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Day hikes around Kit Carson / Carson Pass and Silver Lake in the High Sierras?

Day hikes around Kit Carson / Carson Pass and Silver Lake in the High Sierras?

Old Jul 18, 15, 11:26 am
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Day hikes around Kit Carson / Carson Pass and Silver Lake in the High Sierras?

I just booked a last minute getaway at Kit Carson Lodge in the El Dorado Nat'l Forest and was hoping to get some good info on moderate day hikes in the area. We're staying over a Fri-Sat-Sun and would like to ideally a) avoid heavy foot traffic b) hopefully see wildlife c) get into the high country and experience the most scenic views, glacial lakes, etc. I haven't spent much time in the area and would greatly appreciate any advice and tips! Also, is bear spray advised/necessary?
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Old Jul 18, 15, 6:04 pm
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Although I am pretty versed on most of the Sierra, that is one in which I haven't spent a lot of time. I suspect your best source of info on the local area will be from the folks at your inn. That is part of their business, helping clients have a good time. I am sure they will have several good suggestions and may have maps. I am not familiar with that lodge but some will even pack a trail lunch for guests.

I have hiked thousands of miles in the Sierra over the years and never carried bear spray. Alaska, yes but that is a different animal. The Sierra bears are not grizzlies but rather the smaller black bears and do not tend to be very aggressive. Just make some noise as you hike so any bears will hear you coming and avoid approaching one and you will be fine. The only time they might get frisky is if you have smelly food or somehow get between a mother and cub. Don't do those things.

You don't mention when you are going but the weather has been pretty unsettled in the high country lately. It could be raining or it could be sunny and 90 degrees. Best to prepare for both and decide the morning before you go out how to dress.

Have a great time.
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Old Jul 18, 15, 9:39 pm
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Originally Posted by abmj-jr View Post
Although I am pretty versed on most of the Sierra, that is one in which I haven't spent a lot of time. I suspect your best source of info on the local area will be from the folks at your inn. That is part of their business, helping clients have a good time. I am sure they will have several good suggestions and may have maps. I am not familiar with that lodge but some will even pack a trail lunch for guests.

I have hiked thousands of miles in the Sierra over the years and never carried bear spray. Alaska, yes but that is a different animal. The Sierra bears are not grizzlies but rather the smaller black bears and do not tend to be very aggressive. Just make some noise as you hike so any bears will hear you coming and avoid approaching one and you will be fine. The only time they might get frisky is if you have smelly food or somehow get between a mother and cub. Don't do those things.

You don't mention when you are going but the weather has been pretty unsettled in the high country lately. It could be raining or it could be sunny and 90 degrees. Best to prepare for both and decide the morning before you go out how to dress.

Have a great time.
Thanks bud!

We're going in 3 weeks, which is the second weekend of August.

From all that I've read and researched, including suggestions from the lodge via their website, the Carson Pass trail loop from Winnemucca Lake to Round Top seems to be the most popular day hike and from the photos I've gathered online, it seems to be for good reason. The downside is that I've read that it can feel like Fifth Ave. on summer weekends, which is something I'd like to try and avoid.

One other option that I've considered, is a trail ride with Kirkwood Sierra Outfitters (http://www.kirkwoodsierraoutfitters.com) up to Granite Lake or possibly deeper into the Mokelumne Wilderness. I called earlier this evening and left a message requesting a call back so that I can shoot them a bunch of questions and get a bit more info to help decide.

Btw, I figured as much re. bears in the area but just wanted to be safe! I've never really trekked deep into the high country before; we usually stay around the valley closer to Yosemite and the surrounding foothills. I definitely want to explore more of the region though, especially the wilderness around June Lake and further south in King's Canyon and Sequoia. I'm planning at least one weekend road trip each month into the Sierra and hopefully one week-long trip in the fall all the way north to OR through Shasta and Redwoods NP.

There are also dozens of small and inexpensive family run inns and historic lodges in the small towns around Blairsden and Greagle, Cromberg, Sierra City, Soda Springs, etc. that fly under the radar of the summer Tahoe crowds. Many of which don't even have websites or TripAdvisor/Yelp listings. I'm looking forward to exploring a lot of them this summer. We've been so focused on int'l travel the past year that we haven't really had any opportunity to enjoy the sights and attractions in our own backyard.

The last trip we took through the area was in the low-country along the old forty-niner route from Groveland up to Camino to visit all the historic Gold Rush towns but that was almost a year ago and we didn't really get out into the wilds. I don't know why it's taken me until the end of July to plan this... the missus is in Tahoe this weekend for a wedding (she's accompanying her girl friend as a date) and I think my jealousy coupled with boredom sitting home alone is what inspired me to make it happen, hah. I've recharged my enthusiasm for getting out into nature and have spent the better part of today planning short weekend getaways for the next couple of months... June Lake in September, Yosemite and Big Sur in October, etc!

I'll revive this thread with photos and some follow-up info about the trip and the trails around Carson Pass when we get back from Silver Lake in a few weeks, if you're interested.

