Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake

On January 20th we got up to Carson Pass for a fine day of snowshoeing. When we arrived at the highway summit, we decided to snowshoe on the south side of the highway, up towards Winnemucca Lake. I was a little surprised to see how little snow there was on the north side of the road, with many of the wind blown ridges and south facing exposures already barren of snow. I guess it’s really just been a cold January, not a month of tremendous snow.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Getting Started – Red Lake Peak in the background

We parked at the Carson Pass SNO-PARK, located directly at Carson Pass Summit, and began our hike south along the Pacific Crest Trail. Snowshoers and backcountry skiers share the same route to begin with, following the blue diamond trail markers. Not too far up the trail though, several trails going in different directions began to form. We chose a well traveled route that bypassed Frog Lake on a more direct path to Winnemucca Lake.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Water Break

Once out of the trees, we started to get good views of Round Top peak to the south. While we had fairly deep snow back in the denser trees, it was now evident that we weren’t walking on top of too much snow out in the open. The tree wells revealed the ground just 2 or 3 feet below us. The snowpack is certainly better than last year, but we’re going to need more storms to catch us up. Especially if we want to continue snowshoeing much longer. Right now the extended forecast isn’t looking favorable for much more snow any time soon.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Caples Lake frozen over

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Final climb to Winnemucca Lake and Round Top

We climbed along the base of Elephants Back, and then out into a wide open bowl for the final ascent to Winnemucca Lake. Caples Lake far below was frozen over, so we figured we’d find Winnemucca Lake in the same state when we arrived.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Lunch at Winnemucca Lake

Cresting the final hill and getting the first view of Winnemucca Lake at the base of Round Top was breathtaking. I thought I might be disappointed not getting to see the deep blue lake, but it was actually quite magnificent frozen over and covered in snow. With the craggy peaks above, the scene was very Arctic looking.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Emergency blanket becomes emergency sled

We found a nice collection of dry boulders with a good view of the lake to have lunch on. There was another group of people down at the lake, and they were out walking on top of the ice. There were even a couple people out on the islands. I imagine the ice was fairly safe, but I sure didn’t want to find out it wasn’t. We walked out on the lake a little, but only next to the shore.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Return Trip

My son noticed the other group was using tarps for sleds, and wanted to know if we had anything similar. I decided that our emergency blanket would probably work as a sled, so we unfolded it out to full size and gave it a try. Sure enough, in a scene reminiscent of a penguin documentary, my son was able to do some pretty good belly slides down the steep hill to the lake shore.  One thing is for sure though; I don’t think we’ll get that blanket folded back up to its original compact size.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Frog Lake

We started to get chilled on our breezy ridge overlook, and decided it was time to head back and generate some body heat. We followed the route we came in on at first, but then veered off towards Frog Lake when we got near. It was only a little elevation gain to get there, but didn’t add any mileage. When we got to Frog Lake, it was barely distinguishable as a body of water. It’s not much more than a pond, and was hard to make out in the snow.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Elephants Back

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
All downhill from here

After a brief rest at Frog Lake, we began the final push to the trailhead. It was evident from the direction of the tracks we were following that we’d be taking a more direct route than the official trail. This would take us over some steeper and more challenging terrain. Climbing down the steep snow and traversing the side hills was a fun test of skill and equipment.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
A good side hill challenge

Soon we were back at the trailhead. We had snowshoed a little over 5 miles, and felt like we had gotten a good workout. The terrain was fun, and we saw some spectacular scenery. I’d have to say this was the best snowshoe trip of the year so far.

Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake
Back at the trailhead

It’s good to be familiar with this area when snowshoeing. The official trail is buried under the snow, and there are many snowshoe tracks going off in several directions. There are some major landmarks to keep you oriented, but it wouldn’t take much to veer off course and lose the trailhead.  You’d probably eventually find the highway, but the delay wouldn’t be any fun if you were short on daylight. It’s always best to have your map and compass with you. I brought my GPS along, and it proved to be pretty helpful for keeping us on track.


4 thoughts on “Snowshoeing to Winnemucca Lake

  1. Looks great. We snowshoed up Elephants Back a couple weeks ago. This past Sunday we snowshoed from the Red Lake turnoff, sort of along the Forestdale Road to a lovely bowl about 2.3 miles in. Perfect conditions.

    1. I’ve been wanting to climb Elephant’s Back. What was your route? I’ll have to follow Forestdale Road sometime. Sounds like another good place!

      1. For Elephants Back we headed up from the visitors center parking lot and followed the trail to Winnemucca. Once we had Elephants Back directly on our left side, we started a traverse up and around to the right….and around to the back side.

        Forestdale was awesome. We went in across from where the avalanche guns the end of the little road. We hiked in about 2 miles. When you get to the bridge, just on the other side, turn right and head toward the trees. The route will follow the creek around to an AMAZING bowl.

  2. Thanks for posting! Beautiful pics and I agree, Winnemucca Lake is very special winter or summer. Not sure why, it just is.

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