Operating Position on Granite Chief
Summit Trip Summary
Distance: ~ 4.6 mi one way
Elevation Gain: 2748 feet
Time: ~3.5 hours one way
Route: Via Thunder Mountain and Western States Trails to summit use trail
Access: Olympic Valley (Squaw Valley)
Parking: Olympic Valley parking lot
Rig: MTR3b LCD
Bands/Modes: 20 mtr - CW, 30 mtr - CW, 40 mtr - CW
Antenna: Trapped 20/30/40 mtr EFHW
Antenna Support: Boulder crevice, small trees
Cell Service: Very Good (Verizon)
RF Noise: Quiet
Granite Chief is a summit that I have wanted to activate for a while. In my younger days I used to trail run from Olympic Valley (aka/fka Squaw Valley) to Sugar Bowl, I wanted to activate the three peaks along that route. Granite Chief is the last of the three peaks, the others I previously activated are Tinker Knob W6/NS-121 and Mount Lincoln W6/NS-149 . A popular route to Granite Chief is to take Granite Chief trail from behind the firehouse in Olympic Valley up to the Pacific Crest Trail PCT south to the Granite Chief chair lift. This route avoids the Olympic Valley ski area but adds 1+ miles distance.
I decided to find a route through the ski area to Granite Chief. In normal years that would include a ride up the Tram to cut out about 2,000 feet of climbing. But this is 2020, the year of COVID-19, the Tram was shut down and I ended up hiking the entire way. I really did not mind this at all, it just added some time to the journey.
After looking at a number of options I decided to follow ski trails up to the Western States (WS) trail, then follow the Western States trail through the ski property, over Monument Ridge to the PCT. I put together a route from different Gaia, All Trails and Peakbagger.com entries. This got me to the PCT, once at the PCT I made the mistake of turning south and departing the trail to the summit near the Granite Chief Wilderness sign. I quickly met up with the use trail to the peak but it turns out it is easier to pick it up from the chair lift trail. I added a waypoint at the point where the use trail to the summit meets up with the chair lift trail, just off of the PCT nearby the intersection with WS trail.
Click on this link for .gpx file.
Track from Olympic Valley to Granite Chief via Western States Trail, Watson Monument on Monument Ridge is denoted by the red 'WM'. Pick up the use trail to Granite Chief Peak at 39.19601, -120.28225 at the red waypoint pin. The combined .gpx file is available here.
Getting to the Western States Trail
This description is the track I took. I quickly met up with what I believe is the Thunder Mountain trail according to the posted signs along my trek, Thunder Mountain trail did not show up on my Gaia app. After my hike, I found the trailhead for Thunder Mountain at Olympic Valley. This trail was officially closed due to COVID precautions; I suggest using this trailhead in the future (post COVID-19). Most of my description is still applicable and can be used as a guide for taking the Thunder Mountain trail to Western States trail.
The original track that I put together showed the trailhead at Olympic Valley to be by the 'Wildflower Cafe'. The 'Wildflower Cafe' no longer exists at the base and the trailhead is washed out. I found a way to the trail from a parking area in the residential area of Olympic Valley. Parking is only for residents, park at Olympic Valley parking lot and hike up Squaw Peak Way to Granite Chief road.
There is a small parking area where you can catch the trail (this is not yet the Thunder Mountain trail).
Continue to hike this trail, there will be places where other trails diverge so keep track on your trail app. Once you hit the first service road crossing you will notice that you are on the Thunder Mountain trail. There will be posts at most service roads; note that you will cross all service roads on the way to Western States trail.
Continue on this trail crossing a few service roads and creeks and encountering some steep switchback areas. There will be faint blue markings on rocks along the trail.
Stay on the trail until you meetup with the Western States trail. The intersection with the Western States trail is well marked, continue west on the Western States trail.
On to the PCT and the Summit
Follow the Western States trail westward towards Watson Monument and Monument Ridge. There are places where it is hard to figure out which trail is WS, I left the WS trail more than once but found my way back to the WS trail easily. The area is quite open so you can tell the general direction that you need to go. Keep heading towards Monument Ridge following trails and service roads.
There are some long sweeping switchbacks on the climb to the top of Monument Ridge.
On top of Monument Ridge you will find Watson Monument, continue straight past the monument going downhill and following along the edge of the ski property. Near the bottom there is an intersection with the Tevis Cup trail which goes off to the left. Follow the Western States trail through a grove of manzanita, there are tall metal stakes that follow the trail. This is a short grove of manzanita, the only bushwhacking you will have to do on this route. Shortly after the manzanita you will come to the PCT, veer to the right onto the Granite Chief chair lift use trail. The access to the use trail to the peak is just a short distance from the PCT. Just follow the use trail to the summit, the trail will be mainly decomposed granite all the way to the top.
On the summit there is plenty of room to set up and plenty of rocks and small trees for antenna set up. A rock crevice supported my telescoping mast and the other end of the antenna was held up by a line tied to a tree. I found a nice flat rock to sit on while I activated. Be sure to take time to look around, great views especially if you don't have smoke filled skies like I did.
Watson Monument on Monument Ridge, the approach is from the left and continue past the monument downhill to the right. Granite Chief as seen from Monument Ridge on the right.
Tinker Knob W6/NS-121 seen from Granite Chief summit through smoky skies . On the right is the summit marker.
Simply return the way you came back to the trail head or go north on the PCT to Granite Chief trail back to Olympic Valley (Squaw Valley) (.gpx file).