Trip Report - Carson Pass, Round Top

Round Top & The Sisters (Matt Pritchard) More photos below.

By Matt Pritchard

From almost any run at Kirkwood, the mountains of Carson Pass spill out in layers of dark volcanic rock and white snow. For us, this little alpine dreamscape holds memories from so many trips past: snow camping in January, spring skiing in March, backpacking in August, photographing the fall color in October. No matter the season, we find ourselves returning to this slice of the Sierra over and over again.

Unfortunately, the record setting snow pack of years past was a no-show in 2007. After two consecutive years of 800+ inches, we came up with less than 400 in 2007. Some diehard in Michigan probably thinks us a bunch of pansies for complaining about 376 inches of snow, but surely we can't be expected to ski hardpack…we have standards. Far too often this year, we found ourselves surveying the dirt patches to avoid on our next run rather than soaking up our favorite views from Chair 4. But all’s well that ends well. We made up for it a few months later when we spent a weekend tagging the summits of the area’s most interesting mountains.

Earlier in the summer, we had an aggressive plan to hike the PCT from Carson Pass (Hwy 88) to Ebbet’s Pass (Hwy 4) in one weekend—a little backcountry tour of Alpine County. When those plans fell apart, we started looking for another chance to spend some time the area. With a planned Mt. Whitney hike just a few weeks away, we decided to squeeze in some last minute training and tag a few summits over the weekend.

We left the Carson Pass trailhead early on a Saturday, after grabbing one of the last campsite permits for the area. The hike to Winnemucca Lake offered great views of Elephant’s Back, Round Top, and The Sisters—our objectives for the weekend.

Round Top is the most prominent peak in the Carson Pass area, with a craggy ridgeline that spills down from twin summits. From our campsite at Winnemucca Lake, the approach leads to Round Top Lake before heading up—aiming for the saddle between Round Top and The Sisters. Like so many Sierra peaks, the hike is a slog, but the views more than make up for the effort. From the saddle, we had clear views of five more lakes, including Lake Tahoe to the north.

Some diehard in Michigan probably thinks us a bunch of pansies for complaining about 376 inches of snow, but...we have standards.

The last bit of climbing to the summit of Round Top involves some class 2 scrambling. Jody muscled through, and we reached the west summit in the early afternoon. Not quite satisfied, I took a twenty minute detour to tag the eastern summit as well. Looking back at Kirkwood, I felt a little pang of satisfaction. I’ve been staring at this mountain for so long; it was nice to finally check it off the list.

On our way back to the saddle, we decided the short detour to East Sister was worth the effort…better bragging rights from the chairlifts this winter. A short scramble up was followed by a slow hike back to camp. The sky that night was clear, and the moon was dim. Stars put on a great show, and the Milky Way swept a giant arc across the dark sky.

Sunday morning greeted us with sore muscles and a bit of sunburn from the day before. The hike back to the trailhead is only two miles, but we had one more piece of business to handle before we could call it a weekend. After breaking camp, we walked up the gentle slopes of Elephant’s Back and tagged our third summit for the weekend—a personal best for us.

It’s November now (as I write this), and the seasons have changed. There isn’t much snow on the ground yet, but we’re optimistic. We need redemption for the dry winter of 2007. We need snowfall measured in feet, not inches. We need bottomless powder and endless blue skies. We need long rides up Chair 4—time enough to look at the big mountains of Carson Pass and casually mention that we’ve seen the view from top of each one.

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