We start in the cold dark morning when the mind is only half awake. Motivation and excitement have ebbed. The night is inky black as we roll out of the car at Woods Lake. The cool air soaks into our skin as we gather our gear. While I have been on this trail before everything looks different in the dark. We stumble down the road making a few false wandering starts into the forest around us. Eventually the trail just jumps out at us and we are on our way.
There is something about hiking a trail under nothing but the light of a dim headlamp. I scan my head from side to side trying to maintain perspective on where the trial is wandering. After a bit it becomes routine, and we pick up the pace.
We break out on the meadows below Winnamucca Lake into a predawn light. The air has gotten cooler and I can feel the cold sweat on my back. As we scurry up the few remaining hills before the lake our quarry comes into view. Round Top stretches before us with its long scaled east ridge, summit mount, and diminutive sisters on the west. Round Top is the gem of the Lake Tahoe area. While it has neither vast vertical gain or epic approaches it is a rugged beauty. It's a mountain that wants to be climbed.
Reaching the lake we stop for a drink of water and a snack. Soon we are circumventing the lake, heading for the base of the eastern ridge. My brother and I have over the past few years both caught a taste for traverses, so today we are feeding that with a route over Round Top and the Sisters. There is just something about touching every high point on a mountain.
At the saddle below the ridge the mountains light on fire in the warm glow of dawn. All the mistiness of the black night is gone. The heart soars in excitement as my feet practically sprint up the broken ridge while I look for better, higher vistas. On the foot of the ridge we catch this lengthwise perspective of the east ridge in profile to the summit with the lake lying below.
On the ridge proper we settle into a rhythm of pumping lungs and stomping feet. We climb over a mass of broken scree. What the climb lacks in physical quality it makes up for in soul enhancing views. We bath in them. When the ridge flattens out it becomes a little more stable, and move quickly toward the summit. Several crumbly gully up and down climbs latter we sit on the summit.
After taking the requisite pictures, and relaxing we move down the west side towards the Sisters. There were a few bits on the sisters where the ridge narrows to maybe six inches, and the cliff drops down several hundred feet to Round Top Lake. I don't know what it is but I tend to run across terrain like this. We drop down at the end of the range to Round Top Lake and are back on good sturdy trail. Last time I was here I took a cold invigorating dip in the lake. Not today.
For the last segment we jump on the trail from Round Top Lake to Woods Lake completing our loop. We fly down the trail. Me jogging a bit, my brother just lengthening his stride. We are back at the car before noon. This route is class 3 with loose rock, but the views make up for it. It is worth doing at least once. There is nothing like being on the trail before dawn with the expectation of things to come. Nothing like getting after it. Get me somewhere high with a view, a bit of exposure and I'll have a grin on my face.