We made good time leaving Sonoma and we were at the trail head by noon. The trail head is across I-50 from Camp Sacramento. Even though the hike isn't long, it takes nearly 4 hours to get to the top due the steep terrain. Along the way we passed some backpackers heading into the Desolation Wilderness. They had over-packed and were busy trying to get rid of weight from their packs. This trail will definitely make you aware of a heavy pack!
Near the top, the trail disappears amongst a field a boulders that require a bit of scrambling to get over. But the Summit is so close, you can't get lost at this point. Once you finally hit the top you are rewarded with absolutely stunning views of the Desolation Wilderness and parts of the Lake Tahoe Basin. The view is surrounded by dozens of lakes. It's almost hard to count them all. The most prominent are Echo Lake, Lake Aloha, Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake, and Tamarack Lake.
|Boulder field just below the Summit.|
|View south towards Lake Aloha and the Desolation Wilderness.|
|Echo lakes. Lake Tahoe can be seen on the upper left.|
We spent an hour at the top playing with the chipmunks, ate lunch, and just enjoying the scenery.
I also tried using Microsoft's PhotoSynth app on the iPhone and made this nice panorama showing off some of the stunning views:
Ralston Peak Panorma on Photosynth
The way back down was straight forward and took about two hours. I was expecting more knee problems due to the constant steep grade, but my knees have toughened up from the recent hikes and they didn't bother me too much as long as I set a proper pace and didn't push too hard.
All photos are on Smugmug.
GPS Track on Everytrail.