We had so much fun on our last backpacking trip, that we were eager to get out on the trail again. We had time constraints last time, and only went for one night. This worked out good though, since we were carrying too much weight and still learning the ropes. Thanks to Labor Day weekend and some more experience though, we were ready to tackle two nights out on the trail. The first trip was very empowering, so this next outing was approached with much more confidence.
I’ve long wanted to explore the Sonora Pass area, but have always driven on past the cutoff, headed for other destinations. This was the perfect opportunity to spend some time up there. It was also appealing because of the short drive from Carson City, and possibilities that it still wouldn’t be that crowded, even on a typically busy camping weekend.
An internet search of backpacking Sonora Pass brings up all sorts of options. You could probably spend a whole summer here. Multiple Wilderness Areas butt up against each other here in this area. The Leavitt Meadows area appealed to me the most though. As one website put it, “an easy hike that makes a great backpacking outing on which to bring children and introduce them to the wilderness.” The consensus of the family was that we wanted to focus on a destination with plenty of relaxation, with less emphasis on hiking. Roosevelt and Lane Lakes looked to be a good place to hike to, just 3.5 miles from the trailhead.
Since this hike takes you into the Hoover Wilderness, permits are required. They can be picked up at the Summit Ranger Station near Pinecrest on the west side of the Sierra, or at the Bridgeport Ranger Station just south of Bridgeport. Thankfully though, permits may also be obtained at the self-serve kiosk at the trailhead parking lot immediately south of the Leavitt Meadows Campground. This cut out extra driving for us, and we were able to go directly to the trailhead from Carson City.
The backpackers trailhead parking is just above the Leavitt Meadows Campground. I didn’t have very good notes with me, so we ended up walking the wrong direction looking for the trail. I finally had to ask directions from a nearby horseback rider. There aren’t very good signs here, so remember: Go back down the road to the campground, walk the loop either direction, find the bridge at the bottom of the campground that takes you across the Walker River.
The trailhead is just above 7,000 feet, and the land is an intermediate zone between the desert below and the mountains above. Sagebrush and Rabbitbrush grow happily among the mountain pine trees. The trail climbs gently up and across the east edge of Leavitt Meadows, with great views of the nearby Walker River along the way. Tower Peak looms way off in the distance to the south. It looks huge and castle like, but would probably take a couple full days of hiking to get there.
After two miles of gentle hiking up the meadow, the trail begins to climb uphill. It’s loose and slippery at times, due to the many horses that come this way out of the Leavitt Meadows Pack Station. The trail eventually levels out again for some easy hiking through a shallow wooded canyon. There are many aspen trees with carvings here, dated from a time when such activity was more acceptable.
Not long after entering the Hoover Wilderness, the trail descends to Roosevelt Lake. We arrived later in the day, and were eager to setup camp before it got too dark. Someone else was already camped at the south shore, and we spotted a nice clearing on the other side of the lake. Instead, I followed a short trail up to a ridge that had a more private camp spot. There was nice shade, and several granite boulders to use for seats and to lay out camping items. Additionally, there was an already cleared fire ring area that would make a nice place to setup the stove.
We setup the tent, and then while Kristy got the sleeping gear setup, my son Charlie and I went down to the lake to filter some water. My friend let me borrow his Katadyn Hiker Water Microfilter for this trip, a filter that I have considered purchasing. I was happy to have the filter this trip. The lake looked pretty clear, but I think we would’ve had some debris in the water had we used purification tablets alone. It took trial an error to get the filter working with one person, but went pretty smooth with two people. Looking at other filters, including ones from this same manufacturer, there are options to have the outgoing hose (clean water) connected to a screw-on Nalgene bottle adapter. This would be very helpful, as I dropped my clean hose into the lake and river a few times.
We brought along 4 plastic bottles of Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon. These little containers slipped well into the nooks and crannies of the backpacks, and were a nice treat to have at the end of the day! It didn’t seem like that big of weight or space penalty, and I’d bring them again.
It was a warm night, and you almost didn’t need a sleeping bag for the first part of the night. Down below us to the west, I could hear the sounds of Walker River. We’d have to go explore that area the next day.
The next morning we took our time getting up, knowing there were no big plans for the day. We decided to first go enjoy some sunshine down at Roosevelt Lake. I collected some more water. Kristy watched the damsel flies dance along the shoreline. Charlie joined some other kids in a crawdad hunt. Our dogs helped themselves to some bacon that was being used as crawdad bait. Life was good.
