I've lived in California for a decade now, and never made my way to Lake Tahoe. What a shame! I guess I never had a good reason, but let it be known right away, just go, no reason needed! Lake Tahoe is outrageously gorgeous. The water of the lake is pure blue, surrounded by the lush green forests, beaches with mountains as the backdrop, and a quaint, albeit satisfyingly colonized, town center. I just so happened to be headed to Lake Tahoe for a bachelor party, most of which I cannot report upon here, but I do have an appropriate adventure to share. Oh, and by the way, if you're heading out there for some rest and relaxation you can combine it with short trips to Reno for heavy nightlife, or hit casinos like Hard Rock and Harrah's right in the Lake Tahoe strip, so there's that dichotomy too.
Besides being bros, renting a boat, hitting the beach, gambling in casinos and typical party shenanigans we managed to wake up one morning at 6am to summit the lake's tallest mountain peak, Mount Tallac. Located in El Dorado County in the Sierra Nevada range, Mt Tallac stands 9,739 ft (2,968 m) tall. The easiest trail is hiking class 1-2 but we're always looking for more adventure.
We hit the trailhead about 7:30am, nice start time to beat some heat. We were a party of 6 or 7 with varying experience in hiking and mountaineering. I had discussed some route planning ahead of time with the Bachelor Matt and the best man Adie. We agreed on an off trail route to summit and a return route utilizing the main Tallac trail. I spent a fair amount of time looking at maps and SummitPost.org before heading to Lake Tahoe.
Immediately upon hiking in, it was just slap in the face with beauty. We hadn't walked more than 10 minutes until you're treated with the aura of Lake Tahoe's nature. The photo above shows a view of Fallen Leaf Lake, with a hint of Lake Tahoe on the left edge of the photo.
Our route up would take the South East chutes of Mt Tallac, a 3rd and brief 4th class navigation exercise. You can see the route up denoted in blue and the typical Tallac Trail we would take down in red. Also note that amazing TUFA Climbing x Forever Outside backpack in the photo. We have an awesome collaboration coming soon, and check out www.TufaClimbing.com for great gear. As you can obviously see the path up the mountain would be short and steep!
Quickly after leaving the trailhead you enter the Desolation Wilderness, permits are self issue at the parking lot. The Desolation WIlderness is federally protected land that can described as rocky terrain at the edge of tree line, with extensive areas of bare granite rock formations. Popular for backpacking, the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail both pass thru the Desolation Wilderness.
Below is a topographic map of the several trails to summit Mt Tallac. You can see in yellow how much distance the SE Chutes variation cuts of. It would also make for a more exciting adventure and provide some alternate scenery, opposed to hiking in and out on the same trail.
After passing Floating Island Lake, we quickly approached our point to depart from the trail and start our route finding exercise. There weren't any cairns in sight, and hardly a suggestion for a use trail. We popped over a seasonal creek and got our view of the SE Chutes, hitting a correct entry point. So far so good.
We took a quick break on some large boulders before beginning the hard work. It was still cool in the morning, weather was perfect.
Now for the ascent! We headed up the large talus field, only way to go from here is UP! The talus broke sometimes into scree, and back to talus and sometimes over brush. We did our best to avoid heading directly into a dangerous scree bowl and also bypass going too far off course.
What happened was we landed in some heavy bushwhacking. I don't normally mind this, and didn't hate it this trip, but 6 out of 7 of us happen to be wearing shorts. This was some of the thickest manzanita ever.
We really couldn't get out, only option was to keep heading up and hope it broke. It just keep getting thicker and ended up in some serious ant hills. Ant bites seem to be the theme of my summer so far. We did our best to keep a light sense of humor about the bushwhacking. All part of the game when you leave the usual trails. We got some serious damage on the exposed parts of our legs, but lesson learned...
We finally topped out the brush with great joy. The view below was getting better and better. We looked up and saw the towers, headed for the highpoint. Next objective would be to find a a ridge above the chutes. Onwards and upwards! This terrain while treacherous is actually really fun, put some good hands to use.
Definitely getting into that third class terrain, here's Matt heading towards the top of the chutes. Some large piles of granite!
Here's a peculiar photo of me explaining some hands and foot placements during a 4th class chimney section, directly below my feet. A little hard to see but you can see here we have already conquered a solid couple thousand feet gain.
At this point, it's been several hours and we're a good 2800' above our starting point. The excitement and summit fever is building. We've endured curious off trail junction, the scree and talus fields, the loose rock, the dreadful bushwhacking, and the 4th class rock climbing moves. Each foot higher is treating us to these amazing views, and it's hardly believable the summit could be better. I stopped to take a photo on top of a nice cliff. Maybe about another 3/4 mile or mile and 500-700' gain to the top!
At the top of the chutes you get a glance of the real summit (after following a "fake summit"). There is a giant chasm that requires making a "C" shaped hike around to avoid. The wildflowers above the chutes were gorgeous.
The top of the ridge connects you to the main Tallac trail. About 500 yards below the main trail, you begin to see other hikers on the main route. Victory is in sight! You catch several more switchbacks up the the rocky summit. There is small number of people up there, it being a Friday before the weekend, not too crowded. The views of Lake Tahoe are insane!
From here we all smile, joke about the challenges coming here, enjoy sitting down, eat lunch, and rehydrate. It was 3,500' (1066m) gain up the SE chutes to this point, no small feat. Matt set up his tripod for some epic photos.
Here's a sweet panoramic shot of the view, just amazing lakes and mountains. I've been to the top of quite a few mountains and this checked in as one of the most brilliant views I've experienced. Worth every step, sweat and hour to get here.
Ready to get the heck out of here, and still facing 5 miles descent down the traditional trail we grouped up for the mandatory summit photo.
GO TIME, more to do at this bachelor party than hike! Not to mention at this point the heat was on, sun was blazing and water was almost gone.
As we descending the regular Tallac trail, you can see the chasm I mentioned before in the photo below, you can also see the fake summit. From the point of view coming up the chutes, it's easy to believe this is the summit, but a little behind is the true peak.
The hike out was great, we were really on a roll just moving quick. It's a stunning trail, although it was beneficial to mix up the routes up and down, that treated us to a wider variety of views. When we got down to Cathedral Lake we were very hot and tired. Mountaineering is generally an endurance challenge, not a race or nature walk. We went for a dip in the small alpine lake. The water was cold and shocked a second wind into our life.
We quickly jumped out, dried off, put our boots back on and headed back to the parking lot maybe two to three more miles back to our car.
We were pretty wiped out. I think the trip was a solid 8 hours car to car. We rushed to the local store to grab some cold Gatorades and ice cream bars. Mount Tallac was everything you could hope for in a mountain day hike. The SE Chutes variation is highly recommended to my readers. Also I just fell in love with Lake Tahoe. There is so much more I need to check out, I would love to do some overnight backpack trips around there and see the North Shore of the lake.
Over the weekend we also boated out to Emerald Cove and did some exploration, kicked it at Zephyr Cove Beach and partied in town. Was a real pleasure, looking forward to returning for some granite rock climbing!