Dicks Peak

After being flushed out of the eastern Sierra by some unsettled weather I wanted to take advantage of the good weather back home and decided to make a quick jaunt up to Dicks Peak. I opted to take a route which Morgan had recently suggested, starting at Fallen Leaf Lake and cutting from the mid Tallac trail up to Dicks Pass. I was glad to see that the road to Lily Lake was open and parked at the very top of the lot just after 9 am.

As I put on my trailrunners and strapped my skis to my pack another car parked beside me. The driver asked me if we needed day permits and I told him “Yes, but I doubt any ranger will be checking on a Friday before Memorial Day!” He reminded me that it was actually Saturday and I told him where he could get a permit. I decided to risk not grabbing one — I have never encountered a ranger in Desolation Wilderness despite hearing that they do make the circuits.

The trail starts after this flooded section.

I hiked up the fire road that leads from the top of the lot and remembered to take a left before the flooded section to find the trail. I did find a use trail, but it meandered a bit before I found the main trail. Luckily I recalled that the trail generally follows the alignment of the power lines in this section and found it nearby. As I learned later, the actual trail takes a left before a much more substantial section of flooding (one that you would look at and think “how will I get around this?”).

The mid Tallac trail starts to switchback through the talus.

The mid Tallac trail climbs at a moderate angle across some glacially polished slate (with some textbook chatter marks!) before making a few small switchbacks up a talus field and traversing west toward the high meadow. When I drove across the outlet of Lily Lake I’d noticed a few skiers heading toward the south side of the lake and assumed that they were heading for the Hall of the Gods. As I climbed I had a good view of the many chutes on Angora Peak’s north face and thought that it wouldn’t be a bad day to check them out!

Angora Peak’s north chutes still hold a decent amount of snow.

Near the top of the ascending traverse I encountered two snowfields, each about 100 ft across and fairly steep. I was grateful to find someone had already booted across it and gained easy purchase in their boot pack. It appeared that whoever set the pack had used crampons and depending on the time of the day that seemed a wise choice.

A snowfield lies across the trail near the bottom of the high meadow.

After reaching the gully where the mid Tallac trail turns and starts to climb the meadow, I stayed in the gully following a recent bootpack. My goal was to stay as low as possible, reaching Gilmore Lake at its outlet and picking up the trail to Dicks Pass. The forest was delightful and I enjoyed the hike despite the extra concentration needed to negotiate the small suncups.

A sparse forest near Gilmore Lake makes for delightful hiking.

I wasn’t paying too close attention to my location and ended up a couple hundred feet above Gilmore Lake. I spotted the clearing which indicated the lake below me and started jogging down toward it. I was surprised to find solid snow coverage across the whole lake but took advantage of the coverage, jogging across the lake to the southwest corner.

Snow still lies deep on Gilmore Lake.

It was a bit odd running with skis on my back but soon I was on the other side of the lake climbing toward the trail to Dicks Pass. I gained the ridge and had my first view of Jacks and Dicks Peaks and was glad to see that I’d be able to ski from near the summit of Dicks Peak.

Jacks and Dicks Peaks form a recognizable saddle above Half Moon Lake.

I had been hoping that the trail to Dicks Pass might be snow free and easy going so I was less glad to see that the ridge still had fairly complete snow coverage. No worry, I swapped my trailrunners for my boots and clicked into my skis, opting to stow my shoes in my pack since I wasn’t sure I’d return here on the way out.

Wolf Lichen grows on a dead pine; Pyramid Peak beyond.

The traverse was surprisingly pleasant (traverses are never fun on skins) and I gained 1,000 ft in an hour, arriving at 9,400 ft around 12:15 pm. The peak rose steeply from this location and I considered following a few week old bootpacks up the slope. I was still a bit disinterested in booting after our marathon day at Meysan Lake and so decided to continue skinning as long as I could.

When the hill gets steep, the tough keep skinning?

I was able to cut a single switchback on the north face before arriving back atop the ridge where it was more gentle. From here I was able to skin up the ridge to the summit, arriving at 12:45. As from Jacks Peak, the view was stunning. I could see Sierra Buttes all the way to the north and Mokelume to the south. Tallac was particularly unimpressive from this angle.

