PCT: Carson Pass to Showers Lake

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This was the third time I have hiked in the area between Carson Pass and Showers Lake.  It’s a beautiful area, though, and I was eager to return – each visit is unique and special.  My first hike in the area was a Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) hike in 2010 from Big Meadows to Showers Lake and back.  My second hike was essentially a duplicate of today’s hike, from Carson Pass to Showers Lake and back via the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and partially via the TRT, in 2014.  The route is within El Dorado National Forest, in the northern part of Alpine County.

The highest elevation of the hike is about 1.5 miles from the start.  From the associated ridge there is a beautiful view to the south, across Carson Pass and into the Mokelumne Wilderness.  In this view Round Top is easily identified, with The Sisters and Fourth of July Peak to the right (west).  There is a small unnamed, presumably seasonal, pond.  This is one of my favorite views of the hike.  This year there are still remnants of last winter’s snow in the high country above 9000 feet elevation on north-facing slopes.

photo of view south into the Mokelumne Wilderness

View south into the Mokelumne Wilderness

The hike was about 10.6 miles round trip; an overview is shown in the GPS track.  The orange dot shows the Meiss Meadows trailhead parking area, where I parked.  After I returned from Showers Lake, 10.2 miles round trip, I continued about 0.2 mile to the Carson Pass Information Station, where there is another parking area that often fills up.

GPS track

GPS track

In terms of official PCT mileage, as noted in the PCT data book, the hike covered mile 1078.7 to mile 1084.0.

In the context of either the PCT or the TRT, this section is relatively level.  The elevation range is only about 450 feet, and the total elevation gain and loss for the hike is 1400 feet.  The steepest sections have about 10% grade, which is the typical designed maximum grade for both trails.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I had remembered from both previous hikes that the trail was a bit confusing near Showers Lake, with several informal social trails leading to and from the lake.  This time I had downloaded a map to my phone – the map showed the PCT/TRT – and I followed the main trail around the south side of the lake to my turnaround point.  When I studied my GPS tracks afterward, I realized that, for both previous hikes, I hiked around the north side of Showers Lake!  Further study of paper maps has revealed that older maps show the trail going north of the lake, while more recent maps show it going south of the lake.  Evidently, the PCT/TRT has been re-routed.  In any case, this time I made sure to stay on the trail as it was indicated on my downloaded map.

Not far from the trailhead, as the trail initially proceeds to the west, there are several sierra junipers (Juniperus grandes).  These trees seem to have a talent for growing among granite boulders where one would swear there are insufficient nutrients to support trees of their size.

photo of sierra junipers apparently thriving among granite boulders

Sierra junipers apparently thriving among granite boulders

One reason I went on this hike was because I had, just a few days prior, read a report of a multitude of wildflowers still in bloom in spite of the lateness of the season – according to the date, anyway.  In 2017 the spring began later than usual, due to the high amounts of snowfall over the winter season, and likewise lasted later than usual.  Some of the wildflowers I saw more or less throughout the hike included paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), mallow (Sidalcea sp.), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and both yellow and white species of cinquefoil (Potentilla sp.).  One of my favorites at higher elevation is short-flowered owl’s clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus ssp. cryptanthus).

photo of short-flowered owl’s clover

Short-flowered owl’s clover

Near the seasonal pond I found some fresh-looking woolly mule ears (Wyethia mollis) as well as ranger buttons (Sphenosciadium capitellatum).  In other places there were fields of mule ears, all well past their prime.  I also found mountain dandelion (Agoseris heterophylla) and sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum).  I was pleased to find, and recognize, some meadow rue (Thalictrum fendleri), which I had recently encountered for the first time.

photo of meadow rue

Meadow rue

Although much of the hike was on open hillsides, there were some areas where the trail passes through forested areas.  In one such area I found a pair of very large mushrooms, almost 6” in diameter, with an orange tint and white flecks.

photo of mushrooms near the trail

Mushrooms near the trail

During the early part of the hike I was leap-frogging a group of young adult hikers.  When I was actually moving I was hiking a bit faster than their chatting supported, but nearly every time I stopped to take pictures they passed me again.  About 2 miles in they stopped for a break and sat on a trailside log that was large enough to hold the entire group.  They were kind – or amused – enough to let me take their picture.

photo of younger hikers enjoying a quick break

Younger hikers enjoying a quick break

One of the visual highlights was Meiss meadow, which may actually be several meadows extending for a couple of miles.  Here is a pretty view of the meadow, which was still lush green in early September.  On my previous hikes in the area the meadow had already turned golden by the time of my hike.

photo of Meiss meadow view

Meiss meadow view

About 3 miles from the trailhead the PCT joins the TRT at a Y junction, with both the PCT and TRT going to the left past Showers Lake toward Echo Summit and just the TRT going to the right toward Big Meadow.  This junction is not far from the Meiss family cabin, which dates from around 1878.  The trail continues to pass through meadows for another mile.  I found Lobb’s lupine (Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii), soft arnica (Arnica mollis), blue flax (Linum lewisii), penny royal (Monardella odoratissima), yampah (Perideridia sp.), bistort (Polygonum bistortoides), at least two types of aster, and meadow penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii).  This area is part of the watershed for the Upper Truckee River, and there were occasional small streams with flowing water.  Near the damp areas I found broad-leaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) and seep spring monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus).  In a sunny damp spot I noticed some corn lily (Veratrum californicum) nicely backlit by the sun.

photo of corn lily

Corn lily

About a half mile after the Y junction you can barely see Meiss Lake off to the right, behind some trees.  I presume there is a social trail that goes to the lake; I passed and had brief conversations with several hikers, including one couple who had backpacked to Meiss Lake and stayed there the previous night.

