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    Mt. Tallac Hike
    (Saturday, July 20 in the Desolation Wilderness, CA)

    The Desolation
    See also my photo album from this hike.

    Wow! What a stunningly-beautiful hike! I got the idea to hike Mt. Tallac from reading Kevin Gong's Hiking Pages, where he rated this hike a perfect "10." - I wholeheartedly concur!

    I headed up to Auburn to pick up my father, Barry on Friday afternoon, foolishly thinking that a 1:00 departure from Fremont would avoid the weekend getaway traffic - ha! We had a nice BBQ with some of his cow-orkers, then hit the sack. Alarms went off at 5:30, and after a quick breakfast, we were on the road by 6:20. Due to a couple of stops, we didn't start hiking until about 9 - 1 hour later than I'd hoped, but "no problem," I thought.

    There were a fair number of cars at the trailhead, probably a dozen or so. We filled out our self-issue permit to enter the Desolation Wilderness (doesn't that sound inviting? :), and hit the trail. The trail wasted no time heading upwards, giving us a fleeting glimpse of the mountain far above. The weather was perfect - crystal clear (for now) and temperate. We soon were walking Floating Island Lake along a pretty ridge above Fallen Leaf Lake. We passed into the Desolation Wilderness, still heading upwards at a moderate pace.

    In a little while, we came to Floating Island Lake, and stopped to take some pictures. Several baby ducks (1, 2) swam up to greet us and were generally very cute. We met a nice couple on the trail who were doing their dream hike of 14 years, now that their children were grown. The trail Cathedral Lake continued rising, a bit more steeply now, and before too long, we were at Cathedral Lake. This lake was smaller than I was expecting, but pretty nonetheless.

    Beyond Cathedral Lake, the trail pitched upwards much more steeply now, and our going slowed accordingly. As we rose, the views improved (and they were pretty darned nice to begin with!), until we arrived at the base of a wide couloir. We took this opportunity to munch some and help out some poor aspens that looked dehydrated ;-), then continued on our way. The trail wound very steeply around the right side of the couloir. We could see folks far above us slowly climbing to the ridge above. It looked like the trail got much steeper still until we realized that the people we saw weren't on the official trail, but were climbing a "shortcut" (we beat them to the ridge top, so I don't think it was much of a shortcut!). Wildflowers, trail, and lakes A duck on the left side of the trail confirmed our suspicions, as the "real" trail turned left, went around a fallen tree, and continued climbing at a somewhat more reasonable pace. To my surprise, there were rather a lot of wildflowers on the mountainside - I'd have thought they'd be gone by late-July! I turned around and was treated to a lovely view of flowers, the trail far below us, and Fallen Leaf Lake & Lake Tahoe.

    The Desolation Wilderness After slogging up to the ridge for a while, we finally got to its top and were treated to a stunning 360° view of Tahoe and the Desolation Wilderness (we could see how it got its name!). There were a couple of little puffy clouds above the mountains far away. We knew well that these could become thunderheads in a surprisingly short amount of time, and decided to make fewer photo stops and concentrate on getting to the summit.

    The trail headed up the ridge and to its left, still pretty steep, but a bit less so than the Wildflowers trail to the ridge. There were many more wildflowers in the alpine meadows along the ridge, and we stopped a couple of times to get pictures. We then noticed it was after noon, and we were now in violation of the old saw "get to the summit by noon." The clouds over the Desolation were gathering, but were still small and non-threatening, and we wisely decided not to make any more stops until we got to the summit.

    We got to the summit about 4 hours and 20 minutes after we started hiking, and climbed up its jagged talus slopes to the very top, where there were a few dozen other hikers sitting around and South Lake Tahoe from the Tallac summit enjoying the magnificent views. From the top, we could see almost all of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake, as well as the Desolation Wilderness. Barry made a couple cellphone calls to let my Mom know we made it, we munched and guarded our food from the vicious chipmunks, and batted away the hordes of annoying flys that were congregating on the summit. After about 40 minutes of enjoying the scenery, we decided it was time to head down, as the clouds were starting to get larger and darker, and a 9,735 foot peak is not the place to be in an electrical storm, which many summer Sierra storms are.

    I went over to a sheer- looking edge to peer over and see if I'm afraid of heights (I'm not :), and we made our way down the rocks to the trail, and down the ridge. On the Meadow of lupen way down, we saw a surprising number of folks still coming up, even after we'd heard several claps of thunder (though they were internal to the clouds) and got a tiny bit of rain. I, for one, wouldn't dare attempt a summit when there are clouds that are demonstrably electric nearby! We took a little more time going by the flower-filled meadows, getting some nice pictures in the stormy light.

    Descending the couloir Before long, we were heading back down the couloir towards Cathedral Lake. The descent was hard on my knees and feet, as the trail is very rocky, uneven, and steep! We stopped for a few at Cathedral Lake so I could filter Barry some water. While we were there, a couple heading down the hill took a swim while I wished I had a bathing suit - it sounded very appealing to hop into a lake at this point, as I was sweaty and grimy.

    After eating a bit, we continued downwards. It didn't take long to get to Floating Island Lake, which was encouraging, as its not too terribly far from the end of the trail. My knee started bothering me a little bit off and on, but we arrived back at the car soon enough. I drove back to Auburn while Barry snoozed, dropped him off, then went back to home in Fremont, arriving at 9:30pm. Another fairly hectic outing, but definitely worth it!

    This is easily the most beautiful hike I've done to this point! The views just keep getting better and better as the trail rises, and the summit is appropriately summit-like :)

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    Hike Stats:
    Distance: 8.8mi
    Total Time: 7h 35m (including 2'ish hours stopped taking pictures and gawking at the summit)
    Total Climbing: ~3300 ft
    Difficulty: 4
    Scenery: 5
    Trail condition/markings/etc: 5

    Last modified 08 February, 2011 MST
    Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul
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