Day 1, Day 2
Permit - A permit is required for all overnight stays in Mokelumne Wilderness. Permits can be obtained in person at the Pioneer Ranger Station at 26820 Silver Street in Pioneer off Highway 88. There are currently no fees for the permit, and sites are first come, first served. **In the summer you have to get a site specific permit at the Carson Pass Information Station at the trailhead**
Mileage/Terrain - Day 1 was Carson Pass Trailhead to Fourth of July Lake, approximately 6.25 miles (your mileage will vary based on site selection). There is a net elevation loss of approximately 400', but you hike up 950' and down 1350'. Terrain is mainly exposed except for the section near the trailhead and when you get down to Fourth of July Lake. See map/profile below.
Camps/Water - There is a bathroom at Carson Pass trailhead, no water/trash (although maybe in summer they have trash service).
Hazards - Black Bears, cold/snow, mice/squirrels, and wind. Nearest Ranger # 209-295-5996 (always check with ranger ahead of time for current water/weather/trail conditions).
Zakk, Eric and I wanted to get in a last minute Sierra trip prior to the white stuff falling this year. We decided to return to Fourth of July Lake in Mokelumne Wilderness. I had been out to this lake 16 years earlier (you can read about it here). Besides the trail being a little longer now, it was just as great as a remember. A testament to the management of this area. This area is heavily used in the summer, and is managed as the Carson Pass Management Area. There are marked sites at Winnemucca Lake, Round Top Lake and Fourth of July Lake. No camping is allowed at Frog Lake. In the summer months you must get your permit in person at the Carson Pass Information Station at Carson Pass. Sites are assigned at the time of the permit being issued. There is a year-round ban on fires in the Carson Pass Management Area. We had some high winds forecast, so a fire would have been a bad idea anyway. Being the off-season, the Carson Pass Information Station was closed for the season. This time of year you need to get a permit from the ranger in Pioneer (which seems like it is past the town, headed eastbound). In the off season sites are first come, first served. We had the lake to ourselves, and didn't see any other backpackers out there around any of the lakes. There are 3 sites at Winnemucca Lake, 6 sites at Round Top Lake and 6 sites at Fourth of July Lake. This shot shows Fourth of July Lake on the way out on day 2.
The trailhead is pictured below with the Information Station (cabin building) and the trail (see Pacific Crest Trail logo on the tree). Parking is $5 per day via an iron ranger. The lot is decently sized and more than adequate for the amount of travelers we saw that day. In the summer the lot can get full. There is another lot on the opposite side of Highway 88 that serves the area to the north (see trips to Showers Lake, or Round Lake for trail descriptions for many trips in the Meiss Country Roadless Area). They were shutting down the information station for the season (that is why there is a lot of stuff outside). When we returned to the trailhead the next day it was cleaned up - even the information boards were gone.
The trail (which is the PCT)
starts off tree covered. The first half mile allow you to get warmed up
before you start the ascent to Frog Lake. None of the trail is that difficult
through this section, and before you know it you will be at Frog Lake.
I will also mention that you will also realize you are at elevation (the
trailhead is at roughly 8,600'). Even a little uphill will remind you
the air is a little thinner up here.
Here is the junction with Frog
Lake. You can see the lake from the junction but take a minute to walk
to it to get a good view.
The trail continues the upward
direction to a junction to either stay on the PCT or head to Winnemucca
Lake. I have done the loop option once before (many years ago) and it
was a bit of a haul to go down into Summit City and back up to Fourth
of July Lake (it can be done though). There was at least one section that
can have a decent size snowfield that you will need to cross, so be prepared
for that possibility if you are trying it. Here is a shot of the trail
before the junction, with Round Top and the Sisters in the distance.
Here is the junction with the
PCT. The PCT stays north of Elephants Back, seen in the distance in this
shot. Continue straight/right to Winnemucca Lake. You can tell people
you hiked a section of the PCT now, maybe leave out the distance part...
This section of trail is my
favorite. The grade is pretty nice, still slightly uphill to Winnemucca
Lake, but nothing too steep. There are some neat textures, and the fall
colors really make the distant Red Lake Peak stand out. This shot is looking
north toward the trailhead. I was trying to duplicate the same picture
I took 16 years prior. I have the old shot below for comparison.
I was impressed with how close
I got just from memory.
Of course I did take a few shots before I came across this spot and realized
that this was where I took the original picture. It is even more amazing
how much of nature has remained, essentially the same. I apologize for
the tiny picture, I was shooting on film back then, and had to scan printed
pictures to post them. Then I had to worry about bandwidth and page load
times over dial up. Ahh dial up, those were good times.
There is a nice clump of trees
at the outlet to Winnemucca Lake. The crossing was easy this late in the
season. The logs were nice and stable and well above the water level.
I imagine that things were different in the early summer though with our
record snow fall and spring runoff.
Round Top Lake is just over
the ridge in this shot. You can see a snow field hiding in the shadows
trying to make it to next year. There was a small creek that was traveling
under this snow field that came out about where the dark spot is near
the trail. The trail switches back up the ridge. You can see the trail
on a diagonal before it disappears into the bushes.
You are really close to the
ridge to the south now (Round Top and the Sisters). You come across a
junction to Woods Lake next, before getting to Round Top Lake.
Continue left/straight at the
junction with Woods Lake and head towards Round Top Lake (the marker says
Fourth of July Lake). You are pretty much done with the uphill at this
point. You follow the trail past the Sisters and through a notch before
you get to Fourth of July Peak. Here is a shot of Round Top Lake and the
glacial looking color of the lake. I did put my hand in some of the water
out here, yes it was cold. That white stuff was melting and keeping water
temperatures cold. Most of the white stuff will be the base layer for
this winter's storms..
I am looking back toward Round Top Lake in this shot before the trail starts to curve around the last Sister.
Here we are hiking down to
Fourth of July Lake on the backside of the Sisters now. Can you see the
lake? OK, that was a trick question because you can't. The lake is down
in the trees on the right of this picture, just around the corner. You
lose about 1,100' during this section, the lake is at 8,200'. This section
of trail used to be shorter. The trail used to go more straight down the
mountain style. I like the current configuration though as the switchbacks
make the grade more knee friendly. It is still a lot of downhill, which
makes tomorrow, and the trek back, have a lot of uphill.
It was a glorious fall day
to be hiking. Sections of trail like this can be hard to appreciate when
the temperatures, and sun, are high. Today couldn't have been better for
a long hike with a pack.
I took a lot of pictures on
this hike, a plethora of pictures. This section will seem like it takes
a while, as the lake always seems just out of reach, maybe just 100 yards
We looked at site numbers one
and two when we got to the lake. We decided that site 2 had better views
and had the tents/kitchen closer together. We setup tents, filtered water
and hung a bear bag before it got too dark. The site had two good tent
spots. Site one also had at least two good places for tents. The wind
was forecast to be significant that night. On the trail in we felt some
gusts, but down at the lake it was sheltered some from the gusts. We did
guy out and stake the tents just in case things "picked up".
We had the lake to ourselves (I think anyway). The stargazing was good
and the slight to moderate breeze kept the bugs away. The evening quickly
cooled down, as it does this time of year. It was forecast to get down
below 30 that night, and I think it did. We did not have anything freeze
on us but there was ice along the trail the next morning.
Continue to Page 2 by clicking here. Scroll down for map and elevation profile.