Location: Carson Pass – Kirkwood, CA
Duration: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
Elevation Change: 1,781′ – from 8,600′ to 10,381′
Recomended Map: Caples Lake & Carson Pass, California
Map of General Route:
Drive a mile west of Carson Pass, or a mile east of Kirkwood Ski Area and pull over for a clear view of this striking little peak. Roundtop seems to call to you and threatens you at the same time. Reaching the summit is very easy actually. Skin a few miles to the base and scramble up class 2 rock on the west and south side of the peak. Bring your skis to the top if you’re planning on dropping into the infamous “Crescent Moon Couloir”. This north facing dogleg couloir is a popular goal for extreme skiers and snowboarders, or those who just have a screw loose. It’s hard to forget about after you’ve seen it. The line gets skied regularly when avalanche dangers are low. The Carson Pass area receives some of the biggest snow dumps in the country each year, and is your best bet if you’re concerned about coverage.
The challenge of the Crescent Moon Couloir On Round Top’s North side depends on how soon you try to enter it from the hanging snowfield. I like to make about 4 turns and then slide to the right and get in there where it opens up a little. Dropping from the top is super narrow and like an elevator shaft. Done that, won’t do it again. Booting up the thing is scary and hard to do, I was won’t try that again either. Go around the back to reach the summit. You can’t see the couloir or the end of the cliff as you start down the 35-degree hanging snowfield. You wouldn’t want to slide off this thing before making it into the gut of the couloir. Or be like JT and fly off the thing with skis to touch down where you want!
If you can manage to take your eyes off the Crescent line, there are excellent lines to descend all around Roundtop Peak. The backside grows perfect corn snow quite quickly during a warm spell. There are a few 2,500’ south facing gullies back there at that perfect 35 degrees we all enjoy. Bring some extra water if you head down them, it can be a hot climb back up from Summit City Creek.
The beautiful north facing terrain above Winnemuca Lake gets skied fairly regularly. You can climb up to the crest or just session the powder often found above the lake. This zone is a little more out of the wind, and often has better winter snow compared to the slopes beneath Roundtop and the Sisters. You can easily climb Roundtop and then ski the headwall above Winnemuca in the same day.
For a car shuttle option and additional vertical, you can leave a car near Red Lake and start your tour at Carson Pass. After exploring Roundtop for the day, head home over the southeast corner of Elephants back. This earns you an additional 800-1000’ east facing shot that is often powder snow long after the storms subside. Make sure you eye your Elephants Back descent from the road, so you know what you’re getting yourself into. The upper northeast bowl of Elephant’s Back should only be skied when you are positive the snow pack is totally safe and settled in the area. It’s a blank, steep slate of white that would be pretty difficult to judge or test by any avalanche forecaster.
Finally, 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.