Round Top (10381')
Trailhead: Carson Pass Information Station (Hwy 88)
Duration: 1 day (Became 2 days)
Distance: Approximate 13 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous (Easy if you stick to the trail and don’t get stuck anywhere)
Date: Aug 17-18, 2013
Picasa web album link: here
Everytrail tracking: here (Don’t ever take this path unless you are looking for some technical challenges and are carrying all the necessary gear)
Before I begin, I would like to thank a lot of people who were involved in this amazing adventure (for some).
I thank everyone who were involved in all the efforts that were taken for the search and rescue operations and the support shown to the other hikers who were back at the information station. I especially would like to thank Win for being the POC for us with the Sheriff and rescue personnel, the Ranger - Frank, the volunteers Melene, Kathy and Geoff and the rescue personnel for all their efforts. Also, I'd like to express my gratitude towards Tyler who volunteered to look for us Saturday night!
Pre-note: I wrote this right away while all the details were fresh in my mind, so please do forgive me for all the grammatical errors that you may/will find further down the page.
I was supposed to enjoy this weekend Wind surfing followed by a relaxing visit to my cousin’s place in the city (San Francisco). On Friday though, I managed to find a ride to South Lake Tahoe and so joined Keung’s meet up hike to Round Top peak and ended up hiking again, not that I complain J. Being back from Mt. Whitney the previous weekend, I wanted to take it easy and just enjoy a small day hike followed by camping. This however turned out to be an epic adventure filled, strenuous 2 day hike that involved emergency camping out in the wild, sheriff, rescue choppers, volunteers at the Carson pass information station, search and rescue personnel and a whole lot of climbing and free descending. On Friday, I played badminton after work, grabbed a nice tasty Indian Pizza and reached home at 2200hrs. Saturday’s plan was to head to the trailhead, hike to the top of Round top peak and possibly may be the fourth of July peak and drive back to the fallen leaf lake campground for the night. Sunday was supposed to be a hike up Echo peak. Keeping all this in mind, I packed very light. Having hiked a lot, I normally carry a rope with me but this time around I left it home. How grave a mistake it was I found out the hard way. My alpine 4 season 2 person tent weights a mere 2lb 13oz went into my backpack along with my micro light sleeping bag and food for Saturday night/Sunday morning. I packed my camelbak water pouch (3litres) and 6 trail-mix bars into my daypack (Water backpack). I decided to look at the maps at the trailhead and went to sleep by 0000hrs. <Topos>
Since I had to carpool, I got up early and went over to another group mate’s place by 0630hrs. We headed out towards Carson pass and reached the information station at 1030hrs as planned.
We (Hyun, Win and I) waited for the rest of the group to come over. I met everyone (for the first time – meetup) and we greeted each other before heading out on the trail. I quickly glanced at the trail map and decided to click a picture of the same before hiking in. The Eldorado National Forest range (Mokelumne Wilderness) is extremely beautiful and I was happy I decided to go hiking there.
There were a lot of serene crystal blue lakes in and around that area that I was unaware of. The only other place I’ve hiked over there was Mt. Tallac. The journey to the top of round top peak wasn’t very eventful but it was enticing to the mind. We started the hike at 1115hrs. Our pace was so relaxed that I was even able to capture some great pictures. We stopped by the Winnemucca Lake for a while and continued towards round top peak. There is a trail to the summit that goes from Round top lake but we did not take that. We hiked towards the mountain (south, south west) and then subsequently hit the trail right in-between round top and the Sister peaks. Oh and yes, I forgot to introduce the group which is required going further – (Me, Hyun, Win, Nathan, Keung and his family – his mother and Holly). At this point, I was pretty surprised that Keung’s mother also made it till here. We now had to head east to the round top peak. We reached the 2nd peak (I’d like to call it the crest), which was the false peak. The Round top was visible from this point. It was however separated by a wide gap. One has to climb down about 50 feet and climb back up to the Round top. I reached here and gave it a thought. I did not want to risk it as the rocks were pretty loose and I did not have any safety equipment with me. I decided to turn back and head to the group. All of us grabbed whatever we had brought for lunch and then Keung decided to go to the top. Since he was anyways going up, I decided to go along with him to the summit and then return. Hyun also accompanied us. All of the others decided to turn back and head down to the parking lot.
