Lake Tahoe snow in July? There’s still some left at Emigrant Peak | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe snow in July? There’s still some left at Emigrant Peak

Mark McLaughlin
Special to the Sun

The relic snowfield beneath Emigrant Peak makes for some fun summer snowball fights.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — We didn't get much of it last winter, but there is still time to have a snowball fight if you're willing to hike up Emigrant Peak at Squaw Valley. Other rewards include spectacular views of the Sierra Crest, the American River Gorge and, of course, beautiful Lake Tahoe in the distance.

This adventure hike to Emigrant Peak comes in several flavors. The most challenging is the scenic Shirley Canyon Trail that starts west of the Olympic Village Inn, several hundred yards from Squaw's Aerial Tram building.

The 2.5-mile route follows Shirley Creek, with its beautiful cascading waterfalls in springtime, up to High Camp at 8,200 feet. This approach includes an elevation gain of 1,329 feet along with several steep and rocky sections. Wear sturdy shoes.

A slightly more moderate excursion is the Thunder Mountain Trail that also ends at High Camp after a 3.2-mile hike and 2,000-foot elevation gain.

The trailhead begins at the bottom of the KT-22 lift and winds up the mountain slope, at times crossing a summer access road used by Squaw Valley personnel. More details can be found in the 2015 Summer Hiking Guide available at the resort or on the Squaw Valley website.

The most thrilling (and easiest) approach is to take the Aerial Tramway directly to High Camp. For the best deal, buy your Tram ticket online 24 hours before you go to save a few bucks off what you'll pay at the window.

Recommended Stories For You

The Tram operates daily every 20 minutes beginning at 10:40 a.m., with the last car down at 5 p.m. High Camp activities include swimming, hot tubbing, disc golf, roller skating, restaurant service and an Olympic Museum.

At High Camp there are a myriad of trails marked out ranging from easy to difficult. Consult your trail map for the route to Emigrant Peak. Although the walk to the peak and relic snowfield is only 1.40 miles one way, with 683 feet of elevation gain, it is rated moderate to difficult due to the peak's 8,774-foot altitude.

The air gets thin up here. Follow the well-maintained trail that requires no scrambling or bushwhacking, but bring plenty of water and a snack to keep your energy up and avoid dehydration.

Wildflowers abound in this cooler climate and keep an eye out for the catlike yellow-bellied marmot, which lives in grassy areas and burrows under rocks.

They are the largest member of the groundhog family and are common in the High Sierra. Cottontail rabbits can be seen scurrying through patches of underbrush and the California black bear occasionally makes an appearance as well.

Predators include the furtive coyote, as well as the golden eagle, North America's largest bird of prey. With a broad wingspan of up to seven feet, they hunt rabbits, marmots and squirrels, diving at up to 150 mph.

Lake Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin's award-winning books are available at local stores or at http://www.thestormking.com. You can reach him at mark@thestormking.com. Check out his blog at http://www.tahoenuggets.com.