Hiking Stats as of 11/19/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Dec 25, 2013 - Red Lake Peak / Stevens Peak


Partners: (None)

Distance: 9.44 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,889 feet

Trip Time: 8:06

Maps and Stats:
My 2 week Christmas vacation was in full swing, and my plan to go on 4 hiking trips during this time called for a mid-week visit to the Sierra to keep things on track. This year I didn't have any plans for Christmas, and so that seemed like a great day to plan my trip. With the date selected, all that was left was the location. I had very recently discovered (I don't recall why I ever thought otherwise) that Highway 88 stays open year-round, the third of the Trans-Sierra highways that does so. I had previously thought I was limited to Highways 50 and 80, and with this newfound knowledge I looked around for something near Carson Pass and Highway 88. I settled on Red Lake Peak and Stevens Peak, a pair of peaks rising slightly over 10,000 feet that are both listed on the OGUL peak list. A successful ascent would be my 19th and 20th summits of the OGUL list.

I set off a little after sunrise, and was met with no traffic as I headed east on Hwy 88. I had thought it might take me about 3 hours to get up to the PCT at Carson Pass, and in addition to that I was a bit worried that the parking area at the Pass is designated as a "Sno-Park", meaning that a day use permit is required to park there. I had no clue where to obtain such a permit, other than the beta on summitpost.com which indicated that permits could be obtained at the Amador Gas Station. So I stopped at the gas station on the way up and was happy to see them open for Christmas. Inside, there were a group of 3 older men sitting near the cash register who watched me as I asked the cashier if I could get a Sno-Park permit. He replied that they had yet to receive their annual Sno-Park passes yet (the Sno-Park requirements start Nov 1). I asked if he knew where I could get one, and he said maybe the Ace Hardware store to which I replied that it probably was not open, being Christmas morning and all. Then one of the old guys said he would give me a free pass and took out his wallet and gave me what I thought for about a half second was a nice Christmas gift. Ha Ha, really funny I thought as I took the free ticket and decided I would just risk being caught without a pass at the Sno-Park.

I arrived at the Sno-Park a few minutes before 10 AM, and found only one other car in the giant lot. I walked over to the vehicle and of course it had a Sno-Park pass in it. A sign at the Sno-Park threatened a minimum fine of something like $75 if you get caught without a pass, but I was ready to climb and so I started on the hike without a pass. Rather than taking the PCT, which heads northwest out of Carson Pass, I headed straight up the scrubby hillside in a general direction towards Red Lake Peak. The ever-worsening California drought had brought only minimal snow to the Sierra, and with my chosen route heading up the south facing slope there was hardly any snow for me to deal with. I had brought my snowshoes with me, but had lashed them to my pack just in case they were needed later on. For now, they would stay on my pack. After about a half hour I reached the first ridgeline from where I had some nice views of the frozen Caples Lake below.

On the ridgeline I could now see the general direction of where to head to get to Red Lake Peak. This part of the trip was pretty easy, with little snow and easy terrain to cover. I even found a use trail as I approached an obvious false summit. The actual summit of Red Lake Peak is not obvious, as it has numerous false summits. As I approached the final ridgeline climb I could see the rocky outcrop on the top of the mountain which sure appeared to be the summit. I aimed directly for that outcrop, with nothing higher visible anywhere around. This was clearly the highpoint, and so I approached the blocks and stared up at some cool looking class 3 rock. The route up wasn't entirely obvious, and with my snowshoes strapped to my backpack my ability to duck and maneuver into some of the tight spots was compromised. It took me about 10 minutes to get to the top after much route searching and contemplating, and once on top I turned to celebrate my summit only to have the wind knocked out of me by the sight of a higher rock formation some 100-150 feet feet further along the ridge. Making matters worse, there was no way to connect to that highpoint from my tiny summit, instead, I was forced to descend and make my way over to the next rocky outcrop. Now I have never claimed to have any type of navigational skills, but clearly this had to be the right way up. The climb was not as difficult as the previous false summit, and I was up in a couple of minutes. I turned to celebrate only to let out a yell of frustration when I saw the actual summit still about 75 feet away, with no possible way to traverse from where I was over to that point.

