Friday, July 25, 2014

From Round Top Lake to Fourth of July Lake

4th of July Lake
Fourth of July Lake and Summit City Canyon

Fourth of July Lake is a small, picturesque lake within the Mokelumne Wilderness some miles southwest of the Carson Pass Information Center. This subalpine lake is accessible from trailheads at Carson Pass, Woods Lake and Upper Blue Lake. By starting out from Carson Pass, your hike will turn into a scenic four-lake trip, including shallow Frog Lake, Winnemucca Lake and Round Top Lake. The latter being backdropped by the steep walls and talus slopes of The Sisters. Your destination lake is reached by hiking about 1,000 feet downhill the south-facing slopes of The Sisters into a steep, crater-like amphitheater.

Leaving the open forest of gnarled whitebark pines at Round Top Lake behind, an almost level trail with panoramic vistas leads around the west-facing shoulder of The Sisters. Fourth of July Peak is coming into view. Continue on between the latter and The Sisters until you reach the saddle-ridge, from where you get your first glimpse of the bottom stage with forest- and shrub-rimmed Fourth of July Lake.

Fourth-of-July-Lake hikers and backpackers love to mention the 1,000-feet-drop, which both downward and upward is not as bad as it may sound. Approaching the lower ranks on a hot and sunny day, you certainly will enjoy the shade provided by small and large conifers. Your efforts will finally be rewarded when you are invited to wade or dip into the cold lake water. There is a short stretch of a beach along the western shoreline (see picture below). Fourth of July Lake's inlet is at this beach side. The lake's outlet into Summit City Creek is at the east side, near your arrival point and the Y-junction with a trailpost giving direction for the Summit City Canyon trail.

Fourth of July Lake's beach side
Your climb back up will be eased thanks to the many switchbacks and the soul-refreshing display of wildflowers you probably already admired when coming down. The more elevation you gain, the more you will feel the strengthening of the cooling Sierra wind— taking away your sweat, but not your impressions of an inspiring lake dramaturgy.

For further inspiration, I recommend Kevin's Hiking Page > Fourth of July Lake. The trail from Carson Pass to Fourth of July Lake and further south into Summit City Canyon is a section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail (TYT), connecting Lake Tahoe with Mt. Whitney for backpackers.

Geographic keywords: 4th of July Lake, Carson Pass Management Area, Mokelumne Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest, Sierra Nevada, California.

Fourth of July Lake's outlet into Summit City Creek

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From Winnemucca Lake to Round Top Lake

Round Top Lake, Eldorado National Forest, California
Round Top Lake and The Sisters, Sierra Nevada, California

Path to Round Top
Path to Round Top
Glacially formed Round Top Lake in the Sierra Nevada is named after the impressive Round Top mountain, which comes into focus while hiking from the Carson Pass Information Center on Highway 88 via Frog-Lake to Winnemucca Lake. The lake's namesake can also be seen from further away; for example, from the saddle between Carson Pass and Meiss Meadows. This is Sierra crest territory with ancient volcanic summits such as Round Top and The Sisters. The latter are seen in the top picture, backdropping Round Top Lake with its dark, craggy, north-facing cliffs and seasonable, bright snowfields.

The near-timberline Round-Top-Lake area is reached by either ascending from the Woods Lake Campground or from Winnemucca Lake. Taking the Winnemucca route, you need to cross the outlet at the northwest corner of Winnemucca Lake, from where you will hike the one-mile-long trail to Round Top Lake.The trail ascends across open slopes to a granite ridge. From the ridge crest, you will head west between shrubs and occasional whitebark pines until Round Top Lake comes into view.

On a warm summer day, you will find hikers and backpackers taking a break in the meadows around the blue-green lake. Others may attempt to climb to the top of Round Top, by taking the path next to Round Top Lake's inlet—shown in the right-side picture above. This unsigned trail leads to a saddle between Round Top and the east Sister. From there, magnificent panoramic views will be enjoyed, whether you manage to continue your summit climb or start your return. 

Round Top lake is a cirque lake (see, for example, Round Top Geologic Area), carved out of the bedrock underneath an Ice Age glacier, whose tremendous weight forced it downhill from its position between and aside Round Top and The Sisters.

Geographic Keywords: alpine lakes, extinct volcanoes, Eldorado National Forest, Mokelumne Wilderness, Carson Pass Management Area, California.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

From Frog Lake to Winnemucca Lake

Winnemucca Lake with snow fields and Round Top cliffs
Picturesque Winnemucca Lake is located 2.4 hiking miles southwest of the Carson Pass Information Center. To get to this alpine lake, hikers and backpackers follow short sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (TYT). If you haven't been on any section of these long-distance trails before, the trail from Carson Pass via Frog Lake to Winnemucca Lake is your chance to take your first steps on both trails—and possibly meet heavily packed PCT or TYT thru-hikers.

According to hiking-blogger Liz, the popular Carson-Pass-to-Winnemucca-Lake trip is an easy hike with many opportunities to take wildflower pictures [1]. The path from Frog Lake to Winnemucca Lake traverses open hillsides northwest of the Elephants Back lava dome, a landscape “brimming with vibrant, colorful wildflowers. Scarlet gilia, Indian paintbrush, blue flax, sierra lilies, and numerous other species are scattered as far as the eye can see. As the trail edges along the western flank of Elephant's Back, there are a few flowing streams and wet areas where you can encounter lupine, columbine, monkeyflower, and, if you're lucky, small blue butterflies called Melissa Blues.” [2]

Winnemucca Lake is backdropped by Round Top, an ancient craggy volcanic vent. During spring snowmelt, water runs and falls down its dark cliffs into the lake. From its outlet at the northwest corner, you may want to continue your hike by climbing up and experience the next-higher-elevation lake—Round Top Lake.