About 4 miles from the trailhead the trail begins to climb once again, passing alternately through forested areas and hillsides of mule’s ear and other plants.  At one point I noticed a particularly colorful cluster of flowers just at the edge of the trail.  There were mule’s ear, paintbrush, both types of aster, and others.

photo of flower cluster along the PCT / TRT

Flower cluster along the PCT / TRT

In this general area I noticed a few plants with flowers I’d never seen before.  It turns out that they were streamside bluebells (Martensia ciliata).  The clusters of pendant, delicate blossoms were quite distinctive.

photo of streamside bluebells

Streamside bluebells

Not far from the bluebells I noticed a view of some peaks to the northeast.  I’m pretty sure they are the cluster of Job’s Peak, Job’s Sister, and Freel Peak, where I did a memorable hike a few years ago.

Here, and in other areas along the trail, I found colorful scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata).

photo of scarlet gilia

Scarlet gilia

About 5 miles from the trailhead the trail crests and descends about 50 feet to Showers Lake, where a social trail leads straight to the lake’s edge and other trails lead both left and right to encircle the lake.  My map application had indicated that the PCT/TRT went around the lake on the south and west sides, so I took the trail to the left.  It soon curved a little farther from the edge of the lake, and I simply looked for a good place to have an early lunch break, enjoy the view, and then turn around to return to the trailhead.  This was my view from my lunch break: very serene.

photo of Showers Lake

Showers Lake

Just before I stopped for lunch I had noticed some yellow rayless composite flowers I was pretty sure I’d seen several times before without taking the time to identify.  This time I decided to try to identify them, and I’m pretty sure they are Brewer’s aster (Eucephalus breweri).

photo of Brewer’s aster

Brewer’s aster

On the way back toward the trailhead I noticed some fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium var. circumvagum), which made pretty pink splashes among the still-green leaves of other plants.

Not far from the Y junction I looked more closely at some flowers I’d noticed in passing in the outbound direction.  I realized they were not “more of the same” but dusky horkelia (Horkelia fusca).

photo of dusky horkelia

Dusky horkelia

After passing over the saddle (the hike’s highest elevation) I noticed some succulent plants among rocks next to the trail.  Not surprisingly they turned out to be stonecrop, I believe Sierra stonecrop (Sedum obtusatum).  They were certainly past their prime blooming season but were still recognizable.

photo of sierra stonecrop

Sierra stonecrop

A bit farther I noticed a very unusual-looking mini-cluster of trees, in which one of the trees appeared to have had very low branches (or secondary trunks) that curved downward almost to ground level and then upward.  When I looked through the pictures from my 2014 hike on this same route I was amused to find a picture of the same tree cluster, essentially the exact same view.

photo of unusual-looking tree

Unusual-looking tree

After I arrived back at my car in the Meiss meadows trailhead parking area, I decided to walk the short distance to the Carson Pass Information Station.  At the station there are trail information boards, a picnic table outside, and various maps, reference books, and a few supplies available inside.  I was surprised, but pleased, to note a brand new addition to the station: a branch of the Little Free Library (LFL) .  I love the concept: take a book, leave a book.  I encountered my first LFL branch on the Military Ridge Trail outside Madison, WI and have since found branches in my neighborhood and many other locations.  The Information Station volunteer I chatted with told me she really wanted to get started, so she rounded up a bin, a few magazines and paperbacks, and that was all she needed.  It is certainly the most remote LFL branch I have encountered, and I was charmed.

photo of Little Free Library

Little Free Library

I was pleasantly surprised at how many wildflowers were still blooming in the area.  Even though the monumental snowfall had melted only fairly recently, I was well aware that in the recent drought years the wildflower season was complete at least a few weeks earlier.

The next time I hike near Carson Pass I hope to continue hiking the PCT southward from the Information Station.  At this time there is about an 8-mile gap to fill in, to a ridge northwest of The Nipple, where I had to turn around last year due to high winds and unstable footing.

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This entry was posted in Alpine County, Eldorado National Forest, Pacific Crest Trail, South Tahoe, Tahoe Rim Trail, wildflower hikes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to PCT: Carson Pass to Showers Lake

  1. Mike Hohmann says:

    Thanks for the post, Sue, Showers Lake is beautiful.

  2. bubbasuess says:

    That is one of my favorite hikes in the Sierra. It’s not grand like the High Sierra, but it just a certain something that makes if perfect…

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