Snowshoers will find challenges along Elephants Back
April 12, 2005
CARSON PASS – Wildflower lovers may have a little longer wait beyond late June in taking in one of two seasons for irises, Indian paint brush and other blooms in the Lake Tahoe region that are characteristic of the ridge leading up to Elephants Back.
With a seasonal snowpack staying above average, snowshoers and cross country skiers enjoying a long winter have dug steps in a 20-foot snowbank at the Carson Pass trailhead at 8,573 feet.
The area with a small visitor’s center at the trailhead is manned in coordination with the El Dorado Interpretative Society by the U.S. Forest Service’s Amador Ranger District in the summer, but the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit can provide backcountry permits during winter.
LTBMU’s Gay Eitel thinks the wildflowers that traditionally come out by early July may be delayed with the wet winter, but the reward could be worth the wait.
“They should be incredible with the amount of snow we’ve had,” Eitel said.
Right now, it’s all about snow frolicking in the season of renewal.
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The trailhead has several destinations to head toward, but Elephants Back – which was aptly named during the Gold Rush era for its summit shape – is one 2-mile jaunt to do for spring. That shape is easily spotted from Highway 88 while driving west to Kirkwood from Pickett’s Junction.
The Winnemucca Lake Trail’s easy-to-moderate snowshoe journey provides superior views for only a 1,100-foot elevation gain, three-hour time commitment and no technical climbing skills required. Adjustable, extended poles are recommended as the beaten-down path slopes at an angle.
Even though the hard-pack won’t require gaiters to negotiate at this time of year, the trail is covered with snow and tracks from skiers seeking wide-open terrain in the popular backcountry area. The snow level has edged up to within 2 feet of the blue cross country ski markers on the trees that dot the route.
Tim Ramirez of Berkeley toured the region on his skis with his female companion on one recent Saturday. He was amazed by the number of people and the amount of snow still left this late in the season.
“There are a lot of people up here,” he said, stopping for a break.
Beyond skiers, there were other reminders of a lingering winter.
The wind on the ridge close to the top produced gusts that could blow away any hat, camera bag or gloves left unattended.
“The wind has really been gusting up there this year. It’s really been stacking up the leeward side,” Amador District Resource Officer Anthony Botello said.
Although the bulk of the travel extends up to the top on the west side, Botello said he’s concerned about avalanche danger among skiers who descend on the leeward – the steep side on the east slope. Backcountry skiers are advised to carry avalanche beacons, shovels and common sense.
At an elevation of 9,603 feet, the summit of Elephants Back can be accessed by following the trail one mile in before a sharp veer east up the ridge. The shale found in summer was almost completely covered with snow, making snowshoes an ideal mode of travel. At the top, the rocky 10,381-foot Round Top peak comes into full view to the south above Winnemucca Lake.
With a 180-degree pivot in the opposite direction, one can see Red Lake Peak towering over the Carson Range at 10,061 feet. Caples Lake is due west and the Toiyabe National Forest is situated to the east.
Snowshoeing trips provide hikers with a pioneering spirit access to areas less frequented in the winter.
Author Marc J. Soares lists 13 of them in the Lake Tahoe region – ranging from Echo Lakes to Castle Peak – in his book titled “Snowshoe Routes of Northern California.”
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