Location: Carson Pass – Kirkwood, CA
Duration: 1 – 2 hours
Elevation Change: 2,663′ – from 7,400′ to 10,063′
Recomended Map: Caples Lake & Carson Pass, California
Map of General Route:
Not well known, this high elevation giant is an easy one to ski from Carson Pass, which lies a few miles northeast of Kirkwood ski area on hwy 88. The Carson Pass area receives some of the biggest recorded snowfall in the country each year. This area is one of you best bets when coverage is a concern. It’s also a great place to go look for early season corn snow, as the easy-access south side bakes in the sun in-between storm cycles. With only a 1,500’ climb from the car, you can quickly put yourself on a summit that offers a wide variety of descent options.
For a ski tour one step longer and steeper than the south side, wander off the southeast corner and aim for benchmark 7660 shown on the topo map, down on hwy 88. There is a huge tube sticking out of the snow, where avalanche control bombs used to get pumped out near the top of a 2,200’gully. Avalanche control hasn’t been done for years to my knowledge. When you get into the gully, you can’t help but sense the power of what goes on during big storms right there. This avy gully is really fun to ski, and ranges from 30-35 degrees. It is definitely something you should only do in a freeze thaw cycle, when you know it won’t slide. You will pop out at the road where you’ll have to skin back uphill for a few hundred feet. Don’t skin around at the highway level, but rather cut the corner and aim straight for the start of your skin track.
The northeast side of Red Lake Peak hides more hidden treasures in the form of powder skiing. Parking for north side access is found in a large, paved pullout on the north side of Highway 88, a few miles east of Carson Pass. Skin up to Crater Lake. From here you can pick up the northeast ridge, which takes you to the summit. Re-use your skin track and session the tree runs if the snow is right, and hit the summit for your last lap. Be careful to steer clear of the many cliff bands below the high bowl. If you become nervous of avalanche danger, you can carefully pick a safe way back down along the northeast ridge, or head over to adjacent Steven’s Peak for its mellow southwest slopes.
If you know the terrain well enough, you can do a car shuttle and start the climb from Carson Pass. This saves you 1200’ of climbing, but doesn’t shorten the day or overall effort. Car shuttles are rarely worth the effort, and it is always best to check out snow conditions and ski descent possibilities first hand by climbing near where you’re going to ski. On the other hand, seeing more of the mountain isn’t such a bad thing. Red Lake Peak sports awesome views of the Roundtop area across the road, as well as killer distant views of Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe. You can even see Freel-Job’s-Job’s Sister Trio to the west.
Don’t forget to buy your California Sno-Park Permit for Carson Pass. We sell them, as do hardware stores and some other ski shops. If you need one down there, you can pick one up in Meyers at a little ski and board shop. Permits are $5 for the day, or $25 for the season. The fine for not having one is $75, and the probability of ticketing is high.