Round Top P2K SPS / OGUL / WSC / PYNSP
Red Lake Peak P1K OGUL / PYNSP

Sat, Feb 16, 2002
Etymology
Round Top
Red Lake Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
Round Top previously climbed Fri, Mar 23, 2001
later climbed Sun, Apr 4, 2004
Red Lake Peak previously climbed Sun, Jun 21, 1998
later climbed Sat, Dec 13, 2003

Round Top is a fine Sierra Peak, south of Lake Tahoe off Carson Pass. It makes for a great winter destination because it has a short approach and a class 3 summit. Having already climbed it twice, I was interested in exploring a new winter route to the summit. Last time I was up there with Michael, he informed me that the curving center couloir was known as the Crescent Moon Couloir. I wouldn't have thought it was climbable by mortals, but if someone had given it a name that was known on the Internet, it seems likely that more than a few souls had ventured up there. A winter outing with snowshoes, crampons, and axe - just what I was looking for.

Ray and I were staying at his second home near Murphys on SR4, having planned to do some skiing if there was any new snow. And if we didn't get any new snow, I figured I could go climbing - it seems I couldn't lose. We had been out at Mt. Reba the day before, but Ray needed to do some things on Saturday, so I set out on my own around 8a. It's a long drive along SR49, then back up to Carson Pass on SR88, taking about an hour and a half. I had to stop to pick up a Snow Park Pass, so I stopped at the Kirkwood cross-country center. Now this seems odd, but they don't sell them there, but they do at the gas station next door. Go figure. Procuring said pass, I headed back up the road.

At Carson Pass I tossed some extra clothes in my daypack and headed out at 10a. Not an early start, but this wasn't a tough climb either. The weather was definitely more threatening than the day before, and it seemed certain that a storm was on it's way (plus the weatherman had foretold of one). I made very good time over solid snow, and passed Lake Winnemucca in less than an hour. A few souls were packing up towards the West Ridge route, but I made a beeline for Round Tops North Face, climbing steep, but remarkably solid slopes. The teeth in the crampons bit in beautifully, giving me great purchase to climb without needing an axe (I had poles to help with balance besides). I took a few breaks along the way as the route steepened, using the time to survey the couloir which now loomed above me. It looked a bit frightening to be sure, and loaded with snow. There was a pile of snow at the bottom where the avalanches fanned out before coming to rest. Hmmm...

I climbed up to the right of the couloir where I found a nice flat spot at the base of a cliff. Here I put on my crampons, packed up my snowshoes, and with axe in hand headed up. Climbing up the debris fan at the base, I was soon at the bottom of the 600-foot couloir looking up this very steep chute. The first thing I noticed was that the snow was not hard at all in the couloir, but rather soft, and I sunk up to my knees with each step. I stayed on the right side of the couloir as I headed up, not really trusting the snow in the very center. Of course if the snow had slid out from under me I wouldn't have had any better chance where I climbed than in the center, but it offered some sort of psychological crutch. The walls of the couloir towered high above, solid rock shooting straight up. A side gully to the right looked to go nowhere, while a second, larger one on the left offered a tempting shorter route to the summit. But since I hadn't done any research on this route beforehand, I was worried that the left chute might end in a cliff. Better to stay with the crescent-shaped route I figured (which continued straight up, curving to the right), just to be safe.

As I climbed past the left branch, the couloir grew steeper. I could no longer stay to the side because of rocks, so I moved to the center of the couloir. The axe in my left did little other than to suck the heat from my left hand making it numb, even through two pair of gloves. The snow was too soft and the axe went in all the way to the head, and would easily have just come out in the event of a fall. The knee-deep steps made a fall unlikely, so the uselessness of the axe didn't really alarm me. About two-thirds of the way up the couloir turns to the right, and grows steeper still. I stopped to take a few photos (looking down and up) and to give my hands a break from the cold head of the axe. Starting back up I soon reached the steepest part of the couloir, about 50 degrees, just below the exit point. At the worst of it I struggled for five minutes to make a single step. The snow above me just came down on top and I couldn't pack down a step to climb up. To the left my axe hit rock just under the surface, but my feet were too far down to reach up. I probably should have moved right to go around, but the slope falls off there some, and I was being a bit stubborn to boot. Finally, having pulled down a few cubic yards of snow from above, I managed to sort of crawl out of it and onto the firmer snow above. The ridge was only 10 yards above at this point, and I was soon safely above removing my crampons and taking in the views.

