Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit or call 1- 877-444-6777 to make park reservations. Visit Campfire Permits to get a permit online. More about Leave No Trace principles.

February 08, 2019

Rating Terminology and Hiking Technical Information

This relates to my blog posts. 

I.  Difficulty Ratings:

1.  YDS:  The Yosemite Decimal System per Wikipedia, which for this blog, is only used for rating rocky sections of trails.  
"The system now divides all hikes and climbs into five classes:[2] The exact definition of the classes is somewhat controversial,[3] and updated versions of these classifications have been proposed.[4]
  • Class 1: Walking with a low chance of injury.
  • Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possibility of occasional use of the hands. Little potential danger is encountered.
  • Class 3: Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.
  • Class 4: Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.
  • Class 5: Technical free climbing involving rope, belaying, and other protection hardware for safety. Un-roped falls can result in severe injury or death."

2.  For rating Difficulty of a trail within this blog, we will include ratings of: Easy, Moderate, Difficult,  Strenuous.
  • Easy has a clear, well marked trail, on paved or hard packed dirt surface, no obstacles like boulders, fallen trees, creek crossings, and minimal elevation change.  Under 5 miles.
  • Moderate may have shallow creek crossings, trail length 5-10 miles.  May have small rocky stretches, may have roots, small fallen tree to cross, Some elevation gains, or over a longer stretch.
  • Difficult refers to some technical hiking over large or many tree falls, small rock/boulder scrambles, creek crossings harder or deeper that you cannot easily rock hop, longer mileage, 10 plus miles.  More elevation gains.
  • Strenuous will refer to longer hikes, maybe quick elevation gains or at high elevation.  Doesn't refer to issues Difficult does, so both titles may be used to rate a trail I review.
  • Challenging will indicate longer hikes +10 miles, with trail-finding challenges, bushwhacking (cross country), more dramatic elevation changes, lengthy, steeper, boulder scrambles, and possibly steep areas that may visually deter some people. Creek crossings requiring skill. In general, more technical skills needed than on strenuous hikes. has a calculator and rating explanations.  I may convert to this method instead of my subjective descriptions. 

Fishing on Summer Backpacking Trips

Learn about fishing and pack a light rod n reel or go fly fishing on your over-nighters.

This fellow was fly fishing in Kyburz along the river.  I could hardly resist capturing a photo of this classic scene.  This could be us!
Brandon, a family member fishing on the American River near Codfish Creek Falls, CA.

My oldest grandson and I are going fishing this year.  I have looked longingly at the jumping fish in high mountain lakes I backpacked in to, wishing I had packed in a rod n reel or learned fly fishing.

Recently I finally broke down and bought us new poles for packing, new reels with the 8# line loaded at the store. I still have to assemble our rods and reels, and add all of the tackle needed like the hooks, weights, and floats.  

While researching, I discovered a great website to walk newbies through the set up.  Check out information that is well organized and perfect for beginners.

As I get the poles set up I will get a few images to share and as we get out to fish, an occasional update will be here too.  Neither of us is brand new to fishing, but new enough to have plenty to learn.  
Mase at Loch Levin fishing.....for hours.

Wish us luck!  

September 05, 2018

Freel Peak Summit Routes

   We couldn't find tracks from each approach, or definitive
mileages, so we are giving each of the three options
(besides bushwacking up the south side), a try.

            Only 1 more mile to Freel Peak once you reach this sign!

From High Meadows Parking

I really hate this 3 1/2 mile section.  To think I am hiking about 1/2 way to Star Lake on a gravel road irks me.  Oh!  Note, I have seen two bears on this trail.  Watch your dogs.