As with the name “Frog Lake” (compare Frog Lake in the Mokelumne Wilderness with Frog Lake east of Castle Peak), the name “Winnemucca Lake” is ambiguous. There has been a shallow Winnemucca Lake on the dividing line between Washoe and Pershing counties in Nevada, which now is a dry lake bed [3]; still called Winnemucca Lake when it seasonably fills up with some water.

References and more to explore
[1] Liz: Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake: Mokelumne Wilderness.
[2] Pinnacle Lake Tahoe Getaways: Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake - Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails.
[3] Wikipedia: Winnemucca Lake. (accessed July 20, 2014).

From Carson Pass to shallow Frog Lake

Shallow Frog Lake
Frog Lake filling a shallow depression in an open bowl

The Carson Pass area features various hiking trails connecting trailheads and campgrounds with historic sites, lakes and grand vista points. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) passes through. Northbound, it leads to Meiss Meadows, connecting with the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), Echo Summit, Round Lake and Dardanelles Lake. Southbound, a 5-mile-long hiking trip will take you to Forestdale Divide, on which you will pass Frog Lake after about one mile.

Small, deep-blue reflection pond next to PCT
Starting on the west side of  the Carson Pass Information Center, you will find an information kiosk with a trail map, notes on the PCT history and local natural history. Not very far from this trailhead you will pass a pond with an unusually deep-blue body of water, reflecting surrounding conifers. 

Entering the Carson Pass Management Area [1], you will reach Frog Lake by ascending a few switchbacks through thinning forest—while being treated to sweeping views of ancient lava domes and craggy volcanic vents such as Round Top.

The shoreline of Frog Lake consists of coarse-grained sand and granite boulders. Its water may change from clear to muddy, after slowly drying up towards the end of the summer season. Mike White writes [2]:

Frog Lake [...] fills a shallow depression in an open bowl dotted with widely scattered pines. Lacking a permanent inlet and outlet, Frog Lake develops a muddy bathtub ring by the end of the summer.

But don't bring your bathtub scrubber! The frogs may not like it. Speaking of frogs, during my visit I didn't see or hear any frogs—only resting two-legged visitors busy with lunch break conversation.

The Frog Lake in the Mokelumne Wilderness is not the only Sierra Nevada lake with this name. There is another Frog Lake north of Donner Summit and east of Castle Peak: scenic Frog Lake Overlook can be reached via various hiking routes. 

References and more on staying and hiking in Kit Carson County
[1] Up and Over Carson Pass: (scroll down to find a Carson Pass overview map with lakes and trails).
[2] Mike White: Afoot & Afield. Reno-Tahoe. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 2nd printing November 2008; page 303.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

From Carson Pass to Meiss Meadows

Iris-lined Pacific Crest Trail over a scenic saddle 
north of Carson Pass
The trail between the Meiss Meadows Trailhead near the Carson Pass Information Center and the Meiss Meadows area makes for only a tiny fraction of the 2,663-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It is one of those sections that does not trace the crest, but stretches or winds over undulated meadows and saddles between diverse mountain peaks and volcanic outcroppings. Hiking northbound to Echo Summit, you will see Red Lake Peak and Stevens Peak to your right.  Once you have passed the grass- and willow-lined pond on the left-side of the PCT, you will enjoy the nearly level walk over the saddle—with views of the Lake Tahoe basin to the north and mountains including Elephants Back, Round Top and Fourth of July Peak to the south. Also, Caples Lake is easily recognized within the forest landscape.

Monument plant 
(Swertia radiata, Gentianaceae)
During the late spring and early summer season, the saddle floor is covered with wildflowers such as mule ears, lupines and paint brush. For a short distance, the path is lined with blue irises on both sides of the PCT (see top picture). And dense iris patches occur all around. Occasionally, a  monument plant, also called deer's tongue, is “towering” over a flower carpet.
Historic Meiss cabin
From the saddle, the PCT continues downhill into Meiss Meadows and the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River. About three miles from the Meiss Meadows Trailhead, you will reach the Meiss Family Cabin—to your left off the PCT. What today looks like an “unspoiled ecosystem” was for some time a cattle grazing ground and a summer residence of a “pioneer family” from Europe.

From the trail junction near the cabins, you may want to venture further north along one of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) branches—either northeast-bound towards Round Lake and Big Meadow or northwest-bound along the PCT/TRT trail section to Showers Lake and Echo Summit.

Keywords: Outdoors, hiking, backpacking, high-elevation meadowland, Meiss Country, Alpine County, Sierra Nevada, California.

Getting to the Meiss Meadows Trailhead and PCT saddle west of Red Lake Peak
The trailhead parking area is located 0.2 mile northwest of the Carson Pass Information Station. Currently (summer 2014), a $5-per-day fee applies to both the Carson Pass and the Meiss Meadows Trailhead parking area. The northbound single-track PCT is well-signed. At its beginning, the trail traverses a conifer forest above Highway 88. Then, a few switchbacks across a hillside lead hikers toward the saddle with many views.