Thanks again!
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Old Jul 18, 15, 10:53 pm
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There are well marked trails all over the place in the Carson Pass. It's a hikers' paradise. My bible for this area (and the whole state) is "California Hiking" by Tom Stienstra and Anne Marie Brown.
Amazon link Amazon link
.

Bear spray is not commonly used in California. That's more of a Montana/Alaska thing.
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Old Jul 19, 15, 12:38 am
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Thank you very much, is there a particular trail you would recommend based on the above criteria? I just ordered the book btw and I'm looking forward to delving in more thoroughly.

As an ex-pat Canadian, I've spent a lot of time in the Rockies around Alberta/BC and I've always packed bear spray, so I like to ask just to be safe. About 10 years ago, I was in Jasper coming off a trail in early spring, where a ranger had warned about bear activity. I was hiking solo and advised against doing so, but figured I'm all the way out here... I found out later that evening that a man was mauled to death on the same trail that I had been on earlier, only moments from where I had been. Up until that incident, I had never been afraid of bears but since then, I've always packed pepper spray in bear country. That said, I've yet to actually encounter a bear in California and even hiking alone with my wife in the high country around Yosemite, I've never felt unsafe or apprehensive. I just like to ask and be sure when it's an area that I'm not familiar with.
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Old Jul 19, 15, 9:41 pm
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Originally Posted by OliverB View Post
Thank you very much, is there a particular trail you would recommend based on the above criteria? I just ordered the book btw and I'm looking forward to delving in more thoroughly.
It's easy to satisfy your criteria individually but getting all three at the same time is tough. (C) is easy because you'll be right in the Sierra Nevada. You'll be surrounded by beauty. And the trail to Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes is one of my favorites in the area. I've hiked it several times; here's my blog from a trip last year.

Satisfying (A) will be tough because it's California, the most populous state in the US and a fairly outdoorsy one to boot. Pick any trail that's (i) well rated and (ii) not exceptionally hard to get to, and there will be other hikers on it. Especially on a summer weekend. I remember one time I hiked the route along the PCT from Carson Pass toward Winnemucca Lake, parts of it were as crowded as a conveyor at the airport.

The crowds also make (B) difficult by keeping wildlife at bay. This is a good thing when it comes to bears, as in the Sierra Nevada bear encounters are really rare except when humans feed them-- intentionally or not! So don't leave food contains visible in your car at the trailhead. As for other animals, keep your eyes open around dawn and dusk, when the crowds are much thinner and animals naturally come out for foraging.
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Old Jul 20, 15, 9:30 am
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I'm assuming the bear maulings you heard about in Canada or the Rockies were Grizzlies? I've never heard of a black bear doing something like that. And I've hiked all over California and never known anyone to carry bear spray.
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Old Jul 20, 15, 10:20 am
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Originally Posted by darthbimmer View Post
It's easy to satisfy your criteria individually but getting all three at the same time is tough. (C) is easy because you'll be right in the Sierra Nevada. You'll be surrounded by beauty. And the trail to Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes is one of my favorites in the area. I've hiked it several times; here's my blog from a trip last year.

Satisfying (A) will be tough because it's California, the most populous state in the US and a fairly outdoorsy one to boot. Pick any trail that's (i) well rated and (ii) not exceptionally hard to get to, and there will be other hikers on it. Especially on a summer weekend. I remember one time I hiked the route along the PCT from Carson Pass toward Winnemucca Lake, parts of it were as crowded as a conveyor at the airport.

The crowds also make (B) difficult by keeping wildlife at bay. This is a good thing when it comes to bears, as in the Sierra Nevada bear encounters are really rare except when humans feed them-- intentionally or not! So don't leave food contains visible in your car at the trailhead. As for other animals, keep your eyes open around dawn and dusk, when the crowds are much thinner and animals naturally come out for foraging.
Thanks so much and I certainly recognize the confliction between all three criteria given the location, but it sounds like we should probably not put too much weight towards the amount of foot traffic on the trail and just get out there to enjoy the natural beauty and scenery. Based on your advice and the stunning photos on your blog, I think we'll follow the trail to Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes, as it seems to be a highlight of the Carson Pass. Do you think hiking on a Sunday rather than Saturday might offer more solitude along the trail or will it not make much of a difference? Would timing make a difference; ie. leaving earlier or later in the day? Would it be possible to plan a sunset hike and if so, would you be able to offer your best judgement on the latest time of day to safely "set off" along the loop?

Lastly, have you ever hiked up to Granite Lake as well and are you familiar with any of the pack trails as I've also been considering a trail ride with Kirkwood Sierra Outfitters to either Granite Lake or Pardoe Lake in the Mokulumne Wilderness? I'm thinking about a day hike to Winnemucca and Round Top and than a horseback excursion somewhere else the next day. I would really love the opportunity to see some wildlife in the area and I would be willing to drive 35 mins or so if necessary. Are there any good drives (or accessible routes by car/foot) through the Sierras that you know of which might afford us the opportunity to see some wildlife at certain times of the day?

