Pyramid Peak, Desolation Wilderness

July 2015

Day 1

We went for a short backpacking trip over the long weekend. The trip was to the Desolation Wilderness near Tahoe. Our goal was to climb Pyramid Peak, and then traverse to Mt Aggassiz and Mt Price, though we only did Pyramid Peak in the end.

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Here is the official boundary line for the Desolation Wilderness.

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And the hike we did on day 2, starting from Lake Sylvia, summiting Pyramid Peak, and back down.

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We left work/school a bit early on Thursday afternoon. We got stuck in double whammy rush hour/long weekend traffic and it took ridiculously long for us to get to our campsite, which was the Fallen Leaf Campground. Fallen Leaf is a small lake right next to Tahoe. Before going to bed we walked down to the lake. I fell in by accident, and then we both went for a dip. It was really nice. There were also tons of crayfish, and I caught one!

Day 2

The next morning we packed up camp and picked up a bear canister at the Visitor’s Center, and then drove around trying to grab a couple things we had forgotten. Then we went to Baldwin Beach on Lake Tahoe for the morning.

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The water was warm compared to the ocean, but still cold (ish).

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We played around in the lake for a while.

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There were gold flecks in the sand that stuck to your skin. They also got stirred up when you were in the lake, so there were little gold flecks all in the water.

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Dmitriy got into taking some photos of the water bottle. I modelled, first as the Loch Ness Monster and then later as a human being.

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Around noon we figured we should head towards our hiking trail. It was only about an 8km hike to Lake Sylvia, where we were planning to camp, so we had decided to hang out in Tahoe for the morning. We stopped for some lunch and then drove out to the Lyons Creek Trailhead.

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Lots of these cool flowers (and wildflowers in general).

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It was super buggy on the trail. In particular, there were tons and tons of horseflies.

There were also lots of butterflies! My favourites were the blue ones.

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You can see his proboscis!

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We stopped on the side of a stream for a snack. Dmitriy had a small nap and I watched caddis flies crawling around in a small pool.

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We saw a marmot.

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First glimpse of the mountains!

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We got to Lake Sylvia. It was super, super buggy. Holey moley! We decided to walk around the perimeter, in an unsuccessful attempt to find a less buggy campsite.

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We set up tent, and then went to put our food somewhere bear-proof. We brought way too much food. Part of it was we were expecting there to be a bear box at the trail head where we could leave excess, but there wasn’t so we took it all with us. We couldn’t fit everything in the bear canister, so we took Dmitriy’s “DNA Day” shirt (we both got free, extremely oversized shirts) and tied it up in a tree with all our food.

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Then we ran into the tent to get away from the mosquitos. We both agreed that this is one of the buggiest places either of us has ever been to. They were really, really bad.

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Except for a brief excursion to eat dinner, we stayed in the tent for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Sunset was pretty.

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We listened to some music and read to pass the time.

Day 3

We woke up probably around 6:30, which is pretty standard for camping trips. It was still super buggy, and I ran out of the tent to grab our food and start some tea water boiling.

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We headed out very early. We were hoping to drive back to Santa Cruz that night, even though we had originally planned to stay one more night. Given that we had spent the entire afternoon/night before hiding from the bugs in our tent, we figured it wasn’t really worth staying an extra night just for the fun of camping.

Dmitriy went to filter some water. Unfortunately the last time we used it we didn’t dry it out properly, so the actual filter and tubing was totally mouldy. The water tasted revolting. Staying hydrated was hard.

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We walked to the lake and planned our route of attack. The goal was to avoid the smaller, more treacherous scree. There was a big hump that was before Pyramid Peak. We climbed most of the way up the hump, and then circled in back of it trying to go along the circumference rather than summit it, since our legs were very tired. In total, we were planning a 2,000ft elevation gain to summit Pyramid Peak.

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It was super hot and humid. The weather forecast was 50% chance of thunderstorms. I had sweat dripping into my eyes.

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Dmitriy and I split up a bit, originally to avoid the person in front kicking scree onto the person below. But then we ended up taking very different routes.

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The face here was all scree, but after a ledge there was a bit more dirt to walk on, and the going was easier.

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Dmitriy had the ultimate illustration of the fact that plastic logos on shirts get extra sweaty.

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The view was beautiful, though surprisingly un-Sierra-esque (rolling green hills rather than sharp rocky peaks).

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There were tons of cool wildflowers. These little pink ones were some of my favourites because they looked just like pom-poms.

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As we kept going around the mountain, the view changed pretty dramatically. We also realized there was a massive thunder & lightening storm over Tahoe. The bolts were quite spectacular. We were pretty worried about whether it was going to come our way, but we decided to push ahead unless we saw it was coming our way.

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Below is Lake Aloha, which probably would have been a much better place to camp than Lake Sylvia.

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As we kept going around the hump, we came to the realization that we were actually now on Pyramid Peak, and we should start climbing up. This was mostly because we realized all the peaks around us were smaller, and Pyramid Peak is the tallest one in the area.

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We got to the top!

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There was a box up there with notebooks in it, and people would write little messages about their ascents. Here are a couple of my favourites:

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More peak photos.

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There was snow! It was not remotely cold.

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We decided to push onwards towards Mt Aggassiz. Here is the route we took (we did not make it to Aggassiz in the end because of the weather).

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While this photo is blurry, it shows pretty well what our descent looked like. Our route was along the ridge to Mt Aggassiz. It was actually a lot better than it looked.

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This is my favourite photo from the trip. I like that the mountain on the right looks a little like a volcano erupting.

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There were some very cool lichens growing on the rocks.

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The ridge was actually not as scary as it looked from above.

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At one point, we actually had to do a bit of climbing (only about 10ft).

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Rocks sticking out from the ridge.

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This is about when we started hearing giant, rumbling thunderclaps. The clouds were starting to get dark overhead and the wind had picked up. We decided to go back to camp, which was a bit disappointing but definitely the right decision to make. We were very exposed on the ridge, and the scree was already slippery without getting rained on. We were also pretty exhausted, and undoubtedly somewhat dehydrated (our water tasted like mould). We started scurrying down as quickly as possible.

Views on the descent:

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We found some snow!

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Looking back up at Pyramid Peak.

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Wierd patterns on the rocks.

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Back in the tent! (Hiding from the mosquitos)

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We hiked back down to the trailhead, which took about two hours. It rained.

Back in Santa Cruz, we had just enough time to shower, unpack, and eat before heading to the Scotts Valley fireworks show, which was the only one in all of Santa Cruz county. The whole area was packed! The fireworks were great, especially the finale, where they set off a bijillion fireworks all at the same time.