Backpacking Luther Pass to Carson Pass

We kicked off our backpacking season at the same time and location as last year. School just got out for the summer, and we headed to the southernmost section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. The big advantage this year is that we knew what type of conditions to expect on the trail. We wouldn’t get stuck walking through miles of snow like last time! This year we added an additional day to our journey, and hiked out to Carson Pass instead of Echo Summit, a route that kept us mostly out of the snow and having a lot of fun.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Getting started at Big Meadow

We got a late start on Friday, May 30th, not leaving the Big Meadow-Tahoe Rim Trail trailhead on Luther Pass until 3:00 PM. Although it was a late start, we didn’t even start getting ready for this trip until that very morning. It used to take us days to prepare, but we managed to pull it all together in a few hours including food shopping and stopping off to get a campfire permit. We’re getting better at this!

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Leaving Big Meadow

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
A quick look at Round Lake

Still, the late start inspired a brisk pace. We wanted to make sure we got to our campsite near Meiss Lake 5.5 miles up the trail with enough daylight left to setup camp and eat dinner. There wasn’t much stopping along the way, and this was probably the longest we’ve hiked without taking off the packs to rest. We hiked right on by Round Lake and a big creek crossing, places we had extended rest breaks at last year. Not bad for our first outing of the year!

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Big boulders along Round Lake

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
TRT south of Round Lake

We encountered some snow and only a few mosquitoes before getting to Meiss Meadow. There were quite a few snowbanks to go around or over, but the trail was still easy to follow. Without taking any breaks, the snow was tiring on the legs. We were pretty excited when the woods opened up, the snow disappeared, and we could see the Pacific Crest Trail intersection at Meiss Meadow. It was now just about a half mile to the campsite.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
There was snow between Round Lake and Meiss Meadow, but the trail was easy to follow

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
At the TRT / PCT intersection

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Camp setup just in time

We finally made it to our campsite south of Meiss Lake. We had just enough time to setup the tent, and get dinner and a fire going. When we picked up our campfire permit, we were told they wouldn’t be allowing open campfires much longer this year due to an early fire season. We were thankful we were still able to build a fire at this time, because it was cold! After enjoying dinner, cleaning up, and spending a short time enjoying the fire, we quickly retreated to the tent to warm up. I fell asleep almost instantly after the big day. It was a cold night, reminding us that Spring was just barely getting started in the mountains. Frogs numbering in the thousands were croaking in the meadow most of the night. It was hard to imagine an animal being so content sitting in the freezing water, while I lay there buried in layers of clothing and a sleeping bag.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Morning exploration around Meiss Lake

We were thankful when the sun finally hit the tent in the morning and it warmed up quickly. We took advantage of our campfire permit and built another fire while we got drinks and breakfast going. The last time we were here, we had to pack up camp to hike out to Echo Summit. This time we had nothing planned but to stay another day and explore the area.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Creek Jumping

We started off the morning with a hike towards Meiss Lake. There are some interesting boulder outcroppings surrounding the lake that resemble little islands in the meadow. The rest of the meadow was like a marshy maze where the snow melt made its way to the lake through a network of little streams. We got fairly close to the lake, but finally got to the point where we couldn’t go any further without getting our feet wet. Meiss Lake is probably best approached from the much drier east side. With all this standing water, it was amazing we didn’t see any mosquitoes while we were camped.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Emerging Corn Lilies

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Meiss Cabin

After some exploring, it was time to meet my dad. He was on his way in from Carson Pass to the south to join us for the night! We followed the PCT back to the south and went over to the Meiss Family cabin. We were only at the cabin for about 10 minutes when my dad and his dog showed up on the PCT and joined us. After some time exploring the cabin area, we returned to camp for some lunch.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
The barn at the Meiss Cabin

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Some water time on the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and doing some short excursions around the area. The ford at the Upper Truckee River has been improved since we were here last. There are some big rocks crossing the river now that make it easy to hop across. The borders of the crossing also have some nice new flat rocks that border the banks, making it easy to collect water without getting muddy. On one excursion we headed north on the PCT past the ford. We quickly hit snow on the way to Showers Lake, and the ground between the snow was muddy. We headed east back towards Meiss Lake, but encountered water too deep or marshy to get across. The river directed us back to the crossing at the ford. It’s going to be a few weeks still before the trail to Echo Summit is good for hiking.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Our home for the weekend

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Brrr! A cold morning.

I was hoping that it’d warm up some the second day, but we had another cold evening. I sat there wishing that I’d built the campfire in the sun to get more warmth! Without being in a hurry, we had a much more relaxed dinner this time. The cold night was creeping in quickly though, and I found myself wishing the sun would go down faster so we could climb into the tent. There wouldn’t be any staying up late to gaze at the stars on this trip.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Ready to hike to Carson Pass

I think the second night was colder than the first, and we woke up to a frosty tent and gear. The sun and campfire quickly warmed us up though, and we started taking off layers. The plan for the day was to hike out with my dad to the Carson Pass trailhead, 3.5 miles to the south. This was 2 miles shorter than going back the way we came, and we’d get to see some different country.

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Hiking south across Meiss Meadow

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Carrying dogs across the creeks

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Little waterfall below Red Lake Peak

The hike to Carson Pass was really nice. It started off with an easy hike across Meiss Meadow with great views of Red Lake Peak. After a couple stream crossings, we hiked through the woods a short time and then climbed near the top of timberline as we topped out above Carson Pass. Along the climb were some great views looking back towards Lake Tahoe, lots of wildflowers, and even a waterfall. Round Top and the other breathtaking rugged mountains lay further to the south. As we made our final descent to Carson Pass, we started to pass a lot of people hiking in for the day. The rumble of cars and motorcycles on the highway below signaled that we were almost done with our hike. Once back at the trailhead, we shuttled back to Luther Pass to pick up our car. We were pretty tired, but started to think of where we’d backpack next!

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Almost to Carson Pass with Round Top peak in view

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Looking back to the north with Lake Tahoe visible

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Some nice wildflowers

Luther Pass to Carson Pass
Made it to Carson Pass!

Tips: There are no wilderness permits required for this hike, but you’ll need to get a campfire permit just to use your gas stove. A permit can be acquired at the ranger station at the Carson Pass trailhead, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in South Tahoe (Monday-Friday), or at the Taylor Creek Ranger Station near Fallen Leaf Lake. There is lots of water available in this area, so there aren’t any long stretches without it. There is no need to carry a lot of water and burden yourself while you’re hiking (just be sure to filter or treat all water).

More photos of this trip can be found on Flickr HERE.

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