We recently got wrapped up in moving, and got tied down for a couple weekends while we moved our belongings and unpacked. After a few weeks without getting our outside time, we could really start to feel the effects. On October 13th, we made some time for a day hike, despite still having much to do at the new house. We loaded up the dogs, who were also suffering from bouts of cabin fever, and headed for Round Top in the Mokelumne Wilderness.
Typically we hike into this area from the top of Carson Pass, utilizing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail where it crosses the highway. During the summer months, this is the best way to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes that lurk in the woods below. For this Fall hike though, we chose the Woods Lake trailhead, just to the east of the pass. This a somewhat quicker route to Round Top Lake. As expected, we didn’t encounter any mosquitoes this late in the year.
We parked at the very full Woods Lake trailhead, paid our $5 parking fee, then found the nearby trail to Round Top Lake, also known as the Lost Cabin Mine Trail. Although this trailhead is more direct, it is a few hundred feet lower than Carson Pass trailhead. You can definitely tell there is more climbing involved as you make your way up to the lake. It’s an interesting trail though. It shares and parallels the old mine road, and even passes a few relics of the mining operation long gone.
As we got higher and the trees thinned out, the peaks of Round Top and The Sisters came into view. Even though we were well above the aspens of Hope Valley, there was no shortage of Fall colors. The autumn beauty of the grasses, bushes, and pines were all on display with their golds, greens, and reds.
Soon we reached Round Top Lake at the base of The Sisters and Round Top. This little lake is smaller than the neighboring Winnemucca Lake, and is much greener in color as well. With the jagged peaks above, and the reflection of golden bushes in the water, it made a wonderful place to stop for a rest before climbing up Round Top above.
The trail to climb The Sisters and Round Top follows the drainage to the southeast of Round Top Lake. I had expected to have the place to ourselves that day, and was really surprised to see how many people were on the peak trail. Seeing the people on the trail above gave an interesting perspective of the mountain as well. The mountain itself looked very high and far away, but oddly, the people looked fairly close. This might help explain the feeling I get when approaching a mountain. From down below, a mountain looks overwhelming to me, but with a slow and steady pace, I seem to gain elevation much quicker than expected. Maybe this is a good lesson about life in general.
We started up the peak trail towards the saddle. Gaining elevation quickly now, views to the north really opened up. Round Top Lake, Black Butte, Caples Lake, Pyramid Peak, Lake Tahoe, Freel Peak and more were all visible.
As we finished climbing to the saddle, we passed a snowbank that had survived the long, hot summer. Once at the top of the saddle we could now see far off into the lands to the south. More tall mountains, deep canyons, lakes, and creeks. To the west was a quick trail to the top of the highest peak of The Sisters. To our east, a trail continued up Round Top.
Our friend Jason had broken away from us earlier in the hike, and we had assumed he already made the peak of Round Top. We intended to join him, and made our way further up the trail. As soon as we reached the rocks, it became less clear which way to go. The map indicated steep drop-offs on the north and south sides, with a narrow corridor to follow to the top.
Unfortunately, the way up the middle wasn’t looking too great either. Our friend Jason appeared on a rock above as we started up the first route. He saw us struggling, and suggested a more southern route. We backtracked, climbed some more, but then realized we had gone astray again. The route would require us to go back down, around, and up again.
At this point the little dogs were having a difficult time walking, and appeared to be getting spooked. The way ahead was going to require us to use our hands, but holding scared shivering dogs wasn’t going to allow this. My concentration was really starting to go with the nervousness of keeping everyone safe. Suddenly everything began to feel steeper than it probably was, and I got a bit woozy. We all agreed we had probably gone high enough for the day.
This is the second time this year bringing the dogs has made a summit too difficult. At the same time though, bringing them along allows us to stay out all day. Also, I think they like hiking as much as we do, and I know they’d be disappointed if they didn’t get to go too. And it’s also possible I secretly like having them along, so I can back out if things get too creepy. I’d like to test this last one, and give Round Top another shot in the future without the dogs.
Jason rejoined us, and informed us we probably didn’t want to go up any further. We may have made it past where we were, but it would get more difficult still, and wasn’t a place we’d want to bring the dogs. That made me feel better. My GPS said we had about 200 more feet in elevation to climb, but the actual top was still up, over, and away from view. Only when I started down the mountain and could get a better view did I realize how much further we had to go. Funny, because I had felt so close to the top.
Instead of going back the same way we came, we decided to do a loop hike via Winnemucca Lake. Just a ways down from the ridge, we took a side trail that later joined the main trail to Winnemucca Lake. It was about this time we really began to realize how many spider webs we were seeing floating through the air. We had been seeing them all day, but they seemed to be more frequent now. The sky above us was full of the shiny webs blowing in the breeze. It must have been a big hatch or migration, with millions of spiders para-gliding away to somewhere else. I had to wipe a few webs out of my face throughout the day, and even brush off one spider. It was still WAY better than mosquitoes though!
We had a well deserved and extended break at Winnemucca Lake. We kicked off the boots, waded, and finished off most of our food. Recharged, we started our hike down the canyon, through the woods, and back to Woods Lake.
I’d say go out and enjoy this hike while you still can, but Fall is short lived in the Sierras. Recent snow storms have already covered the higher elevations in snow, and I imagine they’ll stay this way until next Spring. The good news is that I hear this area is great exploring in the winter as well. I’m sure we’ll plan a snowshoeing outing here this winter!
Round Top Peak – 10,364 feet
No wilderness permits are required for day hikes in the Mokelumne Wilderness. If you plan to camp, you’ll need a permit year round.
More photos from this hike on Flickr HERE.