Mount Ralston is the largest peak on a long ridgeline that runs from Lower Echo Lake to Lake of the Woods. Situated on the southern end of Desolation Wilderness, Mount Ralston offers great south-facing and north-facing terrain. A relatively easy ascent of the peak provides spectacular views of Pyramid Peak and the Crystal Range. Many ski descent options exist along the south-facing ridge, all ending at Highway 50. Furthermore, Mount Ralston has great north-facing terrain with open bowls, cliffs and pillow lines that holds snow late into the spring.
The steep south face grows great early season corn and offers miles of terrain to explore. Parking options are numerous between the Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort and the Sierra Pines Subdivision near Strawberry. A quick skin north through an old-growth fir and hemlock forest brings you to the broad south face of Mount Ralston. The summit of Ralston is out of sight during most of the climb. The easiest and shortest ascent route of Mount Ralston is to skin up the south ridge. Another option is to skin up to Cup Lake and boot pack up to the summit ridge from there. A longer and more scenic route can be taken by parking at Echo Summit and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail past Echo Lakes to Haypress Meadows and skinning up the north ridge to the summit.
The south ridge was used as an ascent route for this adventure. The south ridge of Mount Ralston is home to some impressive old-growth Sierra juniper. Steep terrain and undesirable lumber characteristics spared these gnarled trees from harvesting prior to the designation of Desolation Wilderness in 1969. It's worth routing your skin track toward these impressive trees that date between 1,000 and 2,600 years old. As the south ridge meets the prominent east-west ridge the summit of Mount Ralston comes into view. Furthermore, the views of Pyramid Peak and the Crystal Range will have you planning a trip into Desolation Wilderness. Once on the main ridge, south facing ski descents back toward Highway 50 are numerous. From the summit, north-facing terrain can be ridden or you can ski back down to the ridge to access the south-facing terrain. A fun option is to ski the steep cirque toward Cup Lake and hike or traverse south to the broad south face to finish the descent toward Highway 50.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.