We’ve had three years of drought in California, and the snowpack is at record lows for late January, but Lance, George, and I were determined to have some mountain fun anyway. We packed our car, filled our mugs with coffee, and headed for the hills. The day’s agenda was fluid, but we had in mind to climb Round Top and the taller of The Sisters depending on snow conditions.
We left the Carson Pass trailhead with just our bare boots. Though the snow was neither soft nor deep, it was slippery, and after a few minutes of sliding around we strapped on our snowshoes. We hiked along the base of Elephants Back, a long plateau that rests about a mile south of Carson Pass. The trail then skirted along the banks of frozen-over Winnemucca Lake. The snow coverage up to this point was fairly light, but from here, it would get deeper, softer, and steeper.
The snowshoe trail makes its way up toward Round Top Lake, but before we reached it, we turned to our left toward the saddle between Round Top and The Sisters. Here, again, the trail steepened as we approached the saddle. We huffed our way up the slope and onto dry ground at the saddle. We took off our snowshoes and began our climb up toward Round Top.
The climb from here starts as a steep scree slog. There is a bit of a use-trail to follow, and so we did most of the time. After a few hundred feet of this, we found ourselves on the Western pinnacle of the peak, though this was not the highpoint. Getting to the Eastern highpoint, the summit, involved a bit of class-3 scrambling over somewhat solid volcanic rock, but we all made it across safely.
The summit views, of course, were spectacular. In the Northern distance we could see Lake Tahoe. Further to the East was the Carson Range and Hope Valley. To the South were the snow-dusted peaks of the Ebbetts and Sonora Pass areas. We ate our food, took our pictures, signed our signatures in the register, then made our way back down to the saddle.
At this point, George’s summit fever broke, and he decided to start heading down. Lance and I figured we’d make the quick ascent of the taller of The Sisters before calling it. It was but a quick waltz up the scree to the summit. We found a weather-beaten register in a plastic bag, but decided not to sign it. We took a few more pictures, then headed back down.
The hike back down was long. Lance and I were out of gas, and we could see George at times perhaps a half-mile down the trail. We pushed forward and eventually caught up to him, and we all hiked the last mile out together. This last bit was terribly long, and because there were so many sets of tracks leading in different directions, more than once we got off-route.
By the time we made it to the car, we were ready for a feast. We changed clothes and put away our gear, then drove a few miles back down to the Kirkwood Inn. We made it with only twenty minutes of happy hour left. We ordered our beer an tacos, feasted, then drove over Carson Pass, through Hope Valley, and into South Lake Tahoe where we’d stay for the next two nights.