Thanks again for the advice and suggestions - I love your blog btw!
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Old Jul 20, 15, 10:34 am
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Originally Posted by VickiSoCal View Post
I'm assuming the bear maulings you heard about in Canada or the Rockies were Grizzlies? I've never heard of a black bear doing something like that. And I've hiked all over California and never known anyone to carry bear spray.
I don't recall but I'm pretty certain it was a grizzly attack and if memory serves, the poor hiker was partially eaten. The fact that it took place only 15 minutes or so from where I had been hiking, and that I had been warned of the danger by a ranger in hiking solo, really affected me. I didn't sleep much that night and I've since always packed pepper spray in bear country around Wyoming, Montana and the Canadian Rockies. I would probably do the same in the Great Smokies as well, where there's an abundance of black bears. I've thankfully never encountered an aggressive black bear though I did accidentally startle a large mama while foraging for berries near my grandfather's summer cottage in New Hampshire as a teenager, and there was a split second where I thought the bear might charge but I was able to back away from the situation without escalation. We used to go fishing a lot around the Connecticut Lakes and I think he had a house somewhere near Pittsburgh, NH along the state highway that's often referred to as "Moose Alley". There were a lot of black bears in the area and I've always felt comfortable with them at a distance. When we would spend summers up in NH as a kid, my dad would often drive me to the local dump in the evenings to watch the bears digging through the trash. My memory is a bit foggy but I seem to recall one other incident where we'd been fishing in a salmon river and walking back through the woods with our catch slung over my dad's shoulders. It was during the height of summer on an uncompromisingly hot afternoon and the fish were dripping blood on my dad's sweaty back. We were swatting away horse flies while cutting through the bush when all of a sudden we heard some grunting noises and rustling of leaves. I seem to remember feeling as though we were being followed and my dad dropping the fish and rushing back to the car, but it might've been my impressionable thinking and imagination coupled with an old childhood memory. Anyhow, my rule of thumb now is to always have protection for a worst case scenario as it's always better to be prepared. Given that I've yet to meet a bear in California though, I assumed that it would be unnecessary and you've all reassured me of this.

Last edited by OliverB; Jul 20, 15 at 10:49 am
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Old Jul 20, 15, 3:45 pm
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Originally Posted by OliverB View Post
[I]t sounds like we should probably not put too much weight towards the amount of foot traffic on the trail and just get out there to enjoy the natural beauty and scenery.
Exactly.

Do you think hiking on a Sunday rather than Saturday might offer more solitude along the trail or will it not make much of a difference? Would timing make a difference; ie. leaving earlier or later in the day? Would it be possible to plan a sunset hike and if so, would you be able to offer your best judgement on the latest time of day to safely "set off" along the loop?
Yes. This is another one of the benefits of staying right in the mountains. Not only are you surrounded by beauty as you stand at your door, but you are close to activities so you have the luxury of starting early, or finishing late, or both. The crowds are much thinner at these hours of the day.

It's hard to recommend a specific time of day to start a late hike. It depends on what route you'll take, how fast you go, how long you'll spend stopping to rest/eat/take pictures/etc., and how well you're prepared for hiking during and after sunset. All I can recommend is that you take these factors into consideration yourself and make a sober decision.

On certain popular trails I routinely see people starting up the mountain late in the afternoon, as I'm coming down. They don't have enough water, they don't have proper footwear (e.g., they're in shower slippers on a trail that involves scrambling over rocks), and they don't have flashlights or warmer clothes for after the sun goes down. Don't be like them.
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Old Jul 23, 15, 6:31 pm
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I highly recommend the Mokelumne Wilderness for hiking. It's one of my favorite areas in the country.

Several of the lakes on the Carson Pass area are reported to have leeches, so be careful.

The Eldorado National Forest website has several good trails in the area, but they're missing a few.
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Old Jul 28, 15, 6:03 pm
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Definitely no need to worry about black bears. I was sleeping up in Yosemite a few years ago on a beautiful clear night so I hadn't bothered to put the fly on my tent. I woke up at some point to something pushing on the side of my tent. Thinking it was one of the guys I had come up with who was messing with me. I put my glasses on, sat up to the point on my tent where the mesh was transparent, and was face to face from about 1 foot away with a black bear. I just remember us staring at each other, probably for just a few seconds, too scared to move, when it reached down, grabbed my backpack in its mouth, and started to run off.

After the shock wore off and I realized I was probably going to need my pack to hike out I jumped out of the tent and started yelling and chasing it. It finally dropped the pack and ran off.

I learned several lessons from this experience:

1) Black bears are smaller than grizzlies, but they are still big enough to scare you to death in the middle of the night
2) Bears have an amazing sense of smell, strong enough to detect the scent of an electric tooth within a backpack, and apparently the appetite to eat one as well
3) Black bears are not aggressive, or else I would be dead.
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Old Jul 29, 15, 9:21 am
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The only time Black Bears are scary aggressive is if you interfere with a cub. Moms don't like that.
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