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

Jun 22, 2013 - Round Top / Elephants Back


Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 10.15 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,925 feet

Trip Time: 5:53

Maps and Stats:
Kyle and I were in need of some acclimatization before our trip to Mt. Whitney in 6 days so we decided to head off for the Sierra in search of something to climb. Much like my trip to Leavitt Peak last week, we needed to find something that would require no more than a half day's effort, gave us some elevation, and was on one of the climbing lists that I have been working on. Round Top fit this bill perfectly, an SPS, WSC and OGUL summit of nearly 10,400 feet and only about 4.5 miles off of Highway 88 at Carson Pass. Kyle met me at my house and we started off at about 8:30. The drive up was predictably boring, until we found ourselves behind a half sized fire truck with its lights and sirens on. We followed this truck for at least 20 minutes and were surprised by his lack of speed. I resisted the urge to pass him during one of the many passing lanes as we headed up the mountains, opting instead to play it safe (and legal) and suffering through the slow speeds that came every time the road headed uphill. After a long while, in which a line of cars joined behind me, the fire truck went in the right lane during one of the passing lane sections and turned off his lights and siren and I gladly passed him by. After a little over 2.5 hours we arrived at the parking lot at Carson Pass, from which Elephants Back and Round Top are clearly visible. We paid the $5 parking fee and walked the quarter mile to the trailhead on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The plan was to climb Round Top, then if we felt like doing a bit more we would climb Elephants Back on the return. This plan was quickly laid to waste, however, as I made a navigational error on the first trail junction. I had thought we were to say on the PCT until reaching a large lake at which point we would make a left turn and head up Round Top. I thought this sounded so easy that I didn't bother to bring my GPS and instead figured that we would easily navigate this trip. Something seemed a bit off when the trail began to descend after the junction, but I wasn't too worried just yet. After a little while longer we could see that the PCT seemed to be heading the wrong way, and from what we could see on Kyle's smartphone the PCT would not provide us access to Round Top. At this point we were on the back side of Elephants Back and figured we should try to cross over the peak to see if we could figure out how to regain the proper trail. So up we went. First up a scree field, then up through a significant boulder field before finally reaching a steep scree field leading to the summit. From the top of Elephants Back we tried to get our bearings, and easily picked out Round Top a couple of miles away. After taking some quick shots from the summit we started the cross country descent down Elephants Back.

The trip down was especially irritating. On our challenging trip up we had wondered why this wasn't a listed peak in any of the Sierra Club lists. Well, the descent down the grassy hillside answered those questions. Apparently there are two extremely divergent sides of Elephants Back and we chose the fun side. Our cross country route led across another large boulder field but offered some fantastic views of Round Top set against Winnemucca Lake. We finally found the trail near the lake and followed it as it wrapped around the Lake and headed back uphill towards Round Top Lake. From there we went cross country again (although had we followed the trail all the way to the Lake we would not have needed to) as we headed up the slopes towards the saddle in between Round Top and the Sisters. The upper flanks of Round Top are a mix of scree and easy class two climbs which led us to the top. I had read online that this first summit is not actually the highpoint, however, with the true summit being the third peak of the three peak summit. From here Winnemucca Lake looked spectacular as we paused to rest for a minute before determining how to get to the third peak.

We descended the first peak to a small saddle and set up the second (lowest) of the three peaks. This part was not too difficult, and now that we were on top of peak 2 we were halfway there. We descended peak 2 to the saddle between the second and third peaks where the only challenging part of the climb was in front of us. The third peak requires some class three climbing, although with limited exposure. We climbed up that section and found ourselves on the true summit of Round Top. We found another group of 2 up here when we arrived, although they left within 5 minutes of our arrival. Before they left they took a summit shot of Kyle and I which is pretty rare - normally we are by ourselves so we just take summit shots of each other. The best views from the top were of Lake Tahoe to the north, although views were spectacular in all directions. We noted what was now an unimpressive Elephants Back far below, although I am sure it is more impressive when viewed from the other side. We signed the summit register and spent about 45 minutes on top. After watching the group who was on the summit ahead of us traverse back over the other two peaks we set off for our own return trip. Down peak 3 and into the saddle (where a slip down would not be good)and back across the other peaks we went.

Once we reached the saddle between Round Top and the Sisters we were tempted by the snowfield which ran all the way down to Round Top Lake. The only problem was the snow was no longer smooth and was littered with large holes, almost like potholes in the pavement. We ignored the craters and slid/glissaded/semi skied down the slope. From the Lake we easily picked up the trail and vowed to follow it all the way back this time. The trial crossed over several streams fed by the rapidly melting snow. The volume of the water flow was surprising. There didn't seem to possibly be enough snow to support this kind of flow. The trip back is 3 miles from Round Top Lake, and just to rub it in, passed by the gentle side of Elephants Back. As we approached the car we noted the warning that unexploded military shells may be strewn around the mountain. Pictures of missiles and packages with fuses reinforced the danger. Seemed kind of odd that you can leave explosives just lying around public land and then disclaim it with a sign in the parking lot. In any event, we accomplished our goal of getting in some acclimatization before next week's trip to Whitney.

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