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Round Top

Mokelumne Wilderness

Mokelumne Wilderness Links:

July 22nd, 1999

6.3 miles
2110 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:53

Rating: 9/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Nancy and I hiked in the Mokelumne Wilderness.

We parked in the day use area of Woods Lake Campground, off Highway 88. From there, we crossed the footbridge to start the trail up toward Winnemucca Lake.

Wildflowers on way to Winnemucca Lake

The trail up to the lake includes some of the most beautiful wildflower scenery I've seen. Hills on the left are covered with wildflowers -- lupine and Indian paintbrush among them. In front of us loomed Round Top, patches of snow still clinging to its slopes. I stopped several times along the trail just to soak in the environment. I felt like I was somewhere in the Swiss Alps, not near Lake Tahoe.

Nancy treading softly through the wildflowers

Round Top

As we hiked, we encountered many other hikers on the trail. Some people were fishing in the nearby stream. It's an easy mile and a half to Winnemucca Lake. This beautiful alpine lake sits like a jewel in the mountains. The water is so clear I could imagine myself swimming in it (and I've never gone swimming anywhere other than a swimming pool). A trail to the left goes two miles out toward Carson Pass. The lake sits at the base of Round Top. A series of peaks to the left of Round Top reminded me of the Mt. Whitney massif.

Panorama of Winnemucca Lake
(Click image to view full size)

We sat on rocks by the lake and soaked in the serenity before continuing to the right, up toward Round Top Lake. Along the way we encountered snow patches with splotches of red algae. We also noticed parallel streaks in the snow, possibly caused by falling rocks. As we neared the top of the pass, the wind started to pick up. When we reached the top, we could see Round Top Lake below us, sitting underneath Round Top and The Sisters.

Winnemucca Lake from the pass

Round Top Lake is much smaller than Winnemucca Lake. But the water is just as clear. Above, we could see curves in the snow where skiers and snowboarders had come down. In fact, we could see a skier up on the slope of one of the Sisters. Enough snow to ski/snowboard on, but not much in the way of fresh powder.

Skier above Round Top Lake

After a brief discussion, we decided to continue to the left, up to the top of Round Top, over 1000 feet above us. The faint trail rises sharply up a gully toward a saddle between Round Top and The Sisters. It's steep and sandy, but relatively short. After gaining the saddle, it's a scramble up the rocky summit. The rock here is very different from most Sierra Nevada peaks. Instead of being carved by glacial action, Round Top is instead the result of volcanic activity. The summit rocks are covered with yellow and orange.

Resting on the steep trail up

Notice all the minerals in the summit rock

After a steep climb up the rocks, we were at the summit of Round Top, elevation 10,381 feet. To the north we could clearly see Pyramid Peak and the rest of the Desolation Wilderness. Caples Lake lay between Pyramid Peak and us. From the northern edge of the summit we could see Winnemucca Lake far below us, almost straight down. To the south were row upon row of snow-covered peaks.

On top of Round Top! Caples Lake in the background

There were no marmots, and no summit register to be found. There is a small metal USGS stamp at the top.

View from the top. Round Top Lake (foreground) and Caples Lake.

After a relatively brief stay on top, we started the fun task of descending. As we carefully made our way down, a couple of hikers passed us on their way up. While the trails on the rest of our hike were relatively crowded, the hike to the summit was fairly isolated.

Nancy starting the descent

Another view of the descent

Nancy, amazingly enough, was doing the hike in her Tevas (and bare feet). Not recommended. =) At least she did use one of my trekking poles on the steepest sections of dirt.

Once we returned to Round Top Lake, we continued down, back toward Woods Lake. The trail meanders among melting snow. At one point a creek rushes underneath the overhanging melting snow. The trail eventually turns into a dirt road, and descends to a gate. From there, it's an uneventful walk through the Woods Lake Campground on paved roads back to our cars.

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