Fourth of July Lake: October 17-19, 2014

Objective: Quick weekend backpacking trip before winter sets in…

Date: October 17-19, 2014

Location: Carson Pass, CA

Crew: Connor & Sara

Most weekends, we head for the mountains. Most often, the Tahoe or Yosemite regions. Since we work 8-5ish jobs in the city, these quick weekend trips usually begin with a 3-4 hour long drive followed by sketchy (and totally legal) roadside camping or maybe even an overnight in the car (Hank is surprisingly comfy). Of course, this always depends on where we are and what we can find. Saturday mornings we pack up and head off to a trailhead to hike, ski tour, climb, etc. We drive back on Sunday, often stopping for a beer and/or burger to get us through the final drive and back to the city. If it’s football season, we usually try to get back to civilization in time for the Seahawks game, usually cheering from small town dive amidst a crowd of 49er’s fans. Sunday night, we get home late, try to clean up the car, our gear, and ourselves, and we crash.

It is exhausting but thrilling routine. These quick weekend trips help us get the most out of life, but they’re usually short and perhaps less intriguing than a big mountain climb or ski tour. Often, I only snap a few quality photos. For that reason, I have tended not to document these trips in the past. However, I’m going to take a stab at throwing together posts from such trips more often, since it gives perspective on the weekend warrior/wannabe dirtbag lifestyle (details from sketchy Friday night camping set ups may often be omitted…). If you’re interested, here’s a quick write up of one such trip:

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Early morning crossroads and shadows

This weekend, we headed to an area we had yet to explore – Carson Pass. We’ve heard a lot of praises about the skiing here (Kirkwood) and thought we’d scope it out before returning this winter. As usual, we headed out Friday after work and after stopping in the tiny town of Pioneer, CA to pick up our backcountry permit at the ranger station, we made it to the top of Carson Pass around 9ish. We investigated our camping options for a bit since we hadn’t resereved anything for Friday night, and we managed to find a reasonable location. We then smashed on some dinner, pitched the tent, and went to bed early to prepare for an early morning. Eager to start the day, we made it to the Carson Pass East Trailhead around 7am. We found this hike in a book (Sierra North by Kathy Morey, Mike White, & Stacy Corless) that suggested a 14 mile loop, circumnavigating Round Top peak, with stops at Winnemucca Lake, Round Top Lake, Fourth of July Lake, and Frog Lake. Loop hikes are strongly preferred over out&backs in our house, so we try to find one whenever possible. We decided to do it in reverse to enjoy the longer leg on Saturday (8.5 mi), so we started off from the trailhead toward Frog Lake, going east of Elephants Back, planning to camp at Fourth of July lake that night.

The first lake we encountered was Frog Lake.

Frog Lake – the first lake we encountered

View from....

View from the north ridge crest of Elephant’s Back

The hike was fabulous and involved a wide variety of terrain. Hilltop crests with sweeping views, valley floors with large pine trees, and beautiful fall colors. There was a push of elevation gain as we approached Fourth of July Lake, but overall the elevation gain/loss was pretty mellow compared to many of the hikes we do, so we were able to go slow and enjoy ourselves.

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Fantastic fall foliage…

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We made it to Fourth of July Lake around 2 or 3pm, plenty of time to wash off with a quick dip in the lake and dry off in the sun before it sunk below Fourth of July Peak. There are technically six labeled campsites (reserved via backcountry permit), but there was only one other group camping there that night and the sites are nicely spaced out around the lake, so we had a lot of privacy. We thought it provided pretty rad scenery and a great location for backcountry camping. It was cold, given the time of year, so we brought most of our winter gear, except the four season tent (not quite thaaaat cold yet, or so we thought). The sun sets early here since the lake is surrounded by high peaks on the west side, which made for an early night, but it came up early too so we were able to enjoy a nice sunny morning.

Fourth of July Lake

Fourth of July Lake

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Another view of the lake

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Camp setup for the night – site #6

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Bigger view of our camp – nestled in at the bottom of this peak, we were nicely sheltered from wind

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As the sun went down, the lake was active with fish feeding on bugs

Morning view from camp.

Morning views from camp

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The hike out from the lake went straight up next to Round Top to a saddle, probably the most elevation gain of the trip, before winding slowly back down to Round Top Lake and then Winnemucca Lake. Nice views and beautiful alpine lakes (which also had decent looking campsites). We were back to the car pretty early and on the road again by 2pm (go Hawks). Survived another weekend! TheAdventureGoesOn.

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Heading toward the saddle away from Fourth of July Lake.

Pros: Nice weather, variety of terrain, perfect distance for a quick weekend backpacking trip.

Cons: No real cons to speak of (other than that the Seahawks lost to the Rams, 26-28), but overall the hike didn’t blow our minds away. Definitely not the coolest terrain we’ve seen in Cali. Oh yeah and we both probably should have brought one more layer of clothes… Got pretty cold! Winter is coming 🙂

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