Trip Report - Round Lake, Carson Pass North

Round Lake Shows Her Good Side (Matt Pritchard) More photos below.

By Matt Pritchard

It seems a bit mischievous - driving past your office on a weekday morning with a car full of backpacking gear and no intention of slowing down. That's how I felt as we sped across the Bay Bridge in full view of my building in downtown Oakland, knowing that my co-workers would be showing up soon to put in a full 8 hours on this beautiful summertime Friday. Jody and I were bound for the Sierra - in search of some much needed R+R.

We spend a lot of time around Carson Pass during the winter - skiing at Kirkwood and snow camping near Red Lake. The area is so beautiful and accessible, it just begs for exploration. A couple of years ago we did a weekend backpacking trip to nearby Margaret Lake, which we really enjoyed. It's hard to go wrong with blue water, granite, pines, and aspens. This time we were heading to Round Lake on the suggestion of a friend. Originally, we wanted to hike south from Carson Pass and explore the Winnemucca, Round Top, Emigrant Lake area, but our 3 day time limit and soft physical condition dictated a more mellow trip.

Round Lake can be reached from the north via the Big Meadow trailhead and from the south via Carson Pass. Since we would be staying put for two nights, we opted for the slightly longer hike in from Carson Pass. After stopping by Kirkwood to pick up our 04/05 season passes, we parked at the Carson Pass lot and hit the trail. The route to Round Lake follows the Pacific Crest Trail for a few of miles before branching off onto the Tahoe Rim Trail for the final two miles. The trail itself climbs high above Highway 88, meandering through groves of aspens and pines and dense pockets of fennel. The trail crests a small pass with great views to the north of Lake Tahoe and to the south of Round Top and the Sisters and Elephant's Back. The grade was mellow, but our breathing was not. Apparently sitting on one's ass for the better portion of a season doesn't do much for your level of aerobic fitness. We stopped for a breather and made note of the thunderheads stacking up in the distance.

Fearing afternoon thunderstorms, we tried to keep a brisk pace, but our legs and lungs just refused to toe the company line. We made it to Round Lake before too long and were pleased to find a large campsite not far from the lake. We pitched camp and settled into our favorite backcountry activity: sleeping. By the time we woke up, the sun had called it quits and we had to cook dinner by headlamp. A noticeable lack of mosquitoes made for a pleasant evening and we called it a night on the early side.

Fearing afternoon thunderstorms, we tried to keep a brisk pace, but our legs and lungs just refused to toe the company line.

Staying both nights at Round Lake gave us time on Saturday to explore a bit and hunt down some of the other lakes in the area. Two were close by, but Meiss Lake grabbed our attention because there was no trail leading the way. Located in between the PCT and the TRT, the lake is not far, but not visible from either trail. We also heard it was great for swimming, so we packed a bag and beat a path in that general direction. Jody and I didn't exactly agree on the route through the thicket of tall grass and shrubs and I'll admit now that Jody had us moving in the right direction. We eventually found the lake and scoped out a seat along it's grassy shore. The lake is very shallow and would have been great for a swim if it hadn't been for the wind. A large, lush meadow spills out of the lake to the south. We spent some time reading and watching a nymph dragonfly fight a losing battle against the strong wind.

On our way back to camp, we encountered a large group of scouts making their way to Round Lake. We seem to attract Boy Scouts on our trips and despite their charms (i.e. high entertainment value, unintentional comedy off the charts), we usually try to keep a safe distance. We made a hasty retreat back to camp and the youngsters pulled up short on the other side of the lake.

Despite the natural beauty of Round Lake, the place takes a beating from overuse. We spent a good portion of our Saturday evening and Sunday morning cleaning up our campsite and several others. The amount of trash we found really surprised me. I understand the occasional scrap that falls out of your pack or blows away in the wind when you're not looking, but I don't understand the mind of someone that would leave an entire bag of garbage sitting in a fire pit or stash empty liquor bottles in between a few rocks. What gives? If you can pack it in, you can pack it out. My 4 year old niece knows how to pick up after herself, what excuse do these people have? Together, Jody and I packed out about 10 lbs of trash. There would have been more if our packs were bigger.

We made fast work of the hike out on Sunday. The air was cold and the sky was overcast. It felt like autumn had arrived. The wind was blowing and the aspens were making that cool sound that aspens make. I wished I could be back there in a few weeks when the leaves turn yellow and carpet the hillside. We must have cut an hour from our time on the way out. Bub's Sports Bar at Kirkwood was calling our names and we inhaled some quesadillas and burgers before heading back the Bay. Overall, it was a lovely weekend. We look forward to exploring more of the Carson Pass area in the coming years.

Questions or comments about this trip report? Let us know.