Emerald point is ready for summer but Dicks Lake still experiences winter.

It was breezy and cold on the summit and I had opted not to bring any layers beside the tshirt and shorts I was wearing. My hands had gotten wet while ripping my skins too, so I was eager to get down and out of the wind. I descended a hundred feet back the way I’d come and billy goated down a 30 foot stretch of talus before reaching the east slope of Dicks Peak. There was already one track descending this slope which seemed to veer right about halfway down so I decided to keep to its left.

Sun cups make for a raucous second half of the descent of Dicks Peak.

The top half of the descent was delightful and the snow was a little too sticky so I got to make some nice wide turns on the way down! Around the halfway point the sun cups and runnels became more severe and made the skiing a bit challenging. While initiating the turn my skis lined up with the ruts and wanted to catch but in the turn they rode fine, so I payed extra attention while my skis were pointed downhill. I considered traversing early, but figured I might as well ski it to the bottom while I was here.

The spring sun takes a toll on the south face of Jacks Peak.

A hundred feet above Half Moon Lake I turned left and started traversing back towards Gilmore Lake since I’d seen that there was a large glide crack above the lake and did not want to fall into it. The drainage is also very flat, so I wanted to save some effort on the return.

Half Moon Lake begins to redefine its shoreline.

I was able to traverse to the far end of Half Moon Lake before switching to skins and starting the climb back towards Gilmore Lake. I found my ascent track after a little while and followed it down the slope, arriving at Gilmore Lake just before 2 pm.

Cumulous clouds build in the Central Valley beyond Pyramid Peak.

I continued skinning on the moderate downhill back to the mid Tallac trail. I found the trail at the same gully where I’d left it several hours earlier and noticed that the snow seemed to continue down the right side of the gully for quite a ways. I considered skiing down this and taking the Glen Alpine road back to Lily Lake, but this would not cut down on the total distance I needed to hike and there was a decent chance I’d need to bushwack to get to the road or that the road would be flooded.

I stopped to switch back to my trailrunners and as I got up to start hiking I met a white haired couple, Will and Susie and their dog, Enya. They warned me that there were a couple steep snow slopes ahead and that I should use caution in trailrunners. I told them I’d been up the trail this morning and that there was already a bootpack in place, which they took credit for! I noticed that they had crampons and axes and realized that they were indeed more prepared than I for such conditions — apparently they’ve been doing laps on the trail every day to try to help it melt out! What heroes!

A snowy gully drops toward Lilly Lake; Angora Peak beyond.

Will and Susie also mentioned that they’d descended the gully yesterday (though by what means, I’m not sure) and that it does go to the road but you’ve got to be careful to make the correct turn. That seemed to affirm the decision I’d already made! I thanked them for their work and we wished each other a good hike as I started jogging down the trail. After another half mile I met a second group of hikers whom Will and Susie had apparently scared away from attempting the snow traverse!

The Freel Group still holds a surprising amount of snow for such a late date.

I arrived back at the car at 3 pm, tossed my backpack in the bed of my truck, and hit the road. Or rather, I tried to. It seemed that in the time I’d been gone the Lily Lake parking had filled to capacity. I had to wait for two different cars to pull out before I made it to the road and there was an incredible amount of traffic on the dilapidated one lane road. I soon realized it was for the raging outlet of Lily Lake which was quite impressive even from the car! If I’d remembered it was a Saturday, I might have thought twice before heading to such a popular spot! Regardless, it was a beautiful trip to the mountains!

Snow Discussion

Avalanche Forecast

https://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/advisory/2019/apr/22/2019-04-22-061900-avalanche-forecast

Snow Observations

  • Normal spring conditions
    • Evidence of recent cornice falls
    • Evidence of recent naturally triggered small wet loose slides
    • Evidence of recent rockfall
  • Snow line at 8,200 ft

GPS Data

Elevation Gain: 4,100 ft

Total distance: 10.61 mi

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