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Echo Peak - Backcountry Skiing in the Desolation Wilderness

Published by 360 Pro , 14 February 2014, 04h57.

Region: World » United States » California
Date of the hike:12 February 2014
Ski grading: PD+
Geo-Tags: USA   US-CA   Desolation Wilderness 
Height gain: 600 m 1968 ft.
Height loss: 600 m 1968 ft.
Access to start point:A little West of Echo Summit on Highway 50 on the north side at Echo Lake Road (Brown sign Sno-Park)

SNO-PARK Pass Parking Permit required (5$ per day or 25$ for a season pass)
Check this link for details and how to purchase the permit online

When I left the house in the morning my plan was to do a ski tour to Ralston Peak. However, on site the avalanche conditions on the Northern slopes of Ralston Peak seemed unsafe. Therefore, I decided to visit Echo Peak instead. The danger for avalanches was predicted to be "Moderate", but after I saw a small avalanche, it didn't seem like a good idea to rock the steep northern flank of Ralston Peak, so I chose to visit the less steep Echo Peak and ski it's South face instead.

Today parking is not supposed to be a problem, because I decide to leave my car at the Echo Lake Sno-Park. However, after all the snow the Sierra got last weekend, the official parking lot isn't really properly plowed yet. Without a 4x4, it is tricky for me to park there under these conditions and not get stuck in the snow, but somehow I manage. I put my skis on right there because there's plenty of the white stuff and head up to Echo Lake. In fact I make  a little detour to the "Echo Lake Village" and also enjoy the nice view which some of the houses there can "enjoy". After my little detour I then follow the main path to Echo Lake (the main summer road, now covered in 3 feet of snow).

At the (Lower) Echo Lake I test and inspect the ice and then ski along the left side to the Upper Echo Lake and continue to it's end. At this point my goal is still Ralston Peak via it's N/NE ridge, so I continue towards Ralston Lake. At "Camp Harvey West" I look at the northern slopes of my goal, and see a very fresh avalanche pretty much there where I planned to eventually ski down. Together with the very strong winds and the connected snowdrift, I decide to not risk anything and skip Ralston Peak today and save it for a later day. However, I don't feel like going home already so I check my map for a alternate goal. Echo Peak which is pretty exactly NE of me has south facing slopes and I can get to the top via a route which is less than 30 degrees steep.

The south facing slopes are actually already spring like and hard, only in one or two places where the sun didn't get to yet the crust doesn't carry me. Amazing, because it was only sunny for one day after the big snowfall on the weekend - I guess the Californian sun is way stronger than the Swiss :-) I get to the summit of Echo Peak without any problems, except up here the wind almost blows me off my skis. There was a wind advisory for the Tahoe area in the forecast with wind gusts up to 50 mph and those can throw you on the ground! Therefore, I only stay on the summit for a short time, even though the view to Lake Tahoe is spectacular, but I am afraid to be blown down the mountain. A little bit down in the south flank behind a few trees I find a place where I'm protected from the worst gusts and take my lunch break.

Since the south facing slopes seem to be unproblematic regarding the danger of avalanches, I decide to ski down directly to Upper Echo Lake. The steepness here is always somewhere around 30 degrees or a little more and in a few places almost 35 degrees. The temperature and snow does feel like spring! Too soon the actual downhill skiing part is over and I put my skins back onto my skis to get back to the parking lot via the same route I came.

Hike partners: 360

Click to draw, click on the last point to end drawing


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