Western States Trail – Squaw Valley

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This was a group hike of a section of the Western States Trail, starting along CA-89 at the Midway Bridge between the roads to the Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski areas, and ending at Watson Monument on Monument Ridge in Squaw Valley.  This section of the Western States Trail is part of the American Discovery Trail, which is an impressive coast-to-coast network of over 6000 miles of multi-use trails.  The group left some cars at the main Squaw Valley parking area and squeezed everyone into the minimum number of vehicles for the drive down to the trailhead along CA-89.

The trail immediately starts climbing up the hill from the Truckee River, roughly equidistant from the access roads for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

GPS track

GPS track

After about 3 miles of hiking and 800 feet of climbing we were roughly straight across from the main parking area and had our first sighting of the valley.  During this part of the hike we were accosted by throngs of mosquitoes thriving on the short wet spring season.  I started keeping score, and after my count had reached mosquitoes: 30, Sue: 6 I surrendered and borrowed some bug spray to apply.  For some reason I seem to need one buggy hike in the spring to remind me to get out bug spray and use it.  This is how the back of one shoulder looked the next day (I had almost 10 bites just in this area!).

photo of mosquito bites

Mosquitoes: 30, Sue: 6

The remainder of the hike was within the Squaw Valley ski area.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The trail passes under or near several of the many ski lifts.  Here was the bottom of the Olympic Lady lift, which serves a run I’ve never skied – perhaps because the run was one of the women’s Alpine skiing events at the 1960 Winter Olympics, and perhaps because one of the primary ways to get there is by skiing part way down KT-22.  Other than hiking in Squaw Valley, I may never see this famous lift again.

photo of bottom of the legendary Olympic Lady lift at Squaw Valley

Bottom of the legendary Olympic Lady lift at Squaw Valley

The creek that runs down the hill near the Mountain Run takes a tumble down a pretty waterfall, fed by late-spring snow melt at higher elevations.

photo of waterfall near ski lifts and ski runs

Waterfall near ski lifts and ski runs

From this point it was a steady climb up to the monument, gaining about 1600 feet in 2.8 miles for an average grade of nearly 11%.  Less than half a mile from the top we encountered a large snow feature that must be quite a hit with boarders and freestyle skiers.  Our hiking group placed informal bets on whether the feature would fully melt before the snow starts to fly again in the Fall.  A quick check of the latest Squaw Valley trail map suggests that this is a new feature constructed just this spring.

photo of snow feature, perhaps new for Spring 2012

Snow feature, perhaps new for Spring 2012

After the final bit of climbing up the service road – the easy way down from the nearby Emigrant Lift – we reached the Watson Monument, which is on a ridge that serves as Emigrant Pass.

photo of Monument Ridge and the Watson Monument

Monument Ridge and the Watson Monument

Looking back the way we had come, we were treated to a wonderful panorama of Lake Tahoe.

photo of Lake Tahoe from Monument Ridge

Lake Tahoe from Monument Ridge

After a brief rest we started back down.  Just past the first hairpin turn of the service road, we caught a beautiful view between the nearest peaks much farther to the south, most likely the Desolation Wilderness, where the snow tends to remain longer into the summer months.

photo of snow-capped peaks to the south in the Desolation Wilderness

Snow-capped peaks to the south in the Desolation Wilderness

We continued down service roads past the top of the Shirley Lake and Solitude lifts.  Along the way we passed a status board and were startled to see that one of the runs was posted as open.

photo of ski lift and run status board showing a run as open!

Ski lift and run status board showing a run as open!

From the High Camp – Gold Coast area we continued down the Mountain Run service roads to the base area.  We were cautioned to be careful on these service roads, as they have a thin layer of fine gravel which is actually quite slippery due to the slope.  The descent from 7500 feet to 6500 feet elevation is accomplished in about 1.3 miles, for an average grade of 15%.

This was quite a pretty hike, with a different way to experience the ski area compared to the more typical snow-covered wintertime terrain.

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2 Responses to Western States Trail – Squaw Valley

  1. Pingback: Western States Trail – Painted Rock loop from CA-89 | trailhiker

  2. Pingback: Western States Trail – Painted Rock loop from CA-89 | trailhiker

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