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Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face

Lake Tahoe + Northern Sierra, California

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Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face

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  • Skinning up the base of the south face.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Skinning toward the south ridge, which is a good ascent option.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Boot packing up the south ridge.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Old-growth Sierra junipers are estimated to be over 1,000 years old in the area.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Skinning across the summit ridge.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Headed toward the summit.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Ejoying the views of Lake Tahoe from the summit.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • The north bowls with the Crystal Range in the backround.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Looking into the north-facing bowls.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Hikking the ridge above Cup Lake.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Dropping into Cup Lake.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Steep turns above cup lake.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Dropping in above Cup Lake.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Taking a break after riding into Cup Lake.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Hiking out of Cup Lake to the south face.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Hiking toward the south face with Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort in the backround.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Fast turns on great corn make the south face very fun in the spring.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Descending the south face.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Descending the south face.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • Headed toward Highway 50.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
  • The south face of Mount Ralston.- Mount Ralston: Summit to Cup Lake to South Face
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Views into Desolation Wilderness and of Lake Tahoe. Eassy access.
Cons: 
South face melts out in early spring.
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Region:
Lake Tahoe + Northern Sierra, CA
Max slope angle: 
15-30 degrees
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Total Distance: 
6.00 mi (9.66 km)
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,900.00 ft (2,103.12 m)
Vertical descent: 
2,200.00 ft (670.56 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Contributor

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.

Backcountry Safety

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.

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