‘Location: Desolation Wilderness – Lake Tahoe, CA
Duration: 4 – 6 hours
Elevation Change: 3,474′ – from 6,500′ to 9,974′
Recomended Map: Desolation Wilderness Trail Map by Tom Harrison, USGS Topographic Map 7.5 Minute Series: Emerald Bay, California & Rockbound Valley, CA
Map of General Route:
Dick’s Peak is a highly recommended pilgrimage for experienced backcountry skiers. It is right in the middle of Desolation Wilderness, yet not too difficult to reach. Dick’s is fun to visit from a different route each time and test your understanding of the terrain out there. I don’t always make it to Dick’s either, as I gauge the snow conditions and weather, I find that day en route. You don’t just glide back out of Dick’s. Strong parties will spend 8 -10 hours round trip. Next time I go out there I will get the mileage from Gaia and also double check my 5k vert estimate to ski Dick’s Properly. It’s only 3000′ of climbing to summit Dick’s Peak from the Eagle Lake Trailhead, but you’ll want to climb a few peaks to ski as well on the return. Otherwise, it’s just too much pushing and schlogging to justify the 2000′ ski descent above Dick’s Lake, which is often wind scoured. Sound great? It is. Keep reading, you’re doin’ it.
Expect about 4-5 hours to reach the summit and almost that much time to return if you take my advice to ski over Kalmia and Maggie’s South on the way back. I basically following the summer trails to Dick’s Lake from either Bayview Trailhead or Eagle Lake Trailhead. I have gone from Tallac as well a few times. I’d say the most scenic and easiest route is from Eagle Lake Trailhead, but you need a healthy snowpack first. You’ll know when you get there. If it looks bad, drive around Emerald Bay a little higher and start at Bayview. Both of these routes join before you reach Dick’s Lake. From there skin up to a col on the east ridge of Dick’s that is pretty obvious, and then walk to the summit with your skis on your backpack. Sometimes there is enough snow on the north face of Dick’s Peak where you can skin up the left side to a point pretty close to the summit, and just carry your skis in your hands for the final bit.
I use all the tools and tricks for a Dick’s Peak loop. Start extra early to leave room for error or route changes. Go light for sure. Keep putting snow in your wide mouth nalgene bottle. Don’t bother going that far if the snow is showing signs of junk conditions. Be flexible with your objectives for the day. Don’t invite anyone slower than you. Bring your ski crampons, most of the terrain is exposed to sun and wind. Understand the terrain with shorter tours in that direction. First ski Maggie’s. Then ski Kalmia. Learn the few ways to get back to your car from Kalmia Peak. Some are faster than others, but offer less turns. Consider bringing Kicker skins for your group if the snow is firm. They would speed up the section between the north end of Kalmia Ridge and the far south side of Dick’s Lake. No biggie to push on ski bases or use full length skins, but I think they are cool.
If you like to do things the hard way, take the epic ridge tour from top of Mt. Tallac’s Bowl. You can see Dicks from there nicely, but you’ll be going up and down a fair bit with some ski carrying transitions. In the springtime, you might be taking your skis on and off too much. Or maybe the ridge can be walked fast due to lack of snow. Like other tour plan ideas to Dicks’s, you might want to stash your partners car Bayview or Eagle Lake Trailhead for some return options. This helps you learn more terrain. And a final way to ski Dick’s could be viewed as hard or easy, I’m not sure. Just go camp at Dick’s Lake and have your pick of snow conditions and aspects all around you. I prefer to reserve overnight ski touring for objectives that I can’t easily ski in one day. But I’m old and full of scar tissue. Sleeping on the ground in a narrow sleeping bag is not where I get real sleep. I do however like sleeping out in Desolation once every year to get just a little further than Dick’s. The setting at Dick’s Lake is truly beautiful and worthy of a camp.
Here are some random notes about skiing Dick’s Peak:
The north side of Dick’s is often wind scoured, but not so steep that it matters. You’ll know what you are info as you climb the ridge. I usually find bad snow on Dick’s north side and traverse back on skis up high to re-start my descent over on the long steep slope above the south end of Dick’s Peak. This slope doesn’t get the wind nearly as bad, which also means your avalanche awareness needs to tune in more.
