Fri, Jan 2, 2015
Little Round Top
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Little Round Top previously climbed Mon, Apr 19, 2010|
Up at 4:30a, I had slept poorly for the last few hours as the poison oak I had brushed against a few days earlier was coming back to haunt me. I would get a temporary reprieve today as the rash tends to itch far less when I'm cold. And cold it would be - 34F in San Jose when we left and 24F when we reached Kirkwood around 8:30a. The saving grace would be very little wind, completely calm even for the first half of the day. This made conditions far more pleasant than they might otherwise have been and I enjoyed a very fun day of easy showshoeing.
Peak 8,700ft lies on the ridgeline separating Caples Lake from Kirkwood Meadows and the resort. From the west end of Kirkwood Meadows, I went up the South Slopes, a 900-foot climb up smooth, open terrain, taking about 40min to reach the summit. Though not terribly high, it has a great view south to the resort and north to Caples Lake. Though I had started with more layers, by this time I was down to just a tshirt and it had the makings of a fine winter day.
I dropped east off the summit, first through open slopes then into the forest. The snow in areas open to the sun were nicely frozen for easy walking, but in the forest the snow was deep and heavy, requiring much expenditure of effort. Emerging from the forest near the edge of the lake at its southern end, I had intended to walk around the lake's edge. But, finding the lake frozen (at least 3" of ice) I simply walked across it. It was mix of snow-drift cover with expanses of clear ice. The ice was permeated with air bubbles which helped me judge its minimum depth, and laced with cracks that told of various thaws and freezes that had taken place over the last month or so. I stopped often to examine the various features of the ice, marveling at little pockets of air trapped at various levels (from decaying organic matter, I presume). I noted some skate tracks as well, from a few souls who ventured almost a mile across the lake.
Around 10:30a I left the lake and hiked north across SR88, climbing Peak 9,452ft from the south, a good 1,600-foot effort. I found a surprising number of snowshoe tracks once I reached the summit ridgeline. Ten years ago on such an outing it was rare to see other snowshoe tracks, but that seems to be changing. No longer do I find mostly cross-country ski tracks as I have in the past. It was almost 11:30a by the time I topped out on this second peak. I had planned to start back after reaching this point but I was enjoying the day so much and finding the effort much easier than I expected thanks to snow conditions most favorable to snowshoeing, that I decided to continue along the ridgeline to the northwest. I could see a higher summit in the distance at the end of the high ridge, not realizing it was a summit I had climbed five years earlier, Little Round Top. This very pleasant hike goes over two intermediate summits without any technical issues along the way. The views north are open to the Lake Tahoe region, taking in much of the lake, as far as Mt. Rose on the opposite end. To the northwest is the very snowy Desolation Wilderness with Pyramid, Jacks, Dicks and Tallac all prominent. After an hour's effort along the ridge, I took a long break at the summit of Little Round Top to eat a nice lunch my wife had prepared for me the night before (pretty cool, huh?). When I was done I texted her a message thanking her for it along with a view of Kirkwood I had from my lunch spot.
I descended Little Round Top to the southwest, more open terrain ideal for snowshoeing. I could see Kirkwood Meadow as I descended and was aiming more or less straight for it. The intervening terrain was not so trivial it turns out and I was beginning to appreciate the rough-looking terrain the more I descended. It occurred to me that the outlet of Caples Lake must drop into the canyon between myself and SR88 and there must have been a very good reason for the engineers to snake the roadway along cliffs below Two Sentinels rather than up the Caples Creek drainage. Concerned that I might find myself in trouble if I continued, I modified my route, turning south and then southeast to aim closer to the lake's outlet. Once down the steepest slopes I found myself in forest with deep, heavy snow that would sink my snowshoes a foot deep and increase my work significantly. There were also some shorter, steep boulder fields laced throughout the forest here. My idyllic wandering was no longer so easy. I came across a groomed cross-country ski route and probably should have followed it out for the easiest return, but instead I crossed over it and continued my southeast descent towards the lake's outlet. More hard work ensued and almost immediately I regretted not taking the easier way out. Time was beginning to run short as I realized I would probably not make it back for the 3p rendevous we had planned back at the van. Hmmm. Luckily I still had some reserves and though the snow through the trees was trying, I was still far from exhausted. Some willow patches created unwelcomed opportunities to thrash around in. This wasn't as much fun as I was having a short while earlier. Just as I thought I had descended into realms that few have ever visited in winter, I came across a family of four walking through the woods. Dad was towing a sled behind the others, the youngest, about 8yrs-old, happily leading the way on small snowshoes. They were having a fine adventure, it seemed. My illusion was shattered. We chatted briefly before departing, but they confirmed what I already knew - I was getting close to the lake, now less than half a mile. I eventually reached Caples Creek which was flowing sufficiently to make a safe crossing unlikely. The logs spanning the watercourse had more than a foot of snow atop them, making any sort of crossing a risky venture. I followed the creek on the north side, getting lost in the twists and turns the creek makes in heavy forest cover, eventually emerging back onto SR88. Here I found a number of cars parked in small stretches of turnouts along the roadway by the lake. A dozen folks were out skating on the lake while others were engaged in snowplay. I still had almost three miles to get back to the car and it was already 2:30p. My attempts to hitch-hike were not successful as I found no accommodating drivers in the few that were heading in my direction. I ended up walking along the roadway, not so fun since the plows did not clear much of the shoulder. I managed to flag down the Kirkwood courtesy shuttle once I got back to Kirkwood Meadows, shaving about 1/2mi off my return route and getting me back to the van by 3:15p. Turns out the boys were still out on the hill - they were having so much fun that they decided to extend their return time (as I suggested they might do), but I didn't get the text until I was already back at the van. By the time they arrived some 20min later I had the van nicely warmed, changed out of my wet boots, and was enjoying a new book a friend had given me for Christmas. Not a bad way to finish the day...
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