Planning to hike up to Mt. Rose on Saturday, we were disappointed by a mostly cloudy sky as we drove into the Tahoe area Saturday morning. Granite Chief had caught my attention on a previous trip to Tinker Knob, so we decided to climb that instead since it is a bit lower and hopefully would be out of the clouds.
Thanks to previous trip reports for noting that the trail starts behind the Squaw fire station - we started snowshoeing from there but quickly lost the trail and stayed to the right of the ski area. The powder was very thick and the going was very slow. The gullies had running water and tall walls of snow on their sides until ~7500 feet, also slowing progress. We edged closer and closer to the ski area as we ascended, eventually reaching a snowgroom machine trail which we followed for half a mile to get some relief from the powder. When we reached the upper part of the ski area, we again stayed to the right of the boundary and eventually found ourselves atop Granite Chief. Many skiers had hiked up there from the top of the ski lift and it was fun to watch them ski down the steep slopes (a cliff jump at the beginning).
Although the summit remained in the clouds all day, they lifted enough for a few seconds at a time to eventually give us a view in all directions. The view of snow-free Lake Tahoe amid the white slopes was stunning. Not a wilderness experience, but it was a scenic area and the powder made it quite a workout.
We climbed Mt. Rose on Sunday, starting at the meadow near the high point of the road. It is not completely obvious how to find the winter trail along what in the summer is a road that leads to the base of Mt. Rose. Huge snowbanks (~10 feet) along the road obscure the path, but if you head uphill as much as possible once you start hiking through the meadow you will quickly reach it. We made the mistake of heading too far northwest, hiking parallel to the road until we finally reached it. The powder in the area was murderously soft and deep, so it was a relief to hike along the heavily used (snowshoers, skiers, and snowmobile) trail.
We should have continued following the trail/road as it descends ~200 feet and then climbs a gully to the base of Mt. Rose, but I thought that it would be easier to hike up to the ridge north of the road and then follow that in the direction of Mt. Rose, expecting that the ridge would have more solid, windblown snow. WRONG!
Getting up to the ridge took almost an hour and then we spent an hour walking/sinking along the ridgetop, only to descend to the same place that we could have reached by following the snowmobile tracks. Oh well. If reaching the peak quickly is your objective, follow the course of the summer trail - it loses only 200 feet instead of ~600 down from the ridge. We both had MSR snowshoes on, and even though we weigh 150 pounds, bigger snowshoes would probably have worked better in such thick powder.
Another hour of excruciatingly deep and thick powder (have I left out any ambiguity about how much I enjoyed it?) brought us to within 400 feet of the summit, which were almost completely snowfree. Never before have I been so happy to walk on loose, sandy scree! Despite the slog to get there, the summit had a beautiful view in all directions and let us temporarily forget about the 5 more miles of sinking that awaited us on the even-softer afternoon snow.