Sunday, August 2, 2015

Running Squaw Valley: Squaw Peak, July 28th, 2015

Squaw Peak, July 28, 2015

ALL skiable, the Palisades on Squaw Peak as seen during my descent through Siberia Bowl. 

My son lives in Reno and he snagged a Squaw Valley condo from a work colleague for a week-long family vacation in the Sierra's. Squaw Valley is a notorious extreme skiing mecca (for the resort crowd) and, for summer fun, it is less than ten miles from Lake Tahoe. The plan was to go to Tahoe each day. Good enough, but my personal, selfish plan was to run the mountain early each morning while the family slept. Great plans usually fall apart and this one fell hard. Let's just say it is tough to get up at 5AM while on vacation. Worse yet when sleeping in a hard, unfamiliar bed in an un-air-conditioned condo when the nights are hot and dry. (Low temps in the 70's in the Sierra's? Who knew!) I nearly failed completely, but finally managed to get up two mornings out of six. I managed to run both Squaw Peak and Emigrant Peak.

From the condo in the resort village they (Squaw and Emigrant Peaks) are both just under eight miles round trip with an elevation gain of just under 3k feet. Statistically they are similar to running up to Hidden Peak from the Snowbird tram base. In hindsight, and after running both Snowbird and Squaw, I can say Squaw overall is NOT as steep at Snowbird. The vertical gain is similar, (Snowbird has slightly more vert), but Snowbird is not as long as Squaw, therefore Squaw is not as steep. Yes, Squaw Valley proudly brags that 50% of their runs are black diamond (expert) but that is a bit misleading. If measured by acreage rather than by number of runs, Snowbird has the edge in overall steepness. Squaw has some damn steep, challenging runs, but Squaw also has huge tracts of flat prairie terrain below those steep cliff shots. In short, Squaw quickly transitions from crap-your-pants-steep to major-yawn-fest-flat. Those flats are a big reason why Snowbird and Squaw don't really compare. If you like short, fall-you-die-steeps, go to Squaw. If you like longer, sustained descents, go ski Snowbird.

But I regress, I tried running up Squaw Peak from the base of the resort village (6,200 feet) using Squaw's summer trail map, but quickly found the map is a mere guideline (a bad one at that) rather a definitive hiking guide. The trails are faint and discontinuous and I soon gave up on the trail and ran the summer service roads to the Gold Coast area of the mountain (roughly 8,000 feet). From there I ditched the service road altogether and headed SW for the 'Cornice Bowl' ridgeline, the ridge that runs from KT-22 to the top of the Headwall chairlift and then to the summit of Squaw Peak (8,900 feet).

Hiking/running that ridgeline was immensely more enjoyable than running those resort service roads anyway. It gave me great views of the Sierra's and a glimpse of Tahoe. The mountain is hot and dry during the summer, with no trace of lingering snow anywhere, but in the early morning hours the air was crisp and clean and it just felt good to be high on a mountain

Sunrise from Cornice Bowl Ridge, above the Headwall Bowl of Squaw. The shadowed peak through the trees is the Eagles Nest near the upper terminal of KT-22 (ski lift). 

View of Squaw Peak (8.9K) from just above the summit terminal of the Headwall Express chairlift. The white tough-shed thing is the ski patrol shack. I hiked up the ridge (center) to the summit.

Signage on the Squaw Ski Patrol tough shed. What's this no hiking stuff?  I thought Squaw skiers were badass?!? Maybe as  badass as Jackson Hole skiers (as they both like to claim anyway).

Ignoring the 'No Hiking' rule, I headed up the SE ridge of Squaw Peak to find this cable and ladder assisted route up the ridge to the top of Squaw Peak. Hiking the ridge was no big deal in summer, but I can only guess that in winter, while wearing ski boots and carrying skis, maybe this Via Ferrate ('iron way' in Italian) assist might be necessary?
I'm scratching my head on this one. For all their talk I'm wondering why they need an assist at all? Perhaps riding lifts makes one soft?

The ladder just below Squaw Peak's summit. Yes I'll admit I climbed it, but the rock looked like a very easy climb, with or without the ladder. The notorious ski runs known as the 'The Palisades' is on the right.

View down from the top of the ladder. Gold Coast is barely seen to the right, Sunshine Bowl to the left.

Tahoe from the summit of Squaw Peak (8.9K). The upper terminal of the Headwall Chairlift is just below and the resort village is seen far below (the green meadows/golf course in mid picture).

View from Squaw Peak, north across the Palisades and Siberia Bowl,  toward Emigrant Peak (8.7k feet - site of Thursday's run) and Granite Chief (9k ft.) 

View down the 'Main Chute' of the Palisades.

Weird stuff on the summit of Squaw Peak. Later that day I asked the Squaw tram operator what is was and he looked at me shocked, said it was an FAA radar facility and that is emitted huge doses of radiation. He then said it was dangerous to get near it. He was incredulous that I didn't obey the 'DANGER KEEP OUT' keep out signs.  I saw no signs anywhere (evidenced by my photos), other than the 'no hiking' sign on the patrol shack. There was no warning on the summer trail map either, which lists a trail to this very spot. He seemed totally pissed that I was up there. If it was dangerous, it totally explains the fried-brain-mentally of Squaw skiers, other than maybe Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake or Mike Hattrip.

FAA communications and they still use mail boxes. Hey Squaw, if this is dangerous perhaps fence it in??

FAA diving bell at 8,900 feet.

Back side of Squaw, view SW.

Tahoe in the morning sun from Squaw Peak.

I descended the north ridge of Squaw Peak to the top of Siberia Bowl Express (chairlift). This it the trail map at the top of the lift, with no warning of radiation hazards. I think the tram operator is full of crap, maybe fell on his head a few too many times while skiing the Palisades?

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