Ted's Hiking World Round Top Ascent
Mokelumne Wilderness

July 23, 2007

Although this trail has been a personal favorite for over 30 years, I never have made the final ascent to the summit of Round Top.  This is to be the day.

The first mile is shady but unremarkable.  Bypassing the spur to Frog Lake, companions Ali and Phil head directly for our objective.

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Round Top, 10381*

The big meadow has more flowers than were present during my visit a month ago.  The cow parsnips finally have appeared, and the lupine have grown taller.

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The meadow is in full bloom

Not tarrying at Winnemucca Lake on this occasion, we turn westward for a 400-foot uphill trek to Round Top Lake.  Although two creeks are flowing from the snow banks on the north face of the mountain, this trail segment always seems relatively hot and dry.  A Clark's nutcracker entertains us for a time, and I spot a bee doing its thing on a Ranger's button.

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A Clark's Nutcracker — quite a remarkable species

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Mountain Monardella are everywhere

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Buttons and bees

A rare phenomenon has developed directly above Round Top itself.  As the effect seems lessened after removing my sunglasses, I quickly affix a polarizing filter to the camera to capture the full colors.  Although my companions seem unimpressed, I know that this is an uncommon happening; the upward curvature of the colored band is not the stuff of your average rainbow.

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An Ice Halo — a truly rare treat

Round Top Lake is an unusual dark green color — presumably due to the orangish tint of its sandy bottom.  On the lake's near side is the beginning of a thousand-foot ascent on an unofficial trail.  Barren though this route may appear, sporadic patches of flowers do adorn the hillside.

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Round Top Lake

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The unofficial summit trail

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Cushion Buckwheat

A pleasant creek below us on the right merits later exploration.  From the top of the saddle there are some great new views, including the Crystal Range and Lake Tahoe far to the north.

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The Two Sisters, 10052* and 9944*

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Round Top Lake and Caples Lake on the left, Big Blue in the upper right

At the base of the first rock outcropping are usage trails in both directions.  Opting for the right-hand path, we presently incur a hands-on climb up a 50-foot volcanic wall, during which I am compelled to remove my gold wedding band in order to avoid scratching it on the rocks.  This is followed by a tricky slope of loose talus; thereafter it is a pretty easy scramble.

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Scrambling among the crags

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Isn't there a better way?

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Almost there — only another couple hundred feet

At the top, the vista is predictably glorious.  This is easily one of the most scenic viewpoints in the Northern Sierra.

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The Blue Lakes region to the southeast

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Summit City Creek Canyon to the southwest

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Flat-topped Thunder Mountain in the west

Unfortunately, this is not the true summit.  Achieving that point involves negotiating a deep chasm between the peaks.  It is somewhat scary up here, and an occasionally stiff breeze doesn't help the cause.

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Ali challenges the true summit

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King of the Mountain

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Life at the top

Although we have had the summit entirely to ourselves, after an hour or so it is time to leave.  Any anxiety over a descent of the dreaded rock wall is dispelled when a less intimidating return route presents itself on the northern side of the ridge line; in fact, no climbing is necessary at all!

Phil finds the trekking pole that he had misplaced during our problematic ascent.  Once off that hairy slope it is possible to relax, although the subsequent steep and slippery downhill segment necessitates careful footing.  The sky above is virtually overcast now; perhaps it will rain tonight.

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Heading back down toward distant Pyramid Peak

The pretty little stream is still there.  This is a good time to refill water bottles before heading down the creek-side path, as nearly four miles of trail remain and the temperature is in the seventies.

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The water is delicious

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Mountain Sorrel among the Brewer's Lupine

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A feel-good place

New flower varieties abound in this miniature ecosystem.  A single patch of western spring beauties has sprouted from the recent snow melt.  The real show-stoppers, however, are the brilliantly hued monkeyflowers.

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Sierra Spring Beauty

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Primates meet Monkeyflowers — Darwin's delight

When I last hiked the section between Round Top Lake and Winnemucca Lake, the only noteworthy plants were patches of phlox.  Today, however, this area is a garden paradise.  In places one cannot so much as step off the trail without crushing something beautiful.  The variety is so great that I cannot identify all the species.

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Little Elephant Heads

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White Mountain Heather — or at least they used to be

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The thousands of Rock Fringe have heart-shaped leaves

I spot a white flower type that someone at summitpost.org calls a Sunday Peak Cinquefoil, because that's where it was photographed a month ago today.  These are commonly known as sticky cinquefoil; and touching a stem explains the name.

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Sticky Cinquefoil, with spider

A glance up at the mountain imparts feelings of accomplishment, and of joy at just being here.

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Exquisite lighting under the clouds

Two more miles.  It is about 5 p.m., a perfect time to be on the trail.  Of course, a few more photo stops are in order, including a visit to the spring that feeds the big meadow.  A final breather at Frog Lake enables us to complete our memorable odyssey.

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Sierra Penstemon

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The usual suspects are at the spring

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More great lighting at Frog Lake


§: What a fine day this was!  Good company, perfect weather, and lots of nice flowers.

Hikers' note: at the top of the saddle on the way up, veer left at the first rock outcropping — unless you are anxious to log some additional talus-hopping exercise or mountain-climbing practice.

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Here are some details on the "rainbow" in the sky:

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Ice Halo

Subsequent research has identified this as a circumhorizon arc, which forms only under specific conditions regarding the sun's angle and the orientation of ice crystals in cirrus clouds at a certain height above the earth.  In fact, it is not actually a rainbow at all.  Note the seeming spectrum-reversal, with the red hues being on the inside of the upward curve; in rainbows, those colors are on the outside edge.

More information about this and other atmospheric phenomena is available at:  www.atoptics.co.uk

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