Granite Chief

29 Dec 1997 - by Steve Eckert

Jeff Fisher and I dayhiked (day-snowshoed? day-climbed?) Granite Chief yesterday (12/29/97). This is the SPS list peak that's about 400' elevation above a ski lift at Squaw Valley, but we climbed it the "honest" way from the base of Squaw... staying outside the ski area boundary by going north of Shirley Lake to the pass near Mountain Meadow Lake, then south on the ridge to the peak. It's a little over 3000' of gain, less than 10 miles round trip, and we spent over 5 hours plowing up (3 down).

A skier followed our snowshoe tracks up to the pass, and broke through the surface (into bushes or rock edges) a little less frequently than we did (except where s/he had to take off the skis and posthole to follow us up steep spots). The fact that the skier used our tracks points to the marginal conditions: breakable crust on sugar over ice near the bottom, but much nicer above the pass at 8000'. Almost no breakthroughs up there, and pretty good powder in the trees. Running water up to 7500 made stream crossings interesting even in December.

We ditched the snowshoes and kicked steps the last 400' to the peak (at 9006'). By that elevation the wind had formed alternating slabs and mid- thigh powder pockets, and ice axes were only required if you wanted to kick steps in the slabs. The crampons were just extra training weight.

In the wake of my cancelled Sugar Bowl to Squaw traverse, someone said they might try it in January. I'd think twice, because some slopes around Tinker Knob are blown completely bare. You might be able to ski it, but it would require some detours. Probably easier to walk part of it. Ugh. Pretty thin coverage on the boulder fields up high.

By the way, I've never before managed to find the trailhead at Squaw... there is a Granite Chief trail which connects you to the PCT, but the trailhead sign is BEHIND the fire station. It's a secret! Idiots. Well, you'll know where it is in spite of their attempts to hide it. Just turn right immediately before the Squaw parking lot, look for the fire station, and find the tiny hiker symbol on the right corner of the building. As for trailhead parking, I have no idea... we parked in the main Squaw lot after the attendant said OK. He had no idea there even WAS a backcountry trail, much less where it started.

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