Friday, November 23, 2007

Mt. Tallac, South Lake Tahoe, CA

Trail Length: 9.6 miles RT
Elevation: 6,480-9,735 ft
Elevation gain: 3,255 ft
Difficulty: Strenuous
Critters: Bears!

Tallac Peak viewed from below

After a week in Reno for the annual Supercomputing conference, a friend and I took off for Lake Tahoe. I used to go there as a kid, but have not been back in over ten years. I was amazed by how blue the lake was.

We stopped into the local visitor's center and puffed out our chests. "We're from Colorado, what is the hardest hike you have around here?". The young man behind the counter gleefully told us about Mt. Tallac and seemed suitably impressed with our hiking ambitions. He said most tourists just wanted 1/2 mile nature walks. We were feeling holier than thou and motivated for the next day. By the time we would finish however, we would gain new respect for the Tahoe area and their "tiny peaks".

The Tallac trail starts upward immediately and winds through ponderosa pines and up and down ridges. There are three lakes to see along the way. Long Leaf lake is very long indeed and the trail climbs up along a high ridge looking down on the lake. You can see views of the casinos in the distance. The other two lakes are called Floating Island and Cathedral lakes. They are more like ponds, the first being filled with Mallards and the second being surrounded by a rocks and drift wood. Above Cathedral lake is a lovely rock terrace perfect for lounging and trail bar munching. You can see Cathedral Lake below and finally a stellar view of Tahoe itself. After the shelf the trail climbs sharply up to the top of a ridge. The trail was steep and rocky, in fact infuriatingly rocky. The forest service laid down large and small gravel the entire length of the trail, so it was like walking on talus for 10 miles. My boots kept slipping and the sharp stones were irritating after a while.

Once on top of the ridge, the trail climbs behind the mountain and the view shift to glimpses of the continental divide for the Sierra Nevada Range. We could not tell which of the scree fields to our right was the summit. It turns out it was still quite a ways away and still a significant up. The views from the summit were spectacular as you can image. Tahoe is impressive in both size and color and the sweeping extent of the Sierras was beautiful to behold.

Without poles, the hike up was harder than I anticipated, particular on all the loose rock. I was also carrying two peoples worth of food, water, and clothing because my friend conveniently did not bring a pack. We had anticipated freezing temps given that this was Nov 17th and a front was due in. The weather held though and I hiked in my base layer most of the day. At the top we donned hats and soft shells to fight the wind but it was quite pleasant.

View from the summit

In November, one is always fighting the lack of daylight. We got started at 9:30 am and reached the top four hours later. It took us 3 hours to decent and we made it down just as it was getting dark, so our time on the top was miserably short. The lateness in the day did bring out the bears, however. I alas only saw a brown furry butt scurrying off into the chaparral. By then I did not care and just wanted to get down and off to our fine dinning event at Tahoe's Evan's Restaurant. A religious experience I will have to relate in a separate post.

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