Winter has returned to the Sierra, so it’s time to don those snowshoes or skis and head to the mountains. While there is snow, we are still very early in the season. I have found the Lake Winnemucca trail from Carson Pass to be an excellent place for a rewarding trek. This trail has lots to offer for intermediate and advanced adventurers alike.
The trail starts at the Carson Pass Station at the summit and is mostly a gentle uphill climb to Lake Winnemucca. It winds through forest and meadows until the last open traverse, which crosses the glacial moraine that forms Lake Winnemucca.
One thing to bear in mind is that although the trail is not marked, it is well traveled. This means you would be following ski/snowshoe tracks in the snow rather than seeing markings on the trees. Although there are some markers at the beginning of the trail, they lead to Woods Lake rather than Lake Winnemucca.
When I skied out recently, I encountered many congenial fellow travelers and had some great conversations about conditions, equipment, technique, and snow camping. I actually met a group digging snow caves at the lake in preparation to spend the night. They’d taken courses in snow camping and winter survival at a local community college and were looking forward to spending the night in their carefully constructed caves. (As a point of information, the coldest it is supposed to get in a snow cave is 32°F, which is substantially warmer than the 12°F outside temperature that was predicted.)
Winnemucca Lake is a great destination, with rocks usually visible for the visitor to lounge upon as they watch the extreme skiers on nearby Round Top Peak. The more adventurous can actually head up the mountain and ski/snowboard down challenging runs. Views from the peak are breathtaking, but this would be for the more advanced traveler with extensive backcountry knowledge.
To get to the trailhead, travel east on Highway 88 to the Carson Pass Summit. There you will find two California Sno-Parks. The trailhead is out of the one at the summit, but if it’s full, the one ¼ mile west usually has spots available.
Remember to get a Sno-Park Permit before going up because there are none available at the sites. You can purchase them online here. . For a great description of the winter trek to Round Top Peak, click here.
Remember to dress warmly and take the correct clothing and equipment because backcountry winter travel can be hazardous for those unprepared. Enjoy your trek!