What's Up, Chief?

People who say cheaters never prosper have never taken the Squaw Valley tram to its high-country hiking. The…

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People who say cheaters never prosper have never taken the Squaw Valley tram to its high-country hiking. The aerial tram whisks passengers from 6,200 feet to 8,200 feet in about ten minutes. (Cheating? Nah.) You’ll find yourself at a high camp where hiking trails abound—including the epic 5-mile (round-trip) trek to Granite Chief peak, and its wondrous vista. The tram will save you about 5 miles of arduous hiking (and 2,000 feet of climbing!) but it’s still no cakewalk to reach the 9,050-foot summit of Granite Chief over the course of 2.5 miles. Ready?! (Of course you are!) Start by hiking through blankets of blooming yellow mule ears, passing three empty chairlifts (Big Blue Express, Shirley Lake Express, and Gold Coast Express) en route. The trails and dirt roads zigzag up to a ridge where you’ll find a stone monument in honor of the old Emigrant Road. From the ridge, a short and quick descent down the other side leads to the final 0.5-mile scramble to the top of Granite Chief. The path in this part is sandy and loose, so the going gets tough, but gaining traction is not treacherous (just think of the motto “two steps forward, one step back”) and take your time. It’s all worth it when you reach the top. Views to the south show the granite, snow-dusted wonderland of Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe shines to the east, and Castle Peak lords to the north. Sign the logbook, snap your king or queen of Tahoe pic, and retrace your steps back to the tram. Way to go, Chief!

WHERE TO STAY: Tucked quietly just outside of downtown Truckee, Cedar House Sport Hotel is the perfect blend of European-inspired alpine charm and rugged elegance, with gorgeous architecture and a Zen, modern interior (also dog-friendly). Those looking for something on the river should check out River Ranch Lodge. Located right on the bank of the Truckee River, the historic lodge has 19 rooms and a dining room cantilevered over the river. Want to be right on Lake Tahoe? Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino makes a great destination. The 4-diamond resort has an amazing lakeside setting and even a private boat for guests.

Take the Squaw Valley Aerial Tram to High Camp ($39) and pick up a Hiking Guide trail map. Start on the High Camp Loop trail going toward Big Blue Express. Follow the signs toward the Pacific Crest Trail, Emigrant Peak Road, and Granite Chief Trail. Wind up to the Shirley Lake Express and then Gold Coast Express. From Gold Coast, it’s a steep climb up to the ridge, marked by the stone monument. Descend the back of the ridge. Follow the wooden signs to Granite Chief, going through some thick brush. When you reach the last wooden sign (which is a bit dilapidated) marked “Granite Chief” and “Squaw Valley,” turn right and then immediately left, and left again going past the “Closed Area” sign and wooden fence (Don’t go past the High Voltage ski run sign). This is the final sandy ascent to the peak. The first tram up is at 10:40 a.m. and the last one down is at 5:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays). Dog-friendly! 

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