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Granite Chief previously climbed Sun, Mar 14, 2004|
It wasn't an early start by any means. I suppose if I had gotten out a few hour earlier, I could have tagged another peak or two, but it was still a pretty long day. I got a ride to the Squaw parking lot with some friends who were skiing/snowboarding that day, then hoofed it over to the Olympic Village Inn and started up Shirley Canyon just before 11a. There were other boot and snowshoe prints packed into the snow at the trailhead, but these thinned out considerably within half a mile. I followed up the main canyon for only a short while before veering more north towards Silver Peak. It took less than an hour and a half to climb to the summit via the SE Ridge. Though steep in places, the snow was in excellent condition for climbing in snowshoes, providing good purchase for the aluminum teeth to bite in. From the summit, one has a panoramic view of the Squaw Valley resort across the canyon to the south, hundreds of skiers visible as small ants plying their way down the various slopes and riding the lifts back up. It was in marked contrast to the solitude and mostly untracked snow around me (there had been a few previous visitors, at least one snowmobile, and a number of small critters' tracks in the area).
From the summit of Silver Peak I headed west towards the Sierra Crest, the only real obstacle being the intermediate Pt. 8,426ft on an otherwise tame ridgeline. It was easy enough to climb up it from the east, but cliffs were found trying to get around the south side, and scary-steep snow slopes around to the north. From the very top I was able to just pick my way down the west side by taking my snowshoes off and dancing gingerly around the ice, snow, and rocks. It turned out to be the hardest part of the entire route at low class 3. Once at the crest a fine view was to be had over the west side into the drainage of the American River, as well as nice views of Tinker Knob to the northwest and Granite Chief to the southwest. Turning south, I followed the crest down to a saddle near Mountain Meadow Lake (I've never actually seen the lake because it's always been buried in snow on three visits to the area), then started up towards Granite Chief. Along the way I crossed into the ski area boundary (actually I was right on the edge) and came across several groups of skiers traversing to a remote run called "Smoothie." I talked with a few of them. Naturally they were more surprised to see me than the other way around.
The steep North Ridge of Granite Chief proved considerably easier than my previous visit, the snow consolidated nicely but without ice. I had switched to crampons before it got too steep, leaving the snowshoes strapped to my pack where they remained for the rest of the day. I probably could have left them back in the car if I had I known the conditions along the route. Arriving around 2:45p, I had the summit of Granite Chief to myself. The skiers' climb from the top of the the Granite Chief chairlift was closed for the day as it had been the whole week. The north side of the peak and the steep chutes found there were out of condition, being hard-packed and deadly to ski on (they looked like they'd make for a fine couloir ascent, however). After taking a few pictures, I headed down the SE Ridge, skirting the ski area boundary to the south through the trees in order to avoid the skiers getting off the top of the lift. Continuing east to Emigrant Peak (the unofficial name of the modest highpoint just north of the Emigrant chairlift), I again crossed into the ski area, being careful to stay out of the way of skiers coming down the backside from the Emigrant lift. My intrusion on the ski area property left me in a fuzzy legal position and I didn't want to do anything to give the ski patrol reason to eject me. I know that they have the responsibility for the safety of their paying customers, but the land isn't exactly private property since it's leased from the Forest Service. My previous experience on winter climbing in ski areas is to stay out of peoples' way and you're likely to be left alone.
It took only 20 minutes to traverse from Granite Chief to Emigrant Peak, and it was here that I took the only break of the day, a short few minutes to eat a granola bar and drink some water while I rested. Continuing south along the edge of the ski area, I came to a shallow saddle with a small monument marking the old Emigrant Pass (labeled "Watson Monument Emigrant Pass Marker" on the 7.5' topo). I took a few pictures, chatted briefly with a skier who happened by, then continued on. I skirted the east side of cliffy Pt. 8,797ft on mostly dry boulders, came to another saddle north of the Siberia Express chairlift, then picked up a service road on the west side of the crest, just outside the boundary. I followed this up to where it rejoined the crest just above the Siberia lift, and was greeted by the first ski patrol member of several I would meet along the way. He was friendly enough, seeming more concerned for my safety than my trespassing, as he asked me where I was heading. He warned me that the east side of Squaw Peak, my next destination, had icy conditions, but seemed content to see that I was wearing crampons and prepared for it. We parted with a wave after a few last words.
Reaching the top of Squaw Peak from the northwest was almost trivial and in five minutes I was on top. The summit seems to have been almost shamefully bulldozed to create a flat space taking up several acres. Atop it was an array of antennae appearing to be for aviation navigation, along with a handful of other communications towers. I paused at the north edge of the summit to look down several of the infamous couloirs on this section of the resort known as The Palisades. The chutes are near vertical at the top and only skiable under the right conditions. Most of the time they are closed, but occasionally they are made accessible for those willing to climb from the top of either the Siberia Express or Headwall Express chairlifts. In my younger days when I would ski and snowboard almost anything at a ski area, I never quite got up the nerve to try my hand at The Palisades - they were among the most extreme chutes I had ever encountered at a resort. In the condition they were currently, I wouldn't even have wanted to climb them with crampons and axe.
Heading northeast towards the Headwall chair, it was now past 4p and the last of the chairlifts had ground to a halt, and the skiers were starting to clear the mountain. The Northeast Ridge wasn't so much icy as it was rather narrow and steep - I would have been quite frightened trying to descend without crampons. At one point there is an old steel ladder some 20 feet in length up the steepest part of the ridge - it must be fun to climb it with ski boots, skis balanced across one's shoulder. I descended the ladder carefully with my crampons, then continued past the Headwall lift heading east down the groomed service road.
Not far below the chairlift I was overtaken by another ski patroller. He asked where I was heading (KT-22) and where I had come from (Granite Chief). "Oh, so you're the guy..." was his response to my answers. I guess they had been tracking my progress via radio for some time. He seemed OK with it all, but just as he skied off he threw out a parting comment, "You know you're on private property, right?" He was out of sight before I had time to comment about it being "leased," not "private," but I was actually glad he didn't stick around to initiate the debate lest I should find myself more than just a nuisance.
Continuing east, I descended to a saddle then up the groomed road to KT-22. The chair on that peak reaches to about 80ft below the summit, the last bit of elevation left untrammeled by the ski corporation. Though mostly snowfree on the southern exposure, it was rather steep to climb. A short ladder is there to help up the intial step off the road, then an old steel cable strung through poles can be used to aid the ascent up much the steepest portion of the summit. It appears this might have been constructed as an aid for skiers to access a steep couloir off the north side of the summit. I took off my crampons and left my pack near the ladder before climbing to the top, conditions making the ascent only a hard class 2 at the worst (with ski boots it could be a different story, thus the ladder and cable).
After descending, I once again donned the crampons and continued east, around the Olympic Lady chair and then northeast to the Red Dog chair. Snow cats had started up the slopes heading towards Snow King, the next (unofficially) named peak along the traverse. I decided to give the huge grooming machines a wide berth (another reason they might not want me on the mountain), and descended to the northeast, first down a mogul run, then through the trees, eventually dropping 1,200ft to the meadow below. Some late afternoon sledders were found on the slopes just above the meadow, as were a few cross-country skiers out for a few last laps around the track before the sun would set. Our cabin was located at the far northeast end of Squaw Meadow, some two miles distance. I was fairly tired by this point, having done something like 5,000ft of elevation over more than ten miles, but I was still enjoying the snow, the chilly air, the whiteness of the scenes around me. A very fine day indeed...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Silver Peak - Granite Chief
This page last updated: Wed Apr 2 12:23:56 2008
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