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Pacific Crest Trail to Nobel Lake
(Saturday, August 19, 2006 in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, California)

See also my photo album from this hike.

Sarah & I woke early (for us), had a quick bite, then drove the hour or so from the cabin to Ebbetts Pass, parking at the PCT trailhead just east of the summit. We hit the trail under clear blue skies at about 8:45.

I'd done this hike 4 years earlier with my step-dad as part of an (failed) attempt to summit Highland Peak (which I subsequently summited later that year), so I knew this hike has two climbs, one going and one returning. After a short walk on a spur trail, we joined the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and headed south through a thinnish forest. Knobby Ebbetts Peak, with a flagpole atop its summit, showed itself through the trees for a few, but was soon obscured.

Before too long the forest gave way to rocky outcrops, and we began to have views of Highland and Silver Peaks to our south, and some deeply-eroded outcropings to the west. As the trees dispersed, we also could see Raymond and Reynolds Peaks to our north. Temperatures were very pleasant, in the mid-60s, and for quite some time, we didn't see anyone else.

The trail was rolly-polly for the first half mile or so, with some good wildflowers: Waxy Sidalcea lined the trail in many places, Lupine, Mountain Monardella and bright yellow asters were abundant in nearly every riverbed, and we saw patches of Explorer's Gentian, Pinedrops, Crimson Columbine, Parish's Yampah, Spreading Phlox, Rubber Rabbitbrush, and Sierra Primrose. The gentian was particularly nice to see, as we'd only seen it once before while backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness.

We emerged from the forest and hiked downhill for a while, crossing more flower-strewn gullies, some still with water cascading down them. Western Blue Flax, Cinequefoil, Meadow Penstemon, Creek Goldenrod, Ranger's Buttons and Arrow-leaved Balsamroot made for colorful walking, and some vociferous Clark's Nutcrackers filled the air with their noisy calls.

Around one corner a small group of cows stood in the trail, running away in a cloud of dust as we approached. All of the adults were wearing cowbells, so there was no guessing where they'd gone off to!

We ran into a pair of backpackers returning from Bull Lake (not to be confused with also-nearby Bull Run Lake), taking a breather before climbing the hill we'd just hiked down. They'd apparently planned on hiking in on the PCT and out on the Nobel Valley Trail, having left a car at each trailhead, but realized the keys to the second car were locked in the first - bummer! We talked to them for a few, then continued on our way, now uphill.

This stretch of trail is barren and mostly lifeless, but has lovely views down the east side of Ebbetts Pass and of the surrounding mountains. No shade at all, however, and it was a little warm'ish. A man packing a sidearm passed us on the uphill - we couldn't quite figure out why one would want to be visibly carrying a pistol on this hike, but whatever. Perhaps he was going to hunt marmots or something!

We switchbacked our way up the hillside, eventually crossing Nobel Lake's outlet stream and arriving at the lake. Although not a hugely scenic lake, Nobel is pretty enough. The view to the south is dominated by sub-peak 10,824' of Highland Peak, to the east, long views towards Monitor Pass, to the north peaks of the Tahoe Rim, and to the west some smaller nearby peaks and the continuation of the PCT.

Walking around the lake, we eventually found a good spot to park ourselves and have lunch (there are few trees near the lake, making for correspondingly few shady spots to rest). Although only 3.6 miles from the car, we were feeling a bit tired. We chose to blame this on the altitude rather than our own lack of conditioning.

Once rested we set back the way we came. A drawback to hiking in this area is that there are rather few loop hikes that are under 10+ miles, this being no exception. One could return on the Nobel Canyon Trail, but then you'd have a several-mile hike/hitchhike back up Hwy 4 to the PCT trailhead.

There were more backpackers coming in as we returned, more than would be able to find a nice campsite, since there are perhaps 3 around Nobel Lake and we encountered at least 5 groups. Perhaps some were heading further to Bull Lake or continuing southward towards Asa Lake on the PCT. The last group we saw was two adults and 4 children. Sarah commented that it's always nice to see young 'uns getting out and enjoying the wilderness, which it surely is!

After what seemed like an eternity we climbed back up the descent we'd enjoyed on the way in and hiked the last rolly-polly half mile or so to the car, arriving at about 3:30.

This is a lovely moderate hike, with excellent scenery, especially in springtime. Probably best to wait until the snows have mostly melted (which would have been relatively late this year due to heavy snowpack), as the numerous creek crossings and narrow trail could make for difficult navigation if snowbanks persist. The PCT is one of my favorite places to hike in this area (either direction from Ebbetts Pass is lovely); hopefully we can make the time to do some backpacking farther into the Carson-Iceberg and/or Mokelumne Wildernesses.

Hike Stats:
Distance: 7.6mi
Total Time: 6h 40m
Hiking Time: 4h 50m
Elevation Gain: ~1,200'
Difficulty: 6
Scenery: 8
Trail condition/markings/etc: 8
Overall rating: 8

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