Hike: Ralston Peak (Desolation WIlderness)

Though the whole world seemed to be out to drive around Lake Tahoe – and rightfully so, the aspens were incredible – it seems like the low nighttime temps (<30 deg.) have scared most people out of the backcountry.


A shame, since days were hitting that perfect “room temperature” feeling (at least as long as one was out of the the wind), skies were clear, and fall colors juxtaposed with white snow at elevation was beautiful.

After doing some climbing, we finally got ourselves to the Ralston Peak trailhead at Camp Sacramento off Hwy. 50 east of Kyburz.

Whoever broke this trail had two perverted tendencies: to needlessly gain and lose elevation while roughly paralleling a ridgeline, and forgoing switchbacks in favor of climbing straight up sandy washes. Hiss.  Boo.

Ralston peak trail is about 4 miles, o/w, from the trailhead and puts on a not-insignificant 2800 ft. of vertical.

I broke the hike down like this: first 2/3 = blah, last 1/3 = worthwhile. The first 2/3 earn their tepid response based pretty much on my very personal ambivalence towards pine forests, and that is precisely how you spend the better portion of the hike. Yes, you have occasional south/southwest views to Lover’s Leap and some snowcapped peaks, but it’s just not enough for me.


I’m partial to alpine meadows and getting above treeline. After gaining the major east/west crest around 8500′, things get better for a guy like me: traversing open grassy cirques/bowls, exfoliated granite aprons, talus, all that.

The final 1/2 mile or so up to Ralston Peak is cross-country, though impacted and obvious as you’re following the eastbound ridgeline to it’s high point.

The view from the summit takes in the majority of Desolation Wilderness. This was my first trip to Desolation and I really had no idea just how small this area is. It’s incredible to be able to see something more or less in its entirety. At about 100 square miles, this, the nation’s most used designated wilderness, faces a tough combination for future preservation.

View NNW from Ralson Peak


View NNE from Ralston Peak

Western aspects were still holding about a foot of snow, northern slopes a few inches, east and south had patches.

We spent about 15 minutes on the summit, taking in the views to Lake Aloha, Fallen Leaf Lake, and out to Lake Tahoe. The lake effect wind eventually won and sent us back down, for a round trip time of 3 hours.



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