The Desolation Wilderness contains some of the most rugged terrain in the Lake Tahoe basin. The high peaks, Mount Price, Mount Agassiz, and Pyramid Peak, are some of the most barren, rocky, and technical places in the area. I’ve wanted for a few years to do a high traverse of these peaks in a day. Thousands of feet of elevation and miles of talus scrambling would make it a long, albeit satisfying, day for George, Lance, and me.
The first four miles out of the Lyons Creek Trailhead were relatively flat, easy trail. The first bit of uphill for the day came on the climb up to Lyons Lake. Without taking a break, we walked off the trail onto the gradual slopes that feed into the lake. The climbing was easy here, mostly over solid granite and grass, and soon we crested a rise and saw not too far before us the summits of Price and Agassiz.
We headed for Mount Price first, a mere bump in the ridgeline that heads North to South above Lake Aloha and Desolation Valley. In fifteen minutes we were on the top, and views across the Desolation Wilderness welcomed us. Lake Aloha, blue as ever, abutted itself against the more volcanic peaks of the northeastern side of Desolation. We signed the summit register, relaxed for a little while, then continued onto Mount Agassiz.
Most of the traverse from Price to Agassiz was pretty simple cross-country walking. Once in a while, we had to hop over a few boulders, but until we hit the summit block, it was non-technical. The summit block was a class-three maneuver from every side, but it gave us little trouble. The summit itself hangs over the eastern side of the mountain, and if you peer over the edge, it’s a straight drop down into Desolation Valley. We spent a little more time here, knowing that the hike over to Pyramid would take a long time.
After some snacks, we climbed off Agassiz and headed South along the ridge. The whole space between Agassiz and Pyramid must be somewhere around a mile, but it felt like five or six. The rocks were just big enough that we had to climb over them with our hands sometimes, but they weren’t big enough that we could just walk right over them. After walking over this sort of terrain for longer than I care to remember, we reached a small pinnacle in the ridge. We were puzzled at what to do at this point, so Lance went ahead to scout out a route. He came back a few minutes later and told us he found something. There were one or two downclimbing moves that had a good amount of exposure. Lance went first, then spotted George and me as we climbed down the move. Back on solid ground, George gave Lance a bro-hug, and we were on our way.
From here it was only a short climb up to the summit of Pyramid Peak. I climbed it as fast as I could, excited to finish the last bit of uphill for the day. Minutes after I made it to the top, Lance followed, and then George. We had reached the pinnacle of our trip, and all we had to do now was hike down. But first, we signed the summit register and pulled out some food. We enjoyed the views for a half-hour, then began the descent to Lake Sylvia.
With tired bones, climbing down the rocky summit block of Pyramid Peak was exhausting. It only got worse, though, as we reached the saddle on the ridge above Lake Sylvia. From this point to the lake, a use trail was carved into an almost-vertical talus slope. Every step was a big, slippery step down, and it took a lot longer for us to get down to the lake than we thought it would.
By the time we reached the lake, we were running on fumes. We stopped to filter some water, then began the four miles of forest hiking back to the car. We started jogging just to break up the monotony. George eventually began to walk again, and decided to wait for him. I kept running, though, so that I could catch a quick nap in the car before they got back. I did have to drive us back home, after all. After twenty minutes of dozing in the back seat, Lance and George came up to the car, tired and tanned, but in good spirits. We drove back to my aunt’s house in Folsom, feasted on pastrami sandwiches, then drove back to the bay area. This was one of the longer hikes I’ve done, and we were all surprised at how good we felt the next day.