Climbing the Red Lake Peak

At 3069m / 10,068 ft Red Lake Peak is one of several highest summits around South Lake Tahoe Area. If the snow cover is not too thick it can be ascented in an hour or less from the Meiss Trailhead at Pacific Crest Trail. The hike is relatively easy if you’re used to this kind of elevations – but be aware of the avalanches and unstable snow, especially if you’re trying to do it during high snow season.

The Red Lake Peak dominates the Carson Pass Area, towering above the Carson Pass Highway and providing the backdrop for the Red Lake. It is best viewed from Pacific Crest Trail  on the south side of Carson Pass:


The trail starts at the Pacific Crest Trail parking on the north side of the highway. The ascent is relatively steep but it is not too strenuous. After gaining a few hundred feet of elevation don’t forget to pause and look back. The main feature of the view is Round Top Peak, covered by snow for the most of the year, and towering over the vast open spaces of Mokelumne Wilderness:


Pan to the left and you get the view of the highway at the top of Carson Pass, with the dark rocky mass of Elephant’s Back behind it and several mountain ranges in the background:


Looking to the West you get a view of Caples Lake with Thunder Mountain and the slopes of Kirkwood Ski Area behind it, and to the right – the Meiss Col.


A few more minutes and the view behind you changes yet again, with Round Top getting more distant. At this point the trails starts winding around the rocky formations of the Red Lake Peak slopes.


Look to the South for a majestic panorama of Red Lake, framed by the endless ranges of mountains that include Markleeville Peak, The Nipple, Ebbets Path and even the snowy peaks at Sonora Pass far away.


A few more minutes and a few more hundreds of feet of elevation – and more views open up. The slopes we’re climbing become rockier, and the rocks become more reddish:


We get a better look at Meiss Col (below, center) – the first mini pass that Pacific Crest Trail makes north of Carson Pass, with Caples Lake in the background:


To the North one can see the blue mass of Lake Tahoe, and to the left, partly obscured by the clouds, the gray rocks that border Desolation Wilderness:


Finally we see the peak we’re trying to reach. Almost there! But we’re not the first to make it to the summit today – see the footsteps in the snow ahead of us?


The last hundreds of yards take us but a few minutes and at last we’re at the summit, rewarded by stunning 360 degree views of the whole world beneath us.  The snow fields of Mokelumne Wilderness, including Elephant’s Back, Round Top Peak and The Sisters seem far away and way below us – although we’re almost exactly at the same elevation as Round Top.


A look to the North-East tells as that there is not that much snow left in the Eastern Sierra:


To the North we see the skyline formed by the highest peak in Lake Tahoe area – Freel Peak (left), then to the right its immediate neighbor Jobs Sister (2nd largest in the area), and then further on the right Hawkins Peak, all three above 3000m / 10000 feet.


The ribbon of Carson Pass Highway is visible down below, but its too far to hear any noise from the cars:


Having enjoyed the views, and slightly high from the thin cold air, we turn back and retrace our steps down the trail:


The nice thing about walking downhill is that you have the views in front of you all the time:


The total length of the round trip was over 3 miles, with only about 450m (1450 ft) of elevation gain, since we started at an already pretty high point. It took us almost 3 hours, but that included enjoying the views and the snacks at the top, plus multiple stops for pictures. According to my GPS recorder, the moving time was just about 83 minutes.

Related Galleries:

Red Lake Peak, Red Lake, Carson Pass Highway, Lake Winnemucca,

Getting there

From Pioneer, CA: drive about 46.5 miles / 75 km East on CA-88.
From South Lake Tahoe, CA: drive about 12 miles / 19 km South on CA-89, then turn right on CA-88 and drive West for about 9 miles / 15 km.

Park at the Meiss Trailhead parking lot at the North side of the highway, a few hundred yards west of Carson Pass. A fee is required (self-pay). A wilderness parking permit is required during the winter months.

Red Lake Peak ascent: click on the image for downloadable GPS track and more details


Once one leaves the Pacific Crest Trail there is no marked trail to the peak, at least for a few hundred yards. It is possible to short cut through some rocks and bushes and then follow the crest more or less in the direction of North. At some point a trail becomes visible and remains so all the way to the top.

One should be careful during the snow season. The snow can be unstable, especially near the crest. This is a high avalanche risk area. There is also risk of being hit by shells from the avalanche guns (see my post on Red Lake Hike).


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