail Falls Trail, going up Pyramid Creek, and passing several lakes---Pitt, Ropi, Osma, Toem, or Gefo. Some slight up-and-down travel over open granite slabs, brush, and small creeks may be necessary.
Some technical routes have been completed on the steeper, even vertical, north side. Early in the season, there may be two narrow, steep, snow gullies which lie on the left of the class 5-6 north face. The top of one gully is near vertical, and offers a short challenge for competent snow climbers.
There is a self-issue, day use, wilderness permit station at the wilderness boundary on the Pyramid Creek/Horsetail Falls route (not the described Route A or B), and also, or perhaps sometimes, Route A. You will be entering the wilderness area, and permits are required for all day and overnight use. To obtain one in person, the only ranger station enroute from the west is perhaps the Pacific House USFS ranger station, a few miles west of Riverton (the junction of the road to Union Valley Reservoir and Loon Lake), or a mile east past Fresh Pond, along U.S. 50. There is a larger USFS office in Placerville, CA. They all have limited hours. By my experience, it may not be possible, at times, to obtain a permit tag. I was told once that the rangers are reasonable, and if you explain why, they may allow your lapse. The fine is severe for unauthorized day and overnight use, though, and all risks are your own.