With the Groundhog’s announcement that Spring is to come early this year, I knew it was time to get back … Continue reading Snowshoe to Red Lake Peak
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.
Located just south of Ebbetts Pass on the northern border of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness is Hiram Peak and Highland Lakes. The summit of Hiram Peak lies only a about one mile away and a thousand feet above Highland Lakes. Although only 9,795 ft tall, the mountain has spectacular views of the surrounding area. On September 15th, my son and I set out for a camping trip to explore the area and give climbing Hiram Peak a shot.
Getting to Highland Lakes is fairly easy. From the Nevada side, take State Route 4 out of Markleeville towards Ebbetts Pass. This road becomes one lane near the top, so be cautious. It feels like you’re driving on a bike path at times. There isn’t much traffic, but it is a popular road for cyclists and motorcycles. Hopefully you won’t meet any RVs along the way. On the west side of the Ebbetts Pass Summit is Highland Lakes Road. A little ways off SR 4, the pavement ends. Follow this well graded dirt road (fine for passenger cars) about five miles to Highland Lakes. Along the way you’ll pass another Forest Service campground that might have spots available should the Highland Lakes campground be full.
When my son and I pulled into the campground, it was fuller than I had expected. There were a lot of guys in camo, and I started to see antlers poking out of the back of trucks. When I finally saw a downed deer in someone’s camp I realized it was deer season, and this was apparently a popular location to hunt. We were fresh out of blaze orange clothes, so we’d make sure to stick to the peak trail and not wander around the woods!
The Highland Lakes campground is divided into two sections, a lower, more open section on the north side of the upper lake, and a more secluded section up in the trees to the northeast of the upper lake. We picked a spot in the lower section next to the road with great views of Hiram Peak.
Finding solitude on a weekend like Labor Day can be a challenge. Forget trying to find a site at a campground, or even a parking space at a popular backpacking trailhead. We had pretty good luck in the Sonora Pass area last year though, so I began my research with a couple of my favorite tools, Goolge Earth and Summit Post. Find something interesting to climb on the map, and then read about how to get there. Sonora Peak looked like the perfect destination for a day’s outing without big crowds.
On the morning of September 2nd, we left Carson City at 8:30am, arriving at the St. Mary’s Pass trailhead about 10:30 am. We passed the Leavitt Meadows trailhead on the way up Sonora Pass, and the backpacker’s parking lot was packed. Although we had backpacked at Leavitt Meadows last Labor Day, I was glad we decided not to try it again this year after seeing the crowd
Just about a quarter mile to the east of the Pacific Crest Trail at the top of Sonora Pass is the St. Mary’s Pass trailhead. There is plenty of room for parking near the trail kiosk on the north side of the road, but if you have a low clearance vehicle, you may want to park in the pullout on the south side of the road instead.
The Saint Mary’s Pass trail leads you north beneath Sonora Peak on the west, and provides the easiest access to the peak. From the top of the pass, there is a lesser traveled trail to the top of the mountain. While the distance to the top is 2.5 – 3 miles, the trail climbs steadily from the trailhead, with only a bit of relief at the plateau before the final ascent.
For years, I was always curious what the names of the jagged peaks south of the Carson Valley were. Earlier this year, I finally got on Google Earth and answered my question. Raymond Peak is one of these mountains. The next question was, “Could I climb it?”. I don’t have any skills with ropes, and I don’t like exposures either. Further investigation revealed that the route to the top of the mountain was hikeable, so I put it on my bucket list of things to do before the end of the year.
At 10,014 feet elevation, Raymond Peak is the 3rd highest peak in the Mokelumne Wilderness, an area which straddles the Pacific Crest between SR4 (Ebbetts Pass) and SR88 (Carson Pass). The 105,165 acre Wilderness includes portions of the Toiyabe, Stanislaus, and El Dorado National Forests, and lies in the mid-Sierra region between Lake Tahoe to the north and the High Sierra to the south. The peak lies just east of the Sierra Crest, about six miles north of Ebbetts Pass. The Whitney Survey named the peak in 1865 for Rossiter W. Raymond, a US mineral examiner and commissioner of mining statistics in the Treasury Department.
On August 18th, three friends and I planned to climb the peak. The forecast was for thundershowers later in the day, but it was already pretty dark and cloudy at 7:00 AM when we left Carson City. As we drove through the Carson Valley, Raymond Peak was blurred in gray storm clouds off in the distance. We nervously joked that we sure picked a great day to do this.