At this point I was more than a little frustrated - I descended back down the class 3 rock and considered stowing my snowshoes and picking them up upon the return. I was tired of hauling them up and down all this rock, and the teeth on the bottom of the shoes kept catching the rock whenever I would turn my body. I wisely resisted that urge, however, and continued on over to the next class 3 rock which looked to be much lengthier than the one I had just completed. Having been certain twice before that I was ascending the summit I was under no such delusions this time, as I climbed my third class 3 summit block of the day and turned to celebrate and saw the actual summit was thankfully now just a few feet away, and those few feet were connected to where I was at. I crossed over this last bit of rock and was at the summit of Red Lake Peak at a few minutes after noon, about 2 hours into the trip. I was fortunate enough to pick a day with exceptionally clear skies, and my views were outstanding. Looking north, I could see my next destination (Stevens Peak) with Lake Tahoe further beyond. Other prominent landmarks included Hawkins Peak , Markleeville, Silver, and Highland Peaks, and Round Top. I still had another peak to climb, so I took a summit shot of myself and after not being able to locate a summit register, looked for the best way down.

I came across what looked to be an easier descent route than the one I had come up, this one being on the east side of the summit. I tossed down my backpack with my snowshoes still attached and made my way down back down to the ridgeline. From here down to the saddle between Red Lake and Stevens I had some snow to deal with, but nothing that required use of the snowshoes. The route was clearly to follow the ridgeline, although some subsidiary rock formations on ridgeline required a descent off the ridge. I picked the wrong side on this traverse, going to the right (east) when I should have taken teh less steep west side. This resulted in a bit of downclimbing and postholing to circle back up to the ridgeline. From there the route was pretty easy, as I worked my way around the snowfields as best I could to avoid needing to stop to put on the snowshoes. With Stevens Peak visible ahead, it was clear that I would be able to make the entire 2 peak traverse without the snowshoes. I passed on the idea of stowing the snowshoes here, as I had little desire to go back up and over the class 3 rock and instead planned on taking a circular route down from Stevens. So I kept going over the easy terrain, pausing to observe interesting features on the rigeline like this large rock. At 1:30 the terrain steepened as I started up the slope of Stevens, with talus scattered about on the lower sections and thickening as I got higher up. Once I hit the Stevens Peak crest I paused for a moment to look at the traverse from Red Lake before setting my sights on the summit block of Stevens. After all of the class 3 on Red Lake I was happy to see some easy class 2 stuff guarding the summit, and I quickly made my way up. From the top of what looked like the summit it became apparent that I wasn't actually on the summit (again??), although this time it was obviously an easy walk up to the highpoint on the edge of the ridge a couple of hundred feet away.

The views from the summit of Stevens were even better than those from Red Lake Peak. Most striking was the view of Lake Tahoe. Also impressive were the views towards the many peaks of the Desolation Wilderness, including Pyramid, Price, Agassiz, Ralston, Dicks, Jacks, and Tallac all in one picture. The view towards Hawkins Peak were also spectacular, as were those in the view towards Markleeville, Highland, Silver and Raymond. I was so lucky to have a such a clear day! After getting a shot back towards Red Lake Peak (with Round Top in the background) and getting a self summit photo (and a silly summit photo) I located the summit register. My entry was the first in over a month - apparently Stevens isn't a popular winter destination.

I began my descent a little past 2 PM, having been on the trail for slightly under 4 hours and figured I would be back to the car in maybe 2 1/2 hours. I planned on descending the west face of Stevens into the meadow area where the Tahoe Rim Trail was shown on my GPS. The TRT then connects to the PCT which would lead directly to my car at Carson Pass. This would be so easy! All I really wanted was to have had somebody come along in the weeks since the last snow fall to break a trail for me on the TRT and PCT. Even if they hadn't, I wasn't sure that the snow level would be deep enough for snowshoes anyway, and I might be able to just hike it. So with that as the background, I began my descent towards the meadow. I ran into patchy snow and brush on the descent, but nothing too exciting or challenging and before long was all the way back down to my starting elevation of 8,500 feet in less than 1 hour. As I approached the forest, the snow became deeper, although nothing more than an annoyance. I enjoyed looking around at the various animal tracks on the pristine snow, and it was completely obvious that I was the first visitor to this area in quite some time. The snow was getting progressively deeper, however, and I put on my snowshoes to help in my trek.