So, after some very simple scramble and careful ascent we were at the peak of Round top. Views from the top were stunning. All of us wrote down our names in the book that was locked in the metal box under the stone. I remember it was 1500hrs. This is where things get super adventurous or stupid I am not sure which one. The proposed plan was to hike along the East Ridge and hit the PCT to get back to the trailhead. There were at least 4-5 peaks that needed to be scaled up and down or hiked a little south to the ridgeline in order to make it to the other side. The ridge looked out of the world with a patch of ice embedded heavily along the base on the north side. My gut feeling told me it was a bad idea to proceed further in this endeavor and I wanted to turn back from here but after contemplating the possibility of going down south in case of the ridge being difficult to hike, I decided to continue. We hiked along the ridge for a while. It was impossible to walk/crawl. The rocks were completely loose. Every foot we took with slightly more pressure initiated a rockslide. I wanted to either turn back or just head down south towards the tree line. After much convincing, we started heading down south. It was nowhere near easy and it was taking longer to descend. I saw the gorge/canyon that went all the way to the tree line. This is the one that runs south from just next to the Round top peak all the way to the summit city canyon. I felt it was much safer than sliding down the ever-moving loose rocks. We finally made it into the canyon. We wanted to get down to the tree line before dark so that we could hike either east to the PCT or west to the 4th of July lake and from there on head to the parking lot by midnight. The gorge however proved to be a lot tougher that it looked. The positive was there were not many places with loose rocks. The rate of descent was pretty good and I really thought we could make it down all the way before dark. But by 1745 I realized that we were not going to make it. We also started encountering class 5.7 and 5.8 climb (descents) between 10-15 feet along the gorge. I now had no choice but to keep going down and hoping that I will be able to climb down such verticals safely and there wasn’t any vertical higher than 20 feet. There is a fine line between adventure and unsafe situations. This one started out to be an adventure and was turning out to be quite unsafe. I keep this in mind – “There is no adventure that is worth human life” whenever I do anything that involves risk. This is when all of it came back to me. I had left my rope, my sleeping bag, and my tent that weighted literally nothing and hadn’t brought an overcoat as well. This was another reason I really wanted to get to the tree line (Forestdale divide). If we had made it to the trees, we could have kept hiking till we reached the trailhead, which would help me keep my core temperature at operating levels.
It was already 1945hrs and it was now time to decide where optimally to camp in case we ran into a tougher problem (climb down) to solve. Hyun and Kewng hadn’t had any climbing/bouldering experience let alone proficient. It was getting harder and harder for me to decide when to call it quits and stop for the night. We slowly descended quite a bit. At 2030hrs we hit a vertical about 10 feet that was difficult. This was just about 100 feet from the tree line. The gorge below this seemed pretty ok to climb down. I tried descending with torchlights but couldn’t find good foot and hand holds. I finally called it quits and found a relatively flat area to camp for the night. The right spot was at the place where we had descended the vertical before. We had cover from 3 sides and the gorge meandered around so there was barely any wind. Also, there was a small stream of water flowing down which gave us unlimited supply of fresh water. The calm quietness of the wilderness was broken by the sweet sound of water trickling down the gorge. We each ate whatever we had rationing supplies for an entire day to follow. We cuddled together to share body warmth and prevent bad stuff from happening. Thanks to Hyun’s extra jacket, I was saved. It was pretty cold and I was shivering a little even with the jacket. At about 2230hrs we heard sounds of a helicopter. We realized that we were being looked for thanks to Win and the group who were back at the information center. The volunteer staff there – Melene, Kathy and Geoff, the sheriff -Frank and all other people there who organized the Search and Rescue for us are just amazing people. The helicopter however I felt was looking for us more on the west side towards the 4th of July and east towards PCT. We got a glimpse of the chopper only twice both times were very brief. Both the times we kept all our torch