The couloir exited just east of the west peak, but the higher east peak was some distance off. I packed up my crampons and axe and headed along the ridge. Round Top has the reputation of having much loose rock on steep slopes falling of to the south side. While this is certainly true, I have found that if one stays closer to the ridge top, the going is much easier, even if the exposure to the north side is greater. I really enjoy this climb along the ridge with some fine class 3 sections, and in about 10 minutes I was on the east summit. I considered very briefly looking for the register, but it was well-buried in the snow, and I didn't feel much like ruining my adze on the rock trying to hack it out from the snowpack. I took some photos in all directions (south, southeast, northeast, and northwest) as I watched the weather closely. There was definitely a storm brewing to the west coming in from the Central Valley, but I had hours to go still before it would likely break.

I retraced my steps along the ridge, and continued up and over the west summit. I had planned to return via the West Ridge, but as I came down the west side of the west summit, I noticed the fine snowpack on the northwest slopes looked like they might make for an easy descent. Wandering off that way, I found the snow to be quite solid - it gets afternoon sun unlike the couloir, and the snow was in great shape. With the snowshoes back on, I headed down, picking my way around the rocks that protruded up through the snow, climbing down 25-30 degree slopes. As I went down I curved around towards the north side, and eventually intersected my ascent route about a hundred yards below the bottom of the couloir. From there I made a beeline for Lake Winnemucca, finishing the descent from the west summit in about 20 minutes. There had been no one at the summit before me that day judging by the lack of tracks I found up there, but I did see a couple of climbers heading up the West Ridge as I was peeling off the northwest side. Now that I was back at the lake, I came across others out for a stroll, and a few adventurous types who were digging out platforms to camp at the lake that evening (almost two feet of snow fell overnight, so I imagine they had quite a time digging out and getting back on Sunday). I headed back to the trailhead, returning to the car at 2p.

Though I carried a quart and a half of water with me and a few snacks, I hadn't drank or eaten anything in the four hours I was out there. I hadn't really been thirsty until my return, but now I emptied one of the two water bottles and had a granola bar. It seemed a bit early to call it day, and I still had some climbing left in my legs, so I turned my attention to Red Lake Peak on the other side of the road.

I had been eyeing Red Lake Peak while I was descending from Round Top an hour earlier. I had noted that the standard route up the Southwest Ridge was almost entirely free of snow, somewhat surprising for the middle of February. I had climbed the peak once before during the summer and had remembered the summit crags to be fun class 3. Since it was only a short distance from the road, and since it was only 2p, I figured I had plenty of time (I did indeed, no epic here).

I left my snowshoes in the car and headed out across the road with just my boots on my feet. I clambered over rocks as much as I could, crossing snow patches where forced to. The snow was softer now in the afternoon, and I postholed to my knees more than a few times. Once out of the trees (the little runty things that pass for trees anyway) and the flatter ground, and onto the southwest ridge, I was able to stay on rock the whole way up. It's an easy climb, and took less than an hour to reach the upper ridge with the summit pinnacles. I passed a group of skiers who were gathered around a rocky outcropping just under the summit ridge, about 5 in all. They looked to be lounging about, but it couldn't have been to take in the non-existent afternoon rays. A few tokes before heading down one of the chutes on the southeast side? Perhaps, but they weren't offering me any!

The summit ridge runs roughly north-south, and seems to be a popular ski tour. Tracks lead along the east side of the ridge, past the summit blocks and beyond to Stevens Peak about a mile to the north and only four feet shorter than Red Lake Peak (Stevens Peak would have to wait for another day). I left the tracks just north of the summit where I knew I could climb up to the class 3 summit blocks. Like most of the peaks in this area, Red Lake Peak is of volcanic nature, but there was very little loose stuff along the top. The summit is about 30 yards south of the point I had climbed up to, along a knife-edge with exposure on both sides. Though very short, it is actually more fun than the class 3 found on Round Top's summit ridge.

I found the register in the rusty cans that I remembered from several years ago, and found my previous entry. Though many folks hike up and along the summit ridge, not so many climb the summit pinnacles, and the last entry was from a week earlier. More gorgeous views all around, including a glimpse of Lake Tahoe to the north and Desolation Wilderness to the northwest. I took a few photos and noted the worsening weather, and decided to stay only a few minutes. The wind was blowing pretty good and I was getting cold sitting on the top in only a light jacket. Though I had wool gloves on, my fingers were growing numb as my heart rate decreased and the warming bloodflow with it.

I retraced my steps and headed down, climbing quickly down the ridge I had climbed up. Two of the skiers I had seen earlier were coming down just in front of me clad in heavy ski boots, heading back to their pals at the outcropping. Guess they decided to go have a look up near the summit while their friends hung out. They were just beginning to ski down from their station about 15 minutes later when I was nearly back to the car. I reached the car at 4p, two hours roundtrip. I was tired now, I had to admit, and was eager to get back to the hot tub in Murphy. The snow started to come down about an hour later while I was still driving back, and didn't let up until the following afternoon. Ray skied and I snowboarded ourselves to exhaustion on Sunday, a fine powder day at Bear. And another fine weekend in the Sierra came to a close...


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