Hiking Stats as of 11/20/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Sep 20, 2014 - Round Top


Partners: (None)

Distance: 8.75 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,231 feet

Trip Time: 4:03

Maps and Stats:
I was heading up to South Lake Tahoe to look at houses again which has the unfortunate consequence of cutting into potential hiking time. Knowing that I only had a half day available, I decided on a repeat of Round Top, which Kyle and I climbed last June. Round Top is a fantastic looking peak, standing tall above Highway 88 near Kirkwood, with a short approach starting on the PCT and a enjoyable class 3 scramble to the summit. I also planned on making the short traverse from Round Top over to The Sisters, which Kyle and I didn't climb when we did Round Top (we climbed Elephants Back that day instead).

Knowing this would be a pretty easy day I left the house around 8:30, figuring I would spend a couple hours in Tahoe and get started on Round Top sometime in the early afternoon. Of course the King Fire was still raging near Pollock Pines, and along several overpasses signs of support for the firefighters were displayed. The air was quite hazy starting near Placerville, and got pretty bad as I passed through Pollock Pines on the way to Kyburz. Seems like there is a major fire every year in the Sierra, with this one reportedly being set deliberately.

After spending a couple of hours touring South Lake Tahoe, I arrived at the overflow parking lot on the north side of Highway 88 at around 1:30 (same location that I started on Red Lake Peak last Christmas), paid my $5 day use fee, and rather than hike up the road tried to find a spot in the main lot on the south side of the highway. I was lucky, and found an empty spot right in front of the TH. The trail was somewhat busy, with many hikers and dog walkers enjoying the cool late summer temperatures. From the beginning Round Top stands out, with its fractured summit cap. The first part of the trip follows the obviously well marked PCT, into the Mokelumne Wilderness and towards Elephants Back. Last year, Kyle and I turned left at the first trail junction which was a mistake, and led us to the steep east side of Elephants Back, which we traversed over to get ourselves back on the right trail. Today I kept right, leaving the PCT at the next junction a few minutes later and following the signs towards Winnemucca Lake.

The entire trail to Winnemucca Lake is very gentle and by 2:15 I was already at the Lake, which is set against the slopes of Round Top. From the Lake, the elevation gain finally begins in earnest, as the trail climbs up to Round Top Lake. This is all relative though, as it still only took 25 minutes to gain this marker. From Round Top Lake an obvious use trail is visible ascending all of the way up to the saddle between Round Top and The Sisters. As I went up, the slope steepened, and before too long a couple of other hikers came into view. They ultimately stopped once they reached the saddle with The Sisters, at which point I decided to do Round Top first, then come back down to this spot and then make what looked like an easy walk up to the Sisters.

I went up the class 2 talus, as the trail faded in and out of view. There are many possible routes to the top, class 2 at the easy end and class 3 if you get a bit off route. I wound up coming up a bit of a steep chute which led me to near the top of the summit turrets. The last part is straightforward, and I was on top by 3:20. The first turret is not the highest, however, as there are 3 turrets and the third is the actual summit. Traversing over to the summit requires lots of class 2 and some class 3 climbing, which is what really makes this peak enjoyable. The second turret is very easy to get to, but climbing down from the second turret to a steep chute is a bit more challenging. The crux of the trip though is the Class 3 ascent of the third turret, although the rock is strong and a route up is not that hard to find. I was on top barely more than 2 hours after starting out, and with nobody else around (on any of the turrets) I sat down to enjoy the views and have a snack.

Looking east the ridgeline becomes even more steep and narrow and forms a nice backdrop for Lake Winnemucca. To the west was the view of the Round Top traverse. As I looked around I started noticing that clouds seemed to be quickly gathering, and it was time to go. I hadn't noticed a summit register, but as I get ready to leave I noticed a hollow area and found the summit ammo box inside. I dutifully signed in and then started on the traverse back so I could go visit the Sisters. I made it all the way up and over all 3 turrets and had just started down when the first rumble of thunder was heard. This made me nervous, as I was still very near the summit and felt very exposed. So I picked up the pace, as the thunder claps became more and more frequent. I ran where I could, and it started to hail as I reached the saddle with the Sisters, now with darkening clouds overhead. There was no choice to make, I would have to forget about the Sisters for today.

Once I started down from the saddle I was no longer nervous, as I was now several hundred feed below the summit. But the storm intensified, with pounding hail with even more frequent thunder overhead. Looking back up at Round Top it was obviously getting pounded, and my decision to abandon the Sisters was clearly the correct one. The hail continued until I reached Winnemucca Lake, after which there was only a light rain. With thunder and lightning still booming overhead, I kept up a rapid pace. The clear views of earlier were gone, with Red Lake Peak only visible in dark shadow. Round Top itself was now harder to see as well, with the weather still obviously pounding away at the peak. By 5:30 I was back to the car, having escaped the majority of the fury of this afternoon storm.

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