Tackling Tallac: A long journey worth the struggle, if just barely (column)
I am by no means an avid hiker, but have learned to appreciate the outdoors while living in Tahoe. While exploring different hikes in the area during the past two summers, there was always one that loomed as tall as its destination — Mount Tallac.
The views looked stunning in pictures from one of the tallest peaks in Lake Tahoe, but it always seemed like too tough of a task for someone that hits the trail in old running shoes and hasn’t ever gone on a hike longer than six miles total.
“Difficult” and “challenging” were the words often associated with this full-day hike into Desolation Wilderness.
On Sunday, Aug. 7, a day after celebrating my 31st birthday, I decided it was time for this once-in-a-lifetime hike. Alongside my girlfriend, Camille, we embarked on the challenge — and made it to the summit of Mount Tallac.
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The 12-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead off Highway 89 was not easy, and I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again — certainly not without a decent pair of hiking boots. But it was absolutely worth it, and felt that way when we finally made it to the top.
There were points during the hike when frustration set in and we thought about turning back, specifically in the wildflower-lined meadow that made up the last mile and a half to the summit. But we didn’t.
“Worth it,” Camille said as we were sitting on the summit looking out over Lake Tahoe, more than five hours after we started. “Definitely hard, but worth it.”
At the top, we were surrounded by seemingly endless horizon sprawled out in majestic fashion. With Desolation Wilderness at our backs, it truly felt as if we were on top of the world as we looked out over Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada.
On the hike up, birds periodically flew overhead, noisy butterflies startled us on the trail and so many chipmunks waited at the top. As we headed back, a large turkey-like bird forced a detour over a fallen tree — and the trail that didn’t seem so rocky the first time around was now full of rocks that were felt on every step.
Eight hours after taking off to an unknown destination, the sight of a parking lot was never more welcomed. And as we walked back to the car, a black bear appeared to punctuate the trip — a surprise we’re glad didn’t come any sooner.
Plenty of amazing sights lie along the climb to Mount Tallac — including Fallen Leaf Lake, Floating Island Lake, Cathedral Lake, the granite face of the basin beneath Cathedral Peak and an expansive meadow full of all colors of wildflowers. And I reflect back on these fondly, even if they simply served as checkpoints on the way to the summit.
Hiking to Tallac was a fantastic experience, but I can’t say I recommend it. Rocky throughout and challenging both ways, it is the most daunting event I’ve undertaken in the outdoors — and it’s doable, though seemingly only barely.
Aside from hiking boots and other essentials on the trail, another necessary component to conquering Mount Tallac is a good hiking partner. I wouldn’t have been able to reach the top without Camille, and when things got discouraging we needed each other to keep moving forward.
For those willing to embrace the challenge of taking on Tallac, views from high, high above Lake Tahoe are calling out. Enjoy the journey, and soak it all in every step along the way.
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