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41. Round Top (08/31/97)

Hikers (5): Beth, Nick Pe, Peter, Taylor, Vivek
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 8 beauty

Write-up by Peter

Our third Tahoe-area hike looked to be a good one. The book promised memorable views and plenty of spots suitable for daydreaming. Just what the doctor ordered!

Unfortunately three of the INCHers did not share this sunny outlook and had to be dragged out of bed kicking and screaming. But once I poured some coffee down their throat and threatened to rat on them if they didn't go, they finally agreed to suit up.

We drove south from Lake Tahoe and after a couple of wrong turns, finally arrived at the Woods Lake Campground. The campground parking lot was full, but it looked like most of the folks were there to camp and/or fish, not hike, so we'd probably have a relatively clear trail (just the way I like it).

I, 2, 3, ... INCH!

The book said the first mile or so was a gentle climb, but we found ourselves heading up through some major switchbacks almost right off the bat. I guess we had taken a different trail. Considering we were somewhere around 9000 feet of elevation to start off with, any small uphill is considered major!

Pretty soon, we found ourselves wandering through an old deserted mining area. The park map posted at the trailhead had a small write-up about the old silver mines in the hills and warned us to stay away from them. We just stopped briefly to take a photo in one of the old mining carts and then kept going.

A little bit higher, the trees thinned out and we found ourselves walking around a large meadow. Out in the wide open space, we could feel a chilly wind blowing against us and slowing us down. Considering we were already huffing and puffing from the elevation, we didn't need anything else to slow us down! After about a mile, we found a signpost marking the turnoff to Round Top Lake. Onward!

As walked along the side of Round Top Lake, it was not clear where the actual Round Top peak was. Figuring the trail would lead us there, we just kept going ... and going ... and going. Eventually, we ran into a hiker coming towards us and asked him if we were on the right trail. He informed us that we had gone around the lake the wrong way, and the trail to the peak started on the other side of the lake. Oops!

Back around the other side of the lake, we found the turnoff. It was not clearly marked at all, and was more like a creek bed than a trail. Nonetheless, we took a vote and decided to press on up. After a short distance, the trail pretty much disappeared and we each took a different route and started scrambling up the side of the hill. As we came over the crest of the hill, we were able to see where the trail picked up again on the next hill.

Looking up the mountain, there did not seem to be anything round about Round Top -- just a bunch of craggy rocks leading up to the sky. We could see some people way ahead scrambling up towards the peak, so we figured this must be the right place and kept going.

A little further up, the footing became very loose. Lots of loose stones under our feet made the going tough and in some spots we were pretty much clinging to the ground and scrambling on all fours. The trail finally flattened out a little bit, and we sat on a big rock to catch our breath. At this point, Muffy and Taylor decided they'd had enough and did not want to go further. The rest of us pressed on.

The peak was less than half a mile away, but it was taking forever to get there. For every two steps up, we would slide back one. The altitude was taking its toll. We were up above 10,000 feet now. Eventually, we finished the gravelly trail and arrived at the big rocks near the top. From here it was just a climb straight up, but with no clear path.

Vivek and I took the path the right, and Nick went off by himself to the left. After climbing over rocks for about a hundred yards, it seemed we had hit a dead end, so I decided to go back and try to follow Nick. Vivek vowed to press on ahead.

I went back down a little, and then back up the other path. This one was steeper, but at least seemed to be leading somewhere. I stopped for a minute to catch my breath and made the mistake of turning around to look behind me. Suddenly I realized how high up I was, and my fear of heights kicked in again. I started to feel dizzy and stumbled forward, cracking my shin on one of the sharp rocks. Damn! I decided that the best thing was just to sit down and close my eyes and hopefully the fear would pass. Nothing doing! When I opened my eyes, it was just as bad as before, so I figured it was time to call it quits and head back down.

I went slipping and sliding all the way back down to where the girls were sitting. I was still feeling a little giddy as I plopped down on the rock. It must be the hunger. Fortunately, there's nothing in this world that can't be cured by a nice lunch! As I ate, I turned back up towards the peak and saw Vivek coming back down as well. Turns out he had almost made it all the way, but had got stuck on a ledge and was forced to turn back as well. In his words, he had never been so terrified in all his life! At least I was not alone!

Before too long, we could see Nick picking his way through the rocks as he was making his way back down off the peak. He was the only one among us who actually made it all the way up. Good job!

As we sat there eating lunch and resting, we were finally able to enjoy the view of the Tahoe basin stretching out before us. On the snow-covered slope off to our left, we could see a couple of guys pitching a tent (well, one of them was doing all the work, while the other one was sliding down the hill). Looked like they were going to be there for a while.

We made our way back down an alternate trail that led off towards the east. After a while this trail disappeared as well (what's with the trails here anyway?) and we found ourselves walking around aimlessly. Before too long, we saw some poeple walking off in the distance and figured they must be on a trail, so we headed towards their direction. Sure enough, we ended up on a fire road. A ranger who was walking with them politely suggested that we should stay on trail. We told him we would gladly do so if we could see one! He got a good laugh out of that. We also asked him if the mountain we had just climbed up was Round Top and he replied that indeed it was. At least we were on the right mountain!

From there, the trail led down to Winnemucca Lake -- a beautiful spot for camping and relaxation (if only there were not so many people there). At this point, I realized that this was the trail that the hiking book had suggested we come up. DOH!!!

From the lake, it was just straight down to the car and then off to the casinos. Let it roll, baby, roll .... all night long!!

Peter's 40th leaf

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