The south side of Dick’s Peak offers a nice supportive crust that feels like corn at many times of the year. The top will be scoured and rocky, but you can ski around that stuff or walk down a little to start. Skiing down to Half Moon Lake on the south side is a really long and fun run. At that point I skin up on an angle headed for the summit of kalmia, which is your only choice.
One time I skipped the south face of Dick’s and traversed over to the summit of Jack’s, where you can try your luck on the east exposure that rolls you down to Half Moon Lake.
There is no escape from the wind on top of Dick’s. Dress for skiing down before you get up there if it’s windy. The view is tremendous. looking south at the Crystal Range. Check out the little couloir on the north side of Mt. Price, right above Clyde Lake. Go ski that from the Glenn Alpine Trailhead when USFS finally opens the access gate in late spring.
Not sure you are ready to ski Dick’s Peak? Or any full day ski tour with some left and right turns to find the thing? Go in the summer first. I love seeing my ski tours in the summer and vice versa. Most ski tours in this guide are also a beautiful, uncrowded wonderland you can go enjoy with a lighter pack and more comfortable shoes. Grab your better half, a dog, your neighbor, or just put the headphones on and zone out on a tour to Dick’s Peak.
Use navigation aids like Gaia on your phone and bring the Tom Harrison Desolation Wilderness Map.
Returning to your car at Bayview Trailhead via the Cascade Lake Drainage or Eagle Lake requires a fairly healthy mid- season snowpack. Returning through the Maggie’s Peak saddle to Bayview Trailhead is a bit more effort, but will be doable with less snow. If you go that way, you don’t have to summit Maggie’s….but give it a try. I like to ski from the summit of Kalmia, and Maggie’s South Peak when I go out there, but that may not be wise or offer worthy afternoon snow.
A few years ago I went out there with Stevie and Jehren “code blue” Boehm. Jehren skinned the whole way from car to summit on Snowblades with Dynafit bindings. He kind of blew me and Stevie away. He skied better than we did down the south side of the peak and got into some Kalmia chutes we had to ski around. Then he walked through isothermal snowpack in manzanita bushes in the Cascade Drainage laughing the whole way to the car in front of us. I’ll find those pics and post em below.
Some pics from a great tour I did 3/16/16 with Danny and Colin from our shop and my neighbor Annika. Stellar day with the trio north facing slope return of Dick’s, Janine, and Maggie’s.
on 3-28-18 I got in another glorious North Desolation Wilderness Tour with Jules, Peter Leh, Rich Meyer, and Shane Jones. I usually do the same loop because it is super duper awesome. We went through Maggies saddle from the Bayview Trailhead, even though there probably is still enough snow to easily skin from Eagle Lake. There just isn’t enough snow to easily ski back down to the car at that spot without scraping some rocks. We glided down and skinned around the north toe of the Janine Ridge, and hung out at Dick’s Lake for awhile checking out the aftermath… Read more »
These pics are from a day in early Feb 11, 2019 during record breaking 330″ snowfall month we call Februburied. Rich Nikki and I only intended to get out to the Janine Ridge for a view of Dick’s. We went through Eagle Lake and took a run above the lake first while waiting for a weather window to justify going above tree line for the view I like of Dick’s. There is a sweet full view of Dick’s Peak and Dick’s Lake ONLY from the north end of the Janine Ridge. Anywhere else along the ridge will provide a longer… Read more »
Tallac to Eagle Falls Trailhead, May 1, 2019
This was a great shop crew day last year maybe Jan 18, 2022. This was a low snow year but we got some fat huge dump around Christmas as usual. I expected to ski the south side in a big push with a big group. Fast forward to best part of this post- closet coulda-been-pro-athlete Greg Clark decides last minute he wants to come. He skis backcountry once every few years, and doesn’t do cardio sports. He doesn’t need any training to bust out a 9 hour ski tour apparently. Same thing when I took him climbing. Now that he… Read more »
Proud dad day here, April 20, 2020. My son Ryder age 17 had no problem skiing my 3 peaks Dicks’s loop. He hadn’t done a ton of touring, just a Tahoe kid with a few years of Squaw Big Mountain Team and maybe 10 short day tours with the family. After this one we hit Lassen and Shasta together. Then he moved to the beach to go to college and started a band. Hope he comes back. I never came back.