Situated a few miles south of Lake Tahoe, just north of Carson Pass, Red Lake Peak was first climbed in February, 1844 by Lt. John C. Fremont and Charles Preuss. As such, it enjoys the distinction of being the target of what Francis P. Farquhar's History of the Sierra Nevada says was the "first account of an identifiable mountain ascent in the Sierra." It was from this peak that Fremont first spotted Lake Tahoe, writing in his diary that "we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet, about fifteen miles in length, and so entirely surrounded by mountains that we could not discover an outlet." In addition to Lake Tahoe off in the distance, the peak also affords excellent views over Hope Valley, towards Round Top, the Sisters, and the rest of the Mokelumne Wilderness to the south, as well as Desolation Wilderness peaks to the north.
As with other peaks in its vicinity, Red Lake Peak is made up of volcanic rock; the rock is solid with many good holds, making for a short but highly enjoyable scramble to the summit. Despite the area's popularity, both with hikers in the summer and skiers/snowboarders in the winter, the peak is climbed relatively infrequently, with just a handful of ascents recorded in the summit register each year.
The peak is easily approached from most directions, but the usual approach is via the Southwest Ridge from Carson Pass along Highway 88; this starting point shouldn't be difficult to find for even the most deficient navigator! The peak can also be combined with a traverse to/from Stevens Peak. Regardless of the approach direction, the summit blocks seem to be most easily climbed from the south.
A Sno-Park permit is required to park at Carson Pass during winter months (Nov-May); this costs $5 for a day, or $25 for the season, and is available from several locations in the area. The Amador Ranger Station in Pioneer is closed on weekends during the winter months, so a better bet for those driving from the Bay Area is to stop by Amador Station Gas and Groceries (on the left hand side of the road, a few miles east of Pioneer), or at Kirkwood Gas Station. For those coming from Lake Tahoe, the Shell Station in Meyers reportedly sells the permits. There's a $75 citation for people neglecting to pick up this permit, so it's probably worth the hassle of obtaining one; I've been up here only twice during the winter months, but on one of those occasions saw many illegally parked cars ticketed.
During summer months, there is a $3/day parking fee at Carson Pass.
The peak lies only in National Forest land, so no wilderness permit is required.
A final note for those driving from the Bay Area: Hwy 88 through the Central Valley, and in particular the stretch of road just past the Amador County line when driving from the west, is a favourite spot for cops to catch fast traffic. I've seen a speeder pulled over here every time I've driven on this road!
Because of its proximity to Highway 88, which is usually open during the winter, subject only to occasional closure during heavy storms or for avalanche control, the peak is easily accessible and thus a fine climb during all seasons. The steepness of the summit crags and the general southern exposure when approaching from Carson Pass make it a particularly good choice for the winter.
Due to the short approach and popularity of the area, the peak is usually climbed as a dayhike. The Forest Service has a variety of campgrounds along Highway 88, including ones at Caples Lake, Kirkwood Lake, and Woods Lake. For a comprehensive list, check the Eldorado National Forest web page.
The Eldorado National Forest Recreation Report usually describes current conditions.
Highway 88 occasionally closes during the winter for avalanche control; current road conditions can be found on the Caltrans website.
Note that the Carson Pass area is notorious for being avalanche-prone; it would be prudent to check current conditions with the Forest Service before heading out in the winter. As of February 2003, the number to call was (510) 587 2158. You can also find information online at the Forest Service's Central Sierra Avalanche Information page.
"On February 14, 1844, John C. Fremont and Charles Preuss climbed Red Lake Peak, the first ascent by white men of an identifiable mountain in the Sierra Nevada. From the summit they were the first to see and describe Lake Tahoe. (Vincent P. Gianella, `Where Fremont Crossed the Sierra Nevada in 1844,' Sierra Club Bulletin 44, no. 7, Oct. 1959; 54--64.
The lake and mountain acquired names at the same time. `Red Lake at the foot of Red Peak is a small marshy lake apparently drying up.' (Goddard, Report, 105.) 'Red Lake' appears on Theron Reed's map of the Silver Mountain Mining District, 1864. Later, in a reversal of the normal pattern, the mountain was renamed from the lake, and became 'Red Lake Peak' on the first Markleeville 30' map, 1891. The creek was first named on the 15-minute quad."
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada