This is why I live here…Autumn Hiking in Northern California

December 18, 2012

Three days until the end of the world (if those nutty Mayans can be believed). I have just enough time for one more hike. And just enough clean underwear to get me through to rapture.

Me & my Merrells (Mt Tam)

Me & my Merrells (Mt Tam)

There are countless reasons to love Northern California. At the top of my list is the hiking. As I’ve become an avid, habitual hiker over the past three years, two places have become my favorites: Mt. Tamalpais/Muir Woods in Marin County, and the Desolation Wilderness west of Lake Tahoe. Most recently, I hiked Mt. Tam on muddy trails after a series of drenching storms. With such a dry season last year, the rains were much needed.

Rattlesnake Creek (Matt Davis Trail)

Rattlesnake Creek (Matt Davis Trail)

I took the image above without a tripod, wedging my Nikon against a fallen log and trying to keep my over-caffeinated hands from shaking during the 1.6 second exposure. I never cease to marvel at how different a place can be depending on the seasons. Yes, even here in California where the seasonal changes are less dramatic than other parts of the country, there is still a distinct change on the trails of Mt. Tam. The browns of summer give way to the green of Autumn after the first rains. Ferns sprout from rocks and mushrooms push their way up from the undergrowth.

Matt Davis Trail

Matt Davis Trail

Cataract Trail

Cataract Trail

As mentioned, my other favorite place for Autumn hiking is Desolation Wilderness. Each year I try to time my Autumn trips to coincide with the aspens changing colors and the Kokanee salmon spawning at Taylor Creek. In past years I’ve gone to Hope Valley near the Carson River, where I tend to just meander. This year I wanted more of a hike and went up the Mt. Tallac trail to just below the top.

Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake

I learned the hard way, years ago on Mt. Whitney, that it’s dangerous to dismiss weather reports while in the mountains. Because of this lesson, I now tend to overcompensate by packing a bit too much, but I feel that it’s important to have enough gear and clothing with me so I can survive a night on the mountain. This is even more important since I tend to hike alone.

Mt. Tallac trail and a smattering of color

Mt. Tallac trail and a smattering of color

Floating Isle Lake

Floating Isle Lake

Floating Isle Lake is about 1.5 miles up the trail. There are a few steep climbs, but it is relatively easy to get to compared to other hikes I do. The real challenge starts past Cathedral Lake a mile further. Both lakes are small and not very grand compared to others, such as the Velma Lakes, but they are both pretty and a nice place to stop and rest.

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Dried Sierra Angelica bloom

Dried Sierra Angelica bloom

From Cathedral Lake at about 8,000′, the trail climbs steeply, is less forested and is more exposed to the elements coming in from the west.

Aspens near Cathedral Peak

Aspens near Cathedral Peak

The plateau above 9,000'

The plateau above 9,000′

Reaching milestones in wilderness are rewards for exertion and being buffeted by cold 40 mph winds. And one positive aspect of approaching weather is the dramatic sky. It certainly makes for better photographs.

Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness

View south towards Fallen Leaf Lake

View south towards Fallen Leaf Lake

This is likely my last post before Christmas, but I’ll probably do an end the year gallery post before the new year. I send out special thoughts and prayers to the families of the Newtown tragedy. A Merry Christmas to you all!

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About victorvolta

I am a freelance photographer/writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the very suburban city of Santa Clara. Education: San Jose State University (class of '84) BA degree in Journalism with concentrations in Photojournalism and English. Favorite Foods: Ribeye steaks and Stan's Doughnuts (separate plates, usually). Favorite Drinks: Strong gourmet coffee and Trader Joe's Blood Orange Italian Soda (separate cups).
This entry was posted in California State Parks, Lake Tahoe hikes, Local Hikes, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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