Snowy Hike to Relay Peak
Updated: Jan 6
Today's hike was a little more special than usual because we hiked with our friend Shannon who used to live in Tahoe and was in town from Michigan with her husband. They got married in May of last year, so it was the first time we got to meet him. The last time Shannon visited Tahoe four years ago, we did a similar hike with a slightly larger group, and this time it was just us four.
They wanted to meet at the trailhead at 7:30 a.m. to beat the crowds and any potential heat the day might throw at us. It was another sunny, blue sky day in Tahoe. I decided to wear minimal layers today and when we arrived at the trailhead, it was breezy and a little cool, so I wondered if I was underdressed for this hike. (Maybe I was still gun-shy after our lack of preparedness last weekend as we hiked in the rain.) I also debated whether or not to bring my hiking poles on this hike. I ended up not.
We got going and headed toward Galena Falls. Less than a mile in, I think, we ran into snow. We lost the trail a few times and had to contend with slippery slide-slope conditions – slippery due to mud or snow. Some of the sections were a little sketchy and it was challenging to stay on your feet. I slipped more than once.
But we made it and the falls were flowing pretty well.
The view of Mount Rose from the falls.
After our stop at the falls, we kept climbing, dodging snow as best we could, but we also lost the trail again. (It was reminiscent of our recent attempted trek to Haskell Peak.) Fortunately, Shannon was able to locate the trail and we all headed toward her. When we arrived at the trail junction, there was nothing but snow completely covering the area in the direction we'd planned on going to get to Relay Peak. So instead, we continued a short distance to Relay Peak Road, figuring that gets a fair amount of sun exposure and would likely have less snow than what was before us at the junction.
We were right. The road still had snow on it, but we were able to hike around large sections of it until we reached the sun-cupped snow field and had no option but to trudge through it. Luckily, this early in the day, the snow was hard and not too difficult to walk on.
When we reached the top of the ridge, we were amazed at how clear the visibility was today. We could even spot Mount Lassen (up in Shasta County) far off in the distance.
After spending some time taking in the views from the ridge, we discussed whether to split east to Mount Houghton or continue going the additional half-mile to Relay Peak, hoping the snow in our way wouldn't be too dangerous. Shannon and her husband really wanted to see the view of Tahoe from up here and we had to climb higher than we were to make that happen.
So, into the snow we went.
After a bunch of climbing, mostly through snow, we made it to Relay Peak and big, beautiful, blue Tahoe was in the background.
Lake Tahoe and snowy peaks in the sunglasses. 😎
This was our second time hiking above 10,000 feet in the last two weeks.
As we were walking around and taking photos, something fast-moving to our right caught our attention. At first, I thought it was an animal running across the ridge and away from us. Nope. It was a "Happy Birthday" Mylar balloon floating by in the strong wind gusting over the peak. Shannon was quick enough to grab it. We let out the remaining air and jammed it into Shannon's pack. That wasn't the only litter item found on this hike.
Looking through the peaks into Washoe Valley from Relay Peak.
We stopped up here to have a few snacks before making the snowy descent.
As we started back down, we all had a good laugh when my husband who not only post-holed, but found himself nearly up to his waist in a hole as he collapsed through a snow cave. Whoops.
Once we again reached the big snow field on the switchback of Relay Peak Road, we realized how much warmer it had gotten outside because the hard snow was now mushy, slippery, and wet, making our trek slightly more difficult.
While hiking through one of these soft snow patches on the road, we spotted two people walking their mountain bikes up the hill. I kind of wondered what their plan was. There was no way they would be able to successfully ride back down let alone get their bikes up higher on the road without a great deal of difficulty. We kind of gave them warning about the snow conditions ahead of them and recommended they just stash their bikes in the bushes and continue up on foot if they wanted to get to the top, which would be challenging enough. They thanked us and told us they were from Switzerland and were quite familiar with snow. I hope they made it where they were going safely.
In addition to the birthday balloon, someone found a lone ski and propped it up in the snow in the middle of Relay Peak Road. It was in pretty bad condition and wasn't likely to still be usable, so my husband plucked it out of the snow and tossed it over his shoulder to carry it the rest of the way down so we could dispose of it.
Rather than double-back on the same snowy route past Galena Falls again, we decided to continue our descent on the road to give our legs a break. This would also provide us with a few more beautiful views of Tahoe that wouldn't be visible from the Galena Falls route.
We made our way back to the trailhead and I think everyone felt like this was a fun and adventurous hike. It was a beautiful day to be outside, despite being a little windy, and it gave us a great opportunity to catch up.