Charlie was really excited about the freeze-dried Huevos Rancheros we were making for breakfast. As it turned out though, he ended up much more preferring to saying the name of the dish than actually eating it. My morning coffee ritual remained sacred thanks to Starbucks VIA instant brews. No need for a French Press, just add boiling water and a packet of coffee for a wonderful cup of coffee!
A bit later we hiked south and checked out Lane Lake. Roosevelt and Lane lakes are very close to each other, connected by a marshy area. Lane Lake seems to be the clearer of the two lakes, and there were some great campsites near the shore here too. We had lunch, then hiked further south beyond Lane Lake. There was supposed to be a waterfall nearby, but my map wasn’t very good. It was too zoomed out, and covered too much area. The waterfall was supposed to be close by, but we just kept hiking up and up, and there was no sign of water anywhere. Hikers that we passed seemed puzzled about the mention of a waterfall when my son asked them how far it was. Luckily I wasn’t stubborn and turned us around before we had gone too far. After returning home, I see that we missed an old trail that went back down to the Walker River. I didn’t see any obvious signs of another trail though.
We were hot from hiking, so we returned to Lane Lake for some swimming. We found a narrow beach, and the lake bottom dropped off steeply. In just a few feet you were in up over your head. Perfect for diving in off the shore! Surprisingly, the water wasn’t that cold and we all got a nice swim (and bath) in.
Still wanting to get down to the river, Charlie and I decided to hike down the other side of the ridge from camp to see if we could find the river we heard the night before from camp. The Walker River ended up being very close, mostly obscured from camp by thick trees. The water in the river was cold and crystal clear. It looked like great fishing too. The boy and I worked our way out to some little islands and practiced skipping rocks.
A bit later, Charlie had waded across the river to another island. I didn’t want to wade, so I decided to take a fallen tree bridge up the river. I walked through the deep grass along the shoreline, checked the log to make sure it was safe, then slowly started to walk across. Suddenly my legs began to burn! The same burn you get when you handle hot peppers and accidentally rub your face. The burning came on fast and strong, and I ran down the log and onto the island. I couldn’t get my boots off fast enough to dowse my legs in the cold water. I washed my legs good, and then washed them some more. The intense feeling was gone, but there was a moderate after-burn that would last until the next morning. There was no redness, swelling, or any sign that I had scratched myself. I was curious to go back and investigate, but didn’t want to relive that moment if I couldn’t figure it out. Future visits to the river were done with much more caution!
After getting home, friends agreed that I had walked through Stinging Nettle. According to Wikipedia, “The plant has many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on its leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles that inject histamine and other chemicals (including formic acid!) that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals.” I’ll keep a better eye out next time.
We enjoyed an earlier dinner the 2nd night, eating outside with views of the lake below and the mountains above. There were surprisingly very few mosquitoes the entire trip, and I didn’t even use the spray once. This is a huge contrast to the last hike we went on where the blood suckers were so thick it was nearly maddening. It rained a little that night as we slept. Just enough that Kristy and I got up and moved the packs under the fly of the tent to keep everything nice and dry.
Before leaving the next morning, we all went down to the river to wash up and filter some more water. I really enjoyed having the filter and being able to drink as much water as I wanted without waiting for the treatment tablets to do their thing. The river water was so good that I took some home and enjoyed it after the trip too!
We had the option of hiking up to Secret Lake on the way out, but it was voted that we kept the climbing to a minimum that day. This is a good thing, because I didn’t realize how much we had dropped to get down to the lake. By the time we got to the Secret Lake cutoff, I was definitely ready for some downhill.
The hike back out across Leavitt Meadows was pretty quick. We had done a good job lightening our packs this time, and I was doing my best to just keep up with the rest of the family. Finishing up the hike by walking across the bridge at the campground felt like more than just crossing a river. It was returning from the wilderness back to civilization. Feeling tense as the cars zoomed by us while we walked back to the trailhead made me realize just how relaxed I was only a few moments ago.
The only real difference between going for one night and two nights was the amount of food we had to bring. Clothing and other gear remained about the same. We were pushing max capacity on our bear vault though, so a three night trip may require an additional vault or other alternatives like hanging a bear bag. We actually ended up hanging a bear bag, using one of our stuff sacks. We had bought extra food on the road AFTER packing the bear vault, only to discover it wouldn’t all fit that first night. Luckily I had read that it’s a good idea to carry a good length of rope with you. I wasn’t sure why at first, but it’s come in handy a few times now!
- Sonora Pass Vacations – Lane Lake: http://www.sonorapassvacations.com/hikes/lane_lake_hike.html
- Leavitt Meadows Pack Station: http://www.leavittmeadows.com/