and head lights on. I even tried blinking mine for an SOS. We were in the deep gorge, which would have made the rescue personnel onboard the chopper impossible to spot. Now, there was a decision for me to take. Either I climb up the 20+ foot side of the gorge and head out to the open hoping I’d be spotted and in the process get stuck up there (I was sure I would not be able to down climb that one – it was way more difficult that the Indian Rock full surface down at Berkeley) completely exposed to the cold winds or stay here the night, try to get down to the tree line the next day hoping there wouldn’t be any higher drops or impossible descents to perform. I chose the latter. Of all the experience I had, I trusted more on my instincts than on a rescue. The night was pretty cold and silent. I would have probably got about 3 hrs of sleep. The next day I was woken to the brutal sound of my alarm at 0530hrs. I remembered Saturday morning (getting up early to start for this hike and thought how cozy I would have been if I had slept in :-D). I went back to sleep. The sky was getting brighter but I was still cold, so I had no intentions of attempting technical descents that early in the morning. Hyun and Kweng was up. I am assuming they would have waited almost 30-45mins for me to wake up. I got up at about 0615hrs and got ready to head down towards the trees. Now, in bright light conditions I was able to see the problem well. There were enough holds to traverse and get down safely. I was able to get down in no time. It took nearly 45mins for me to get both of them down safely. We were then on our way to the meadow below. At the base of the mountain, I now turned back to appreciate our feat of descent of 2000+ feet without any technical equipment. I was extremely happy with myself.
At 0730hrs, we heard the chopper again. We waited for about 15mins to see if we could signal them that we were all ok and there was nothing to worry but alas, we never saw the helicopter. We headed out to the 4th of July Lake where we met hikers camping there. There were kind enough to provide a filter for water from the lake. After a nice rejuvenating coffee, we headed out towards Roundtop lake and then to the trailhead (Waiting for your sms) They also provided me the Carson Pass Info. Center contact number and also the information that I’d get ATT signal half way to the round top lake. I was pretty surprised by this but was very happy that I had an ATT line. Oh yeah, by then before reaching the lake, we were able to signal the choppers that we were all good. The chopper made two passes above us to make sure it was we, I suppose. Anyways, the first chance I got, I called up the information center and passes on the news to the other hikers who were there. I also spoke to the Sheriff and informed him of the route that we were taking to get back and the ETA. Since we were all fine and no rescue needed, the choppers were called off. We then followed the trail now to round top lake, from there to Winnemucca Lake.
We were met by search and rescue close to Winnemucca lake. The dogs were so great. It was really a fun 2mile hike back with the rescue service dogs and the rescue personnel. I even found out how one enrolls to become a Search and Rescue volunteer. Arriving at the trailhead, we were greeted by everyone – the volunteers, the Sheriff and our other hikers. There was a quick debrief session with the Sheriff after which we were cleared OK to leave. This is when I learnt about the selfless great hiker Tyler, who even after his hike back from the Round top peak, at 2030hrs in the night, volunteered to go back to the top in search for us. It seems he returned at midnight. I eagerly look forward to meeting him and hiking with him soon. So many things that could have gone wrong during the hike – a wrong footing or handhold would have sent us down 15feet ending very badly, a thunderstorm could have made us wet, rock slide down the gorge would have been catastrophic, finding a 20foot vertical or a vertical that was not traversable would have put us in a fix, bear or some other animal paying us a visit during the night. I am so happy the things turned out the way they did and glad we were out without any misfortunes. A very adventurous hike, this will never go forgotten. It goes down into my memory lane right away. Coming to think of it, in case it was only the 3 of us, search would have probably started on sunday by which time we would have got back to the parking lot. It wouldn't have been a big event after all. The Eldorado forest and Carson pass is such a wonderful area, I am sure to go back backpacking sometime soon. ~~~ My Blogs seem to grow in length every other time ~~~
I should start reducing the amount of content I write for each of these hikes!!