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General Information: In 1776 when Father Pedro Font, a missionary with the Anza expedition, stood on a hill near San Francisco looking east and wrote of "una gran sierra nevada" - a great snowy mountain - he might well have been looking at Pyramid Peak. Driving into the Sierra on Highway 50, Pyramid Peak is the most dramatic of the distant mountains with its sharp, angular profile and white, snowy cap. At 9983 feet, Pyramid is one of the highest peaks in the Tahoe area and deserves the attention it gets from mountaineers. Its broad western and southern slopes contrast greatly with its precipitous northern slopes. As a peak climb, Pyramid presents no technical difficulties, yet many are surprised by the effort required to reach the summit. This is due to the over 4000 feet of elevation gain over just 3 miles which translates into an average 23% grade!

There are three primary routes to the summit: Horsetail Canyon, Rocky Canyon, and Lake Sylvia. Of these three routes, Rocky Canyon presents the quickest and most direct way up the mountain. Horesetail canyon involves some tricky route-finding, and Lake Sylvia is best done as an overnight.



Where To Start:

Horsetail Canyon: Just a mile or so east of Strawberry at Twin Bridges on Highway 50 there is a large parking area on a sweeping curve. Park here and locate the Horsetail Falls trail on the west side of Horsetail Creek.

Rocky Canyon: Coming from Lake Tahoe, just past Twin Bridges a passing lane begins. Just after the passing lane ends, a creek flows beneath Highway 50. Park at the turnout just past the bridge over the creek. The trail starts on the eastern side of the creek.

Lake Silvia: The approach for this route starts at Wrights Lake, a few miles west of Lake Silvia. Park in a dirt lot at Wrights Lake. Since the fires and subsequent landslides of a few years ago, getting to Wrights Lake is more difficult, especially from Lake Tahoe. It is now necessary to take Ice House Road for about 4 or 5 miles, turning east near the reservoir for Wrights Lake.

Trail Description: Rocky Canyon: From the east side of the stream, find an indisctinct trail that parallels the watercourse. The trail winds and switch-backs through mixed coniferous forest for about 2 miles gaining 2300 feet. In the winter skins are absolutely essential to attempt this route. As you climb above 8200', the forest will begin to thin and the stream will fade and eventually disappear. From the head of Rocky Canyon, head almost directly north across open forest. You may come across small ponds or even an old plane crash as you climb toward the ridge that falls off Pyramid's southeast corner. From this side, the climb is steady, but never terribly steep. If you head too far east, you will quickly come to a steep precipous that will keep you from getting too lost. Continue up the broad valley until you emerge from the trees onto the rocky upper slopes of the mountain. From here, the route is obvious...up! As you near the summit, you will cross a large boulder field of loose, angular rocks. Be careful not to twist an ankle on the shifing boulders. The last 1/2 mile climbs over 1000 feet across this bone-jarring terrain.

From the top of Pyramid, the climber is rewarded with inspiring views across Desolation Wilderness to the north and west, including, Lake Aloha and Dick's Peak. To the south are the mountains and ridges of the Mokolumne and beyond. While to the west, on a clear day, one can see the Seirra Buttes and Mt. Diablo, not to mention the central valley and the coastal range.

In the summer, just reverse you climb. By starting your descent down the southeast ridge, you can be sure to stay far enough east that you do not cross over into the Forni Creek drainage. We have known parties that have done this and ended up with long walk (or difficult hitchhike) back to their car. Once in Rocky Canyon, stay on the east side of the stream. The trail can be indistinct in places, but as long as you stay in the drainage, you can't go seriously wrong...except for those darn bushes! The descent on skiis is fast, yet never too steep, especially on the open, upper slopes. The southern exposure can make for some crusty, heavy crud if the snow has warmed up but not yet corned. The most difficult part is actually negotiating the fairly steep tree section along Rocky Canyon. Avoid the temptation to get out of the canyon and onto the ridge where, although the skiing is more open, the avalanche danger can be extreme.

Both the Horsetail Falls and Sylvia Lake approach are only attempted in the summer. The ascent on the Horsetail Falls route is exposed to extreme avalanche danger, while Wrights Lake, the starting point for the Sylvia Lake route is snowed in through May. In the summer both routes offer an interesting alternative to the more popular Rocky Canyon trail.

Horsetail Falls Route: Follow the Horsetail Falls trail along the west side of Pyramid Creek as it marches its way up the steep Horsetail Canyon. Before Horsetail Falls at about the 7000' elevation, head off trail in a northwesterly direction. The hiking here has sections of 3rd class climbing that may prove scary for non-climbers. Poor route-finding as you climb out of the Horsetail Canyon can lead to some harrowing, even dangerous scrambling. After 400' of steep scrambling, the terrain levels somewhat and tops out on a rocky knoll. From here, you'll pass numerous small lakes and ponds. Your goal is to find the easiest route up the ridge to the west. There are several fairly easy routes, but again, poor route selection can make for a more difficult ascent. Once on top of the ridge, follow it to the northwest across a loose boulder field to the summit. To descend, reverse your climb.

Lake Sylvia Route: Follow the Bloodsucker Lake trail to the Lyons trail to Lake Sylvia. Alternatively, you can take the Twin Lakes trail to the Hemlock Lake trail to Lyons Lake, then cross country to Lake Sylvia. This route is shorter, but requires a little bit of off-trail hiking. Once at Lake Sylvia, you have already climbed to the 8050' elevation level and have less than 2000 vertical feet to the summit. Of course, you have hiked nearly 5 miles as well! From Lake Sylvia, attain the prominent ridge to the southeast by scrambling up the side of the ridge to the saddle between Peak 8662 and Pyramid. Once on the ridge, it is a straight shot to the summit. To descend, reverse your climb.

Environmental Concerns: The high alpine environment is extremely fragile. Try to avoid tramping wildflowers and bushes as they take years to regrow. As always, please be sure to pack out all that you pack in.

Advisory: Pyramid has had its fair share of all night search parties out at all times of year looking for lost or overdue hikers or skiers. It is a big area and the route finding is not always straight forward. For this reason, this is truly an advanced peak. If you are not comfortable hiking off trail using map and compass to route-find, you should not attempt this mountain. In addition, in the winter, changeable weather and avalanche conditions can introduce a distinct element of risk that the skier/boarder/snow-shoer accepts by stepping foot on the mountain.

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