Summary of Carson Pass Loop
Saturday (10 miles)
Drive to Carson Pass Information Center
Hike south on Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)
Hook west to approach 4th of July Lake from the backside
Sunday (6 miles)
Hike north back to the trailhead
We recently investigated options for one night backpacking trips in the Sierras starting from the Bay Area. We typically go on longer trips, but wanted to find a short weekend option.
After looking at options in wilderness areas near Tahoe, we settled on Mokelumne Wilderness (map). We decided to start from the Carson Pass trailhead at the north end of the wilderness due to its proximity (3.5 hours) rather than starting from the south near Ebbett's Pass. In addition, there was a promising loop on the map that placed 4th of July Lake at its approximate midpoint (see here and here).
The dogs, Cassie and I drove up on Saturday morning and picked up our permit from the information center, which is adjacent to the trailhead. Camp sites are numbered and reserved when you acquire your permit - we selected campsite number 6, although in retrospect we would recommend sites 1-3 for improved access to the lake.
Although there were quite a few day hikers, most turned around within a few miles, and we saw relatively few backpackers. The temperatures were perfect for the dogs (40-60 F) and there were no mosquitoes. What we did encounter was snow, varying from 50-100 foot long patches that just obscured the trail to longer snow covered slopes that required some care in crossing or cross country bypassing. Fortunately this was only an issue for us - the dogs had no trouble with the snow and Max tended to either (1) try to initiate dog battles with Lola or (2) slide down the slope, run back up and repeat.
The southward hike on the PCT was relatively nice, with frequent small streams from the melting snow but no significant creeks. After turning west towards 4th of July Lake, the trail became less distinct and clearly less trafficked. The underbrush was dense enough to cut up my legs a fair bit. On that portion of the hike we lost the trail for about a mile, due to the combination of bushwhacking and an out-of-date map in the Gaia GPS app on my phone. It was not a problem due to the wonders of GPS, fortunately.
We arrived at 4th of July Lake with plenty of time to cook and get settled, despite getting started on the trail slightly after noon. The only uninvited guest at the campsite was a marmot, who vanished and did not return after he saw the dogs.
Speaking of the dogs, this was Max's first backpacking trip. After leaving him on leash for a requisite amount of time (Carson Pass has a special management area where dogs are technically required to be on leash) we let him run wild. Actually, he tended to stay within about 5 feet of Cassie at all times, kept in place by the invisible "leash of separation anxiety". Lola does not have this affliction, for better or worse, and so she needed to stay on leash lest she roam too widely. We did let her off for awhile at the campsite, and although she has become more docile in her old age, she still climbed up into the rocks to look for her marmot friend.
On Sunday morning we headed out towards the trailhead, with a relatively short hike ahead of us. There was more snow on our return hike than on the way in, as it hugged the north side of the central peaks that our loop encompassed. There was one snow covered traverse that was particularly sketchy, with the snow covered slope terminating in what looked to be a cliff. Again, Max had a grand old time in the snow while the humans had to carefully dig into the snow on each step to avoid plummeting down the mountain. Upon getting within a half mile of the trailhead we put Max back on leash, hopped in the car, and headed out.
The trip was enjoyable overall. An overnight trip has a lot of benefits in terms of ease of planning and vacation day consumption. The driving was long but not too onerous, and we had enough time on the trail to tire ourselves out and see some scenery.
Although the low temperatures and snow made this trip a blast for the dogs, we would recommend waiting until late July or August and avoiding the southern trail segment between 4th of July Lake and the PCT.
In terms of photography gear, I opted to pick up an A6000 after the Hawaii trip and brought it along with 12mm, 20mm and 55-210mm lens options.