DISTANCE: We hiked 19 miles and did not make the summit, missing it again by less than one mile.  I got injured just shy of the Freel Trail, and although we started up the steps, I couldn't safely do them and had an extremely hard time getting back to the car, headlamp-ed out the last few miles of that awful gravel jeep road.
DIRECTIONS: (added for your convenience on Sept 8, 2018) From  Lake Tahoe Blvd, (between Cold Water Brewery and Grill, and Blue Dog Pizza) turn southwest on to Sierra Blvd.  Go 14 short blocks and turn right on Pioneer Trail then left left on High Meadow Trail.  Follow it to the obvious parking.  A gate there is usually closed and you go through it to hike up the gravel jeep road and follow the directions below.
OR from Highway 50 at Meyers, take Pioneer Trail east and in 4 1/2 miles turn right on High Meadow Trail; follow it to the parking.

View from the jeep road from Big Meadows area.

Veer to the right.  This sign should be in place.

We finally got beyond the part of this trek I really do not enjoy and on 
to the trail through the forested area.  

We took fewer photos this trip than usual, 
but I couldn't resist capturing this one!

As you progress, you get these glimpses of Tahoe that 
help me realize, with gratification, our progress 
to Star Lake and Freel Peak.

A nice spot to refill and get some cold water 
and a few minutes rest.

Star Lake seems to jump out of nowhere and offers spots 
around the lake for camping or to take in the views 
and picnic along your way. If you are there without a moon
 at night, the stars are incredible!  
Taken near the TRT and Freel Peak trail converging with 
a big open area to take in views. By now I had rolled my ankle 
for the first time in my life (I thought I must be immune!) 
and had to think that it might affect our hiking time down if the pain got worse.

Right near the Freel Peak trail junction. From here you get 
on the trail (photograph at the of of the article) and start heading 
up to the summit.  A very short distance in and there is an excellent 
big boulder with a table-like top and room to rest and recharge.  
We left most of our gear there to make our final summit attempt.  
Admittedly we discussed turning back here but being stubborn and intrepid, 
we decided to give it a go. My daughter had never done close 
to this many miles in a day and I had to face the prospect 
of getting all the way back to the car with an ankle injury.

We got up a few of those carved boulder stair steps, 
looked at our distance from the summit, and I had to admit 
the injury was making it impossible.  We sadly turned back.  
It was a bit crushing having logged so many miles.  
We made Mt Whitney but couldn't get Freel on our second attempt.  

For hikers who don't like steep areas, this section between 
Freel and Star Lake will be a challenge.  I love getting the shade and views.

Star Lake on our return was a welcome sight.

I became unable to wear my boots for a while so hiked the Meadow section in socks!

DOWNSIDE OF THIS APPROACH: The gravel road really got the best of me and I got quite an arm and abs workout using my poles to stay upright.  That gravel road section is a curse.  Some of it is steep and it is slippery footing at times.  I was extra thankful not to be carrying more than a day pack.

Hiking miles, half the hike to Star Lake from Big Meadows Parking, 
is a sore spot with me.  Literally and figuratively.  
I get away to be away from roads, not to hike them.  Grrrr.
I hiked most of that section coming down 
in my hiking socks due to the foot, knee, ankle pain.
At least we can say we got a nice sunset through the trees.
The end of the tale at this point is that we head-lamped
out the last couple of miles or so. 
At the end of the week, I am still injured and having difficulty with my foot.  I had to call in at work for two days.  I wouldn't mind so much if we had gained Freel.  If you choose that route, best to do it as an over-nighter at Star lake.  (On day 10 I still can't walk normally from the injury so I am anxious for recovery to get back up to the summit trail, along with the thought that my last attempt will be the shortest hike there.)
BENEFIT OF THIS ROUTE: 1. It is long but could be done in a day without injury.  2. You get to see and hang out at Star Lake which is one of my favorite spots around the Tahoe area. 3. The trail is very well marked and easy to follow. 4.  Since you head to Star Lake you can overnight and use it as a basecamp for probably the easiest way to summit Freel, and perhaps the Triple Crown if you are so inclined. 

From Fountain Place Parking 

This was our first attempt and we really enjoyed the hike.  Without using private property we hiked 15 miles but due to our late start we ran out of time and missed achieving the summit by less than one mile. Keep in mind the last mile is the hardest and most time consuming.
 One of my favorite things in life is wildflowers!  We enjoyed hiking alone the creek in lush green, dotted with lots of color from the blooms.

