OverviewVisitors to the eastern part of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness in the central Sierra Nevada have no doubt seen Whitecliff Peak off in the distance. According to Jeffrey Schaffer's book Carson-Iceberg Wilderness : A Guide to the High Sierra between Yosemite and Tahoe, the peak is a mass of Topaz Lake granodiorite, with a summit block of volcanic origin.
The peak stands above the highest lake in the wilderness, Whitecliff Lake (9730'). Despite the peak's imposing appearance, there is an easy (class 2-3 YDS) scramble to its summit from the lake. The lake is reputed to be cold, with brisk swimming, and apparently no fish survive the winters here (even if they did, fishing in this area is not permitted). Nevertheless the lake is charming.
The hike in to the lake is somewhat long, and the last part is on a trail which is no longer officially maintained. This page will describe the approach from the Rodriguez Flat trailhead, on the eastern side. According to Schaffer's book, one may also approach cross-country from Tamarack Lake (9300'), a fantastic spot in itself.
First get on Mill Canyon Road from SR395 (between Coleville and Walker), then bear right on unpaved Golden Gate Road. Follow this washboarded road uphill about 6.3 miles to a fork. Bear left at the fork towards the Rodriguez Flat hiker's trailhead.
The road is somewhat rocky for about 0.5 miles, and eventually comes to a registration board for self-issue wilderness permits. There is a small area near the trailhead parking lot for primitive camping (no facilities and no water - bring water and a trowel).
On the trail:
First, hike to Connells Cow Camp (8100'). From Rodriguez Flat this is about 6.3 miles via the Corral Valley Trail. Hike down into Corral Valley, then up and over into Coyote Valley, and then finally up and over again into Upper Fish Valley. The crossing of Silver King Creek here can be deep, so sandals or alternate footwear may come in handy.
Connells gets a lot of traffic from horse packers, and has a small government-owned cabin. Start on the north side of Bull Canyon Creek and eventually find a use trail which heads up the canyon. This "trail" is unmaintained and may have blowdowns, washouts, etc. and may be difficult to follow. More details can be found in Schaffer's book, and may or may not help with routefinding. Length is about 2.7 miles.
Scramble from the lake:
Ascend slabs and talus from the lake's north side, skirting the right edge of the cliffs to a class 2 gully, which may be loose. Scramble up this to a notch in the ridge, and head south, staying just west of the ridge. Another use trail will soon appear, and the terrain will eventually become less granitic and more volcanic. A short and easy class 3 scramble leads to the top. Enjoy the views.
Red TapeWilderness permits are required for overnight stays in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Contact the Carson Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest for more details :
1536 South Carson Street
Carson City, NV 89701
California campfire permits are also required for any open fires (including camp stoves) - these can be obtained free from any California USFS, BLM or CDF office, and are valid from the date of issuance until the end of the calendar year.
When To ClimbClimbing is probably easiest during the summer and early fall. Winter and spring approaches would probably require ski mountaineering equipment.
CampingLeave No Trace camping is permitted in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. If you camp at the trailhead (8200'), you'll want to pack out your trash and bring water, since none is available there.
Note: as of September 2004, a bear canister is highly recommended, but not yet required - some bears in the area have become aggressive enough to raid food. The national forest has some other bear-related notes which you may find useful.
There are also some USFS campgrounds in the Walker River area along 395 :Bridgeport Ranger District for more info on these campgrounds.