At first the snowshoes helped a little although progress was quite slow. Breaking trail is always tougher, and doubly so when you're not sure where the trail is supposed to be. I had mapped out a path on my GPS which would take me to the TRT, but things were looking dimmer as the snow deepened and progress ground to a halt. After some hard work I arrived at the location where the TRT was supposed to be running...but was met with pristine snow. Uh-oh. Looked like I would be making my own trail connecting the nearly 2 miles from where I was back up to the PCT. I'd like to forget this part of the day, as I was getting pretty frustrated with the tedium and difficulty in breaking trail in this soft snow. The sun was now getting low in the sky, making for some nice scenery but also causing me a bit of angst as I really wanted to at least find some sort of human made tracks to follow before darkness. I kept at it, resting every few minutes as I tired, and could see the gap in the ridge where the PCT was supposedly going to intersect with the non-existent TRT that I never found. I was so tired of the snowshoeing that I decided to shortcut the ridge and start up the slope ahead of schedule. I figured I would have shallower snow this way, and I would much rather do some climbing than do more postholing. As I left the flat ground I took this shot to memorialize my newly created TRT and started up the ridge.

Darkness set in as I worked my way up the ridge - it was a bit steeper than I had thought but I was still able to get up the slope faster than I was going on the soft snow. I got up to the top of the ridge and was happy to see good old Round Top on the horizon, which meant I was where I was supposed to be. Even better, the snow broke up in a few spots and I found the PCT and knew all I had to do was follow that all the way back down. I wasn't able to document too much more of the trip, as darkness ruled the rest of the day. Although I had made it back to the PCT by 5:15, I was still nearly an hour away from the trailhead, as the PCT zig-zagged back and forth, sometimes in deep snow and sometimes in easy ground. This was quite different than the ascent route I had taken up the south slope at the beginning, and I could have saved a ton of time if I had just retraced my steps back over Red Lake Peak instead of circling back. Anyway, I made it back to the car around 6 PM, and was happy to see that I was not ticketed for illegally parking in a Sno-Park area without a permit. Looking back, the first half of the day was one of the finest I've had in the mountains, while the second half was, well, something I'd like to avoid in the future.

Add Comment




(5 years ago) Kerry said:

Hey Pete - I've registered for your Thousand Peaks Club Meetup Group - it will probably be easier to communicate that way instead of through the comments board over here. I do have interest in Jeff Davis, and would appreciate your lead, although for my own benefit and advancement in my hiking I plan on taking a class to learn the skills needed to climb more technical peaks. Maybe as soon as this summer.


(5 years ago) petesthousandpeaks ptp said:

Hey thanks for the visit to a movie site of mine! Hope that it worked O.K. for you. Class 4 is only a step above class 3. If you did Red Lake by a different way, you must like to do scrambling if not harder. I used to lead beginners up Jeff Davis, but for some 4 is off limits, as even 3! I don't force people to do what they don't want to do, but unless you have a helicopter, climbing is the only way that you will summit, and that's part of the fun. Lots of people rock climb, I used to lead trips for the hikers, and I have the gear, still. While hikers do get killed, that's mostly by doing it wrong, and I've never lost anybody that does it right with me. It's safety. Roped up, you won't fall as in some class 3, where many hikers die.


(5 years ago) Kerry said:

Pete - I am absolutely aware of your website and use it often in planning my trips. I hadn't seen the video of Red Lake until tonight though - much easier route than what I took! As for Jeff Davis, I am not ready for a class 4 climb yet - I don't yet have any technical experience and until I take some sort of class I'm afraid that summit will be off limits for me - maybe in another year?


(5 years ago) petesthousandpeaks ptp said:

If you don't already know about my free directions to most all of the OGUL peaks, and more, they are at my website petesthousandpeaks.com I posted video that shows the easy way to the top of Red Lake Peak. If you have Quick Time installed as plug-in and also have at least 18 mbps download speed. It's in 720p HD so you can watch it in big screen on any HD TV, if you can hook up your computer by HDMI, say. Any interest in doing Jeff Davis Peak? I'd like to do it for my 4X. It is class 4, therefore a NO for most peak baggers, by them.


(6 years ago) Kerry said:

Pete - trip report and pics will be up this week! It was a mostly dry trip up, no snowshoes needed as I went straight up the south facing slope to the ridgeline out of Carson Pass. From there the ridgeline is pretty rocky, so not too much snow. Made a HUGE mistake though on descent from Stevens Peak and descended the bowl to the Tahoe Rim trail and encountered very soft/knee deep snow, and could not locate the trail. Safe climbing to you!


(6 years ago) petesthousandpeaks ptp said:

Anxious to see photos. Bagged Red Lake back in October, also did it at about Christmas one year, fun hike, then. 8X for me, now, love those Northern Sierra peaks. Looking at some dry winter climbs, time to do those.