Then we started really heading upward.  I added a lot more photos to this post to help you envision being there yourself and for a little familiarity with the scenes as you go on your quest for the summit.

Okay, we love special trees and I feel compelled to put our 
favorite tree shots in, for us. : )
This trail was pretty straightforward although there was one large open area that we were a little uncertain about so we swung toward the left, or eastward, just knowing that was the general direction of our destination, and made it easily otherwise.  
DISTANCE: We did clock about 15 miles round trip, so it might have been shy of 17 miles to the summit.  It wasn't too steep and was, for me, a beautiful hike I want to do again next season.
DOWNSIDE OF THIS APPROACH: 1.  Mileage. There are shorter routes.  
2. A major downside of using this route, for us, was the mosquito fest along the creek near the trailhead, and with our timing we were there at feeding time!  The wet area was thick with skeeters, in your mouth, eyes, everywhere.  3. We came from out of town, so we arrived too late to summit,because we had a time limit on childcare. The best time to do this is when you are staying in town and can take your time.
BEST ABOUT THIS APPROACH: The bright side was I spent a lot of time photographing the wildflower wonderland. It is a reasonable approach since nothing but the summit is a really fast ascent.  It is easier on your knees and calves.  There was water along the way at two easy spots.  Bonus, more wildflowers.
More photos of our day: 

Partway up the Freel Summit Trail the views were already rewarding!

This is partly what to expect on the Freel summit trail.  Rocky, 
with those carved stone steps partway too.

My daughter at our high point along the Freel summit trail.

From Armstrong Pass Trailhead Parking

Once my foot heals, I will tackle this shorter, very popular trail, and make the summit, or maybe the Triple Crown instead.  It is day 14, and getting better.  Maybe even this coming week?...Doubtful.

August 16, 2018

Winnemucca, Round Top and Fourth of July Lakes Aug 2018

Fourth of July Lake as we entered the bowl.

As luck had it, we hit the Winnemucca-Round Top Lakes Loop trail in July/August when wildflowers were in full bloom, making this a most colorful hike! 

Late July and early August were the wildflower extravaganza on the east hike up from Woods Lake to Winnemucca and then Round Top Lake.  
Details:  Either can be done as day hikes, although it depends on your fitness of course, and your ability to acclimate to elevation.  We started at 8200' elevation and climbed to over 9400'. Both of my hikes started at the Woods Lake Trailhead, with the short one as a loop and the longer trip as an out and back.

Distance: With some additional exploration, we hiked about 14 1/2 miles on our trip to Fourth of July Lake.  The Round Top loop was about 6 1/2 miles with a little exploration beyond Round Top Lake, toward Fourth of July Lake, to help plan my annual backpacking trip with one of my grandsons the next week. Both trips were rewarding and fun thanks to the flowers, and the snow banks here and there at the higher elevations.
Elevations: 9419 was the highest recorded on both hikes, but we estimated about + 50-75 on our boulder scrambling. 2864 ft elevation changes recorded on Fourth of July Lake trip; 1325" recorded on Round Top Lake hike.
Parking:  It costs $5 cash in an envelope per day for both day trip and per day for a full backpacking stay. We parked at Woods Lake Parking.

  • There is a restroom in the parking area.  
  • The parking is adequate sized and you can park along the road if it is full.  
  • There is water available from creeks (bring your purifier) and the lakes. 
  • No poison oak.  
  • Not suitable for strollers but we saw happy kids on the loop day hike, and yes, even backpacking kids!
  • Many campsites at our 3 destination lakes do not have any close access to water, but more disappointing was the lack of any lake view.
  • These are popular trails and lakes so getting a "wilderness/solitude" experience is less likely. On the other hand we met so many generous and friendly folks!
  • No quad maps were available from the ranger cabin.  I expected to get one for my grandson to both educate him during our stay, and to keep as memorabilia of our trip.  It is important to keep aware of your location as you hike the area.  People do get lost there, so GPS, compass and map, and even your trackers like AllTrails are wise.  
  • Be prepared for unexpected rain and for winds, which are common to the area.
Our AllTrails unedited tracks from Woods Lake Trailhead to Winnemucca, Round Top, then Fourth of July Lake. 

