Red Lake Peak
The route described is a fun and moderate day trip up Red Lake Peak near Carson Pass on Highway 88. With a shuttle vehicle or a lucky thumb, you can get 2,600 of fine descents on the east side and only have to climb 1,500.
From Interstate 5 in Stockton, take Highway 4 east for a few miles to Highway 99; go north on Highway 99 for a few miles to Highway 88; go east on Highway 88 all the way to Carson Pass, a few miles past the turnoff to Kirkwood Ski Resort. Park at the turnoff on the north side of the highway at Carson Pass. You need a sno-park day permit to park here, which can be purchased at the cross-country ski house a few miles before the pass on Highway 88.
Depending on what descent route you take, you may want to park a shuttle car near the vista point (8,000) about 1.3 miles east of Carson Pass or the unplowed turnoff to Crater Lake (7,400) about 4 miles east of Carson Pass.
From the parking lot, head due west and gradually contour around the hill until you are heading almost due north. After about half a mile, you will enter a broad, open bowl with a few trees scattered around. The photo at top left shows the bowl, with the southwest shoulder of Red Lake Peak on the left and the summit pyramid barely visible behind it to the right. From here, one option is to follow the general path of the Pacific Crest Trail, which gradually slopes upwards towards a gentle saddle at 8,800. From the saddle, turn to the northwest and climb steadily to the summit.
Another option is to climb up the steeper, more direct ridge to the southwest shoulder of Red Lake Peak at 9,640. From the shoulder, follow the ridgeline to the northeast as it flattens and then rises again to the summit. The lower part of ridgeline may be corniced as shown in the photo at top center. Climb along the southwest or western flank of Red Lake Peak to the summit.
At the top, there is a small saddle between two rock outcroppings that form the twin summits of Red Lake Peak, as seen in the photo at top right . The northern outcrop, a few feet higher, is the true summit. On a clear day, the views from the summit are fantastic.
The Descent: There are several great descents from the summit of Red Lake Peak. To the northeast, there are several routes that drop 2,600 past Crater Lake to Highway 88. The northeast ridge provides a continuous, stepped descent to the highway passing to the south of Crater Lake. Another option is to descend to the southeast, which provides a continuous, exciting descent down a broad avalanche chute to the highway near the vista point. Still another option is to descend the western flank and angle back south to Carson Pass via the Pacific Crest Trail route. Finally, you can also descend north to the saddle before Stevens Peak and there steeply to the east to Highway 88.
The Photos: The photo at mid page shows the fantastic views from the south summit of Red Lake Peak, with the north face of Round Top as the prominent feature on the skyline. The photo above shows Davis-area backcountry skier Karl Benjamin ascending the broad southwest shoulder of Red Lake Peak.
Story and photos by: Erik Riegler
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