Hiking Stats as of 11/17/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Oct 12, 2013 - Granite Chief / Needle Peak / Lyon Peak


Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 15.59 miles

Elevation Gain: 4,586 feet

Trip Time: 7:33

Maps and Stats:
For this weekend's hike Kyle and I expanded our acceptable driving distance and turned our attention towards Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games and just short of a 3 hour drive from my house to the Olympic Village just north of Lake Tahoe. We met up at the Fry's in Roseville and arrived at the Squaw Valley Resort at 10:30. The day's objectives included a trio of OGUL and WSC peaks in Granite Chief, Needle Peak and Lyon Peak (with Granite Chief also an SPS listed peak). Bagging all 3 would give me a nice boost in my quest for OGUL and WSC Emblem status, giving me 19 WSC Summits, 13 OGUL summits and 14 SPS Summits.

We parked at the massive parking complex in the Olympic Village, which was nearly empty. I had researched this trip online, and parked at the extreme northwest corner of the lot in order to be close to the nearly hidden Granite Chief trailhead across the street adjacent to a fire station. The Granite Chief trail is at first a collection of several use trails that seem to intersect at various locations. By staying on what looked to be the main trail we were able to avoid too much confustion as we made our way up the hillside. The whole way up the ski lifts for Squaw valley are visible to the left, serving as a measurement by which you can track your upward progress. The trail loops around and connects with the PCT which then heads off towards the ski area. After a couple of hours we were next to Granite Chief, although this did not look like the way up. We stayed on the PCT as it wound its way up towards the ski lift, eventually topping out right where we could have gotten in 10 minutes if it were a few months later and we paid for a lift ticket.

At this point there is a large sign indicating that you are at about 8,500 feet high (after starting around 6,200) with directional arrows pointing out the way to Granite Chief. The ascent of Granite Chief is quite easy for being an SPS peak - we basically strolled up the sandy slope. I suppose the sand made it a bit more difficult, as each step was reduced by half due to the frequent sliding but with a bit of patience the summit is quite easily reached. The views from the top are excellent, ranging from Lake Tahoe to Tinker Knob (where we were a few weeks ago) to the other peaks of the Sierra. After locating the Summit Marker, signing the register and getting a summit shot of myself and Kyle we began our trek over towards Needle Peak. I was quite anxious to get off the exposed summit, as the wind was quite chilly. We could see Needle Peak a couple of miles away, although we did not know exactly how we would get there.

After downclimbing the rocky side of Granite Chief, we started on the fairly easy traverse of the first potion of the trip over towards Needle Peak. At first the hardest part was that there are several subsidiary peaks, and we wound up ascending a couple of them thinking that was the correct way to get to Needle Peak only to see we weren't really that close. This was little more than annoyance, however, and the trickiest part of the day was coming into view as we approached the rocky walls surrounding Needle Peak. From afar it appeared that Needle Peak was just a large rock outcrop, but as we got closer we learned that there were several walls that were guarding the summit. We scaled the first wall only to see that an impregnable wall stood before us. I had thought we needed to keep left in order to avoid the steep slopes on the right, however, it did not appear that going left would work in this case so we decided to carefully traverse the upper slope on the right. We set off on the traverse and took great care to stay as close to the rock wall as possible in order to hold it for extra support. The traverse wound up looking worse than it actually was. This location did offer some spectacular views which we had not had from the ridgeline above, making our decision to go this way seem even better. Once we got past the rock wall we climbed back up to the ridgeline to see what would be next.

When we regained the ridgeline we were a bit concerned with what was in front of us. While we had finally got past all of the outer walls, the actual summit blocks looked rather formidable. We angled around to the left, thinking that might offer something a bit more reasonable. It turned out that we were right, as we found a 3rd class route. After only a few tricky moves we were up on top. The views from on top of Needle Peak were equal to those from Granite Chief - views back towards Granite Chief and the opposite direction towards our next summit at Lyon Peak were my favorites. After locating the summit marker we were pleasantly surprised by the contents of the summit register. While the register on Granite Chief was signed on a regular basis, Needle Peak saw much fewer visitors. The register dated back to 2204, where I found 2 familiar names on the very first (moldy) page - Pete Yamagata from www.petesthousandpeaks.com and Bob Burd, who had done this same hike as a snowshoe climb as chronicled at http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_reports/granite_chief_2.html. Browsing years of climbing history in one register, we located the name of John Fedak, who also did this exact climb as documented on his webpage at http://www.fedak.net/albums/GraniteChief-page1.html. We added our names to the register, and then descended back down to the ridgeline as we made our way over towards Lyon Peak.

After the sandy slope of Granite Chief and the 3rd class rock of Needle Peak, we weren't sure what we would find on Lyon Peak. The traverse across the ridgeline was thankfully pretty easy, as we started worrying about losing the daylight. We got to the bottom of the summit climb in short order, and looked up at a long line of talus and rubble. This presented no problem, and we made our way up and reached the summit just after 3PM. We didn't have long to linger, so we took a few shots - back to Granite Chief and Needle Peak and towards a far off lake reflecting the late afternoon sunlight back at us. We located the summit register which turned out to even be more of an historical find than what was on Needle Peak. The 23 year old register was from 1991, and this simple notebook was still not yet full. In browsing the logs it seems that the peak sees only a few visitors each month. We added our names to the record and then set off on the return trip.

This was an out and back hike, so we knew where we were headed. What we didn't want to have to do was to have to climb up and down all of the little peaks on the ridge, and we really didn't want to have to traverse the rocky slopes next to Needle Peak again. So we dropped way off to the West side of the ridgeline (the left side as we were coming up, the right side on the way back). This proved to be mildly successful, with easier trekking but being off the ridgeline we had some difficult stretches that couldn't be easily avoided. As we continued on we could see Needle Peak well above us. Eventually we had to descend much further down the hillside, as tons of rocks and brush were too difficult for us to get through. Much to our surprise we ran into a trail close to the 8,200 foot level which wound up being a much easier way to go. Looking back on the trip the best way to do these peaks is to follow the ridgeline as we did on the way up, but then drop all the way down to this trail immediately after. The trail eventually connected back with the PCT, and we were then able to follow the PCT as it rose back up and over the ski lift area and back to the other side of Granite Chief. We followed the PCT to the Granite Chief Trail, and then took that back down, stopping infrequently to ensure we were back to the car before dark. Along the way down we couldn't help but laugh at a giant cairn) which could probably be seen from quite far below. The trail was certainly well defined enough to render such construction virtually pointless. Anyway, we descended as the sun set. We made it back to the car a little after 6 PM, tired and satisfied after another enjoyable day in the Sierra.

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