Backpacking permits must be picked up at the Carson Pass Information Station, manned mostly by volunteers, on the first day of your trip.  I confess, this system is poor. "First come-first serve", right at the cabin, not at the destination.  They assign campsites.  Groups were divided all over each destination, rather than grouped together, and my grandchild and I had to break camp and move three times over 5 days.  No online reservations from Mokulumne Wilderness. Two groups offered us good sites for our two nights there so we accepted them with love and appreciation, as our assigned site didn't had a flat tent area.
4th of July Lake has sandy beaches!
There wasn't a fee for the camping permit on the bright side.
Day permits are not required.
Fire Permits required for use of any campstove etc.
Others have posted tracks you can use on AllTrails, but here are links to mine unedited to view the maps:
Fourth of July Lake
Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes Loop

It was smokey due to forest fires around CA, but there were rivers of color along the hike down into the Fourth of July Lake bowl that stood as tall as my preteen grandson!.
I loved the hikes.  I chose to go clockwise both times, personal preference, although most people choose counter clockwise.  We spent 5 days and 4 nights.  

July 17, 2018

Mount Rose Summit 10,785' in Humbolt-Toiyabe NF

 A fantastic training hike for Mount Whitney!

360 degree views from the summit.

Hiking Distance: about 10.5 miles  An out and back hike.
Elevation:  The trailhead is at 8915 feet.  The summit is 10,785 feet.
Difficulty: Considered moderate.  No boulder scrambles or creeks with fallen tree crossings although there were wet areas and a creek that was shallow. I loved hiking poles on this one. For some the elevation may make it difficult.
Location of Trailhead: There is a large paved and well marked parking lot on Mount Rose Highway near Incline Village. 
Good to know: No fees.  Dogs allowed. Restrooms recently reported to be closed. Bug repellent is good to have handy.  Wildflowers blooming even at the summit in July! Some water available but suggest purifying all water. No permit required for day hikes.

Galena Falls, the destination for many hikers on this trail.

The trail was easy to follow.
When you head through this lush section, you might want your bug repellent!
Wildflowers in every color were abundant this time of year and lifted my spirits! After the valley meadows, the trail heads into forest and becomes more of a steep workout.
It can feel pretty hot through this short stretch, but there will be more
shade to rest in  up the Mount Rose Summit trail as you persevere!

On either side of the Mount Rose trail you begin to get 
views hinting at the summit's offerings.
The trail leaves the shady forest and leads upward above treeline.

Windswept and cold, the trail lead me to the summit first where indeed the views are satisfying and photogenic!  Across the saddle is the lesser summit with a cozy windbreak and more of the gorgeous views of pretty much everywhere!

FYI There wasn't a summit register.
More Tahoe hikes that may interest you

Tahoe National Forest
6+ miles round trip
Moderate (kids do it though)
Snowshoeing PCT at Donner’s Castle Pass
9.3 mile loop
3.5 miles
1+ miles with many lakes and options
Easy to Moderate
5+ miles this trip
Whatever you choose-4 around the lake
Easy, paved most of the way.
1 mile each location
Pioneer Trail near Spaulding Lake
Up to 25 miles; I did 5.7
Easy to Moderate
Sierra Discovery Trail with Bear Creek Falls
½ mile est. interpretive loop and picnic area
.7 mile loop
Stroller and WC friendly
3+ miles out and back
Easy - Moderate
6 miles round trip
4 miles
Easy - Moderate
Grouse Ridge Glacier Lake Trail Milk and Downey Lakes are closest.
.5+ many optional miles to many lakes, all pretty close to each other!
Easy to Moderate Car camping available near the trailhead.  Also walk in camps at Carr-Feeley TH
10.5 miles round trip
Moderate to Strenuous

Happy Trails!