Little Round Top P750

Mon, Apr 19, 2010
Little Round Top
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Little Round Top later climbed Fri, Jan 2, 2015

The Sierra weather had been somewhat non-standard, with very short breaks between storms since sometime in December, or so it seemed. I'm always looking for the snow to consolidate to faciliate a nice backcountry snowshoe outing, but it seemed like the storms were dribbling in at a regular pace of once a week or so. Things seemed to be finally settling down and I was in the process of planning a Friday outing, with Matthew possibly, when I noticed yet another storm scheduled to come in on Tuesday. So with only a few hours warning I changed plans to head up the next day to get the outing in before the new snow arrived. It worked out nicely, even if I did have to make the trip solo.

Wade is the name of the benchmark placed on a somewhat high point south of Lake Tahoe between Hope Valley and the much larger Carson Valley. The benchmark was placed to aid in triangulation measurements and consequently has a fine view overlooking Nevada, but is not highest point in the area. That honor goes to an unnamed point some 23ft higher about a mile to the southwest. Wade is on the OGUL list, a Sierra Club compilation of peaks in the Tahoe region and one of only a few on the list I had yet to visit.

Pete Yamagata's online guide does not add any appeal to the climb of Wade, describing the old roads and trails as "wretched" and "decaying" with a non-trivial amount of aspen and willow thickets to negotiate. Bill Peters had climbed Wade a few weeks earlier on similar snow coverage I would encounter, and reported no such issues. As I hoped, I found no significant navigation issues with conditions much as Bill had reported.

I started from the Horsethief Canyon TH southwest of the peak along SR88/89 a short distance east of the Snowshoe Springs Campground. The start of the trail was non-obvious to me as the sign points north, perpendicular to the road. I wandered some about the forest before finding my way on the trail. On the way back it was easy to follow the trail back to the parking lot - what I had missed is a hard right (east) turn just after the sign to the start of the trail. Part of my confusion may have been due to the early hour of 5:45a when there was just enough light to get by, but not much else.

I followed the trail as it made its way steeply up the west side of Horsethief Creek for more than a mile before the canyon opens up some and the slope lessens. While there was no snow at the start around 6,600ft, there was no bare ground by the end of that first mile when I had climbed to about 7,600ft. I lost the trail as there were no tracks to be found in the snow - Bill's tracks had been covered by newer snow in the intervening weeks. I came across an old fence mentioned in Yamagata's guide, much of it dilapidated. Eventually I had to make my way to the east side of the creek and I found a suitable snowbridge to make this easy enough. What I didn't know at the time was that there was a bridge over the creek less than a hundred yards further upstream that I only discovered by accident on the way back, but it mattered little.

The sun rose shortly before 7a, lighting up the higher peaks in the Carson Range to the north, noteably Freel Peak. It was easy traveling up the canyon once I had moved to the east side, without any serious impediments as I made my way north towards the unnamed pass at the head of the canyon. The snow was mostly frozen and made for easy travel during the morning hours, no trouble with postholing or other troublesome conditions. Before reaching the pass I curved right to climb up towards the higher summit of Peak 9,390ft, moving onto the north side of the NW Ridge to allow me to traverse over to Wade without having to first climb to the higher summit.

Though steep in a few places, the traverse worked out nicely and by 8:30a I had found my way to the summit of Wade in less than three hours. The summit was a mostly snow-free collection of rocks high above the Carson Valley to the east. The benchmark appears to be missing, but there were two location markers still embedded in the rocks. A rusty tin held an OGUL register placed in 1987. Pete Yamagata looks to have the most ascents (4), first visiting it in 1988. There were other recognizeable names among the fifteen pages including Don Palmer in 1993, Bob Sumner in 1995, Erik Siering in 2001, Adam Jantz in 2007, and John Fedak in 2009. And of course Bill was the only other visitor from earlier in March. Next to the register was Bill's gift that he had hinted to me via email - an ice-cold bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade. I was surprised to find that the bottle did not appear to have frozen - it had certainly been cold enough over the last two weeks to freeze water, but not enough to freeze the alcohol. Mmm. I tucked the bottle in my pack for future imbibement.

Leaving the peak, I was surprised to find a medium-sized white rabbit sitting among some rocks about 20 feet from where I had to take off my snowshoes to cross a dry patch of ground. The rabbit did not budge though I was making a good deal of noise in doing so. I took a picture of it from a distance then crept up to see how close I could get. I took a second picture when I was about 10ft away, but upon creeping closer it took off. It was the closest I've ever seen a rabbit allow.

Rather than return via the same route with the dog-leg turn, I opted to go more directly southwest back to Horsethief Canyon. Though I did not plan on climbing the higher peak to the west, my route took me close enough that I thought, "What the heck, what's an extra hundred feet of gain?" The summit was rounded and trees blocked much of the views, making it decidedly less impressive than Wade. Looking east to Wade, it wasn't at all obvious that I was 23ft higher as suggested on the topo map. I dropped down into Horsethief Canyon, found the bridge over the creek, and eventually the snowshoe tracks I had left earlier on the way up. Thirsty now, I made use of Bill's gift and found it remarkably refreshing - hydration and alcohol consumption all in one package that made the return trip quite enjoyable. By 10:45a I had made my way back to the highway and my car, not surprisingly still the only vehicle at the trailhead.

I spent the next 30 minutes driving west on SR88 back up and over Carson Pass to the dam at Caples Lake, across from Round Top. It was much too early to call it a day so it was good that I had a secondary plan. One of the few peaks in the area I had yet to climb was Little Round Top, not on any peak list, not much prominence, and not a county highpoint, but it was one of the higher peaks in the Lake Tahoe Basin that I had yet to visit.

The climb to Little Round Top wasn't all that memorable, owing perhaps to my choice of route that followed through the trees much of the way. Others have reached the peak via a longer route from the Sno-Park near Carson Pass which involves a more scenic ridgeline traverse, probably a better choice in hindsight. My route was more or less direct, with minor deviations to avoid some cliffs on the south side of the main ridge in this area. I came across roads that had been used by both snow mobiles and XC skiers, but since they were more circuitous I didn't use them much.

It took about an hour and a half to climb to the summit, making use of the Southwest Ridge for the last several hundred feet. The summit area is large and flat and consequently doesn not feel like much of a peak. Still, by walking around to the various sides one can get nice views in all directions. Desolation Wilderness is prominent to the northwest, with Lake Tahoe about 13 miles to the north across the broad canyon formed by the Upper Truckee River. Unfortunately, the blue skies of morning had given way to clouds and hazier skies of an approaching storm that made the lake barely visible. Stevens and Red Lake Peaks were prominent to the east, Round Top and the Kirkwood Ski Area to the southeast. There was a rock wind break built at the summit - oddly I've been finding these on a number of the recent peaks I have visited. There was no register tucked inside the rock wall that I could find.

I dropped off the east side of the summit, initially following the main ridgeline before dropping down into the cirque southeast of the summit. The route was a very smooth decline devoid of trees or brush or cliffs, just a uniform covering of softening snow that involved some mild postholing. At the bottom of the cirque I came across one of the groomed roads again which I used to follow for a short distance through the woods. I spied a wooden cabin through the trees that I later noted as "Schneider Camp" on the topo map, but otherwise didn't investigate further. Using a combination of the roads and more direct cross-country, I made my way back to the car by 2p, only taking off the snowshoes for the last hundred yards or so. It was early enough that I would get back to San Jose well before sunset, in fact just in time to take my daughter to her dance class and save my wife the trouble. What a good father and husband, eh?

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This page last updated: Thu Apr 29 16:30:14 2010
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