August 15, 2013 – Nearly two months into summer, meteors flying overhead and I’m going through Sierra withdrawals. I usually start going through these at about the 4-week mark. My July visit to Mt. Whitney, the Eastern Sierras and Lake Tahoe seems like a lifetime ago (such melodramatic!). With my next possible Tahoe visit & hike (barring a stray meteor striking the Earth) two weeks away , the next best thing is for me to put together a blog post.
At the tail end of my trip last month, after getting rained out for my planned ascent of Mt. Whitney, I resorted to plan B, a climb of Mt. Tallac in the Desolation Wilderness two days later. This post however, isn’t solely about that particular mid-summer climb. I’ve climbed this trail at various points throughout the year, and my favorite time is autumn, so I’ll share some experiences and photos from my climbs over the past few years.
But I do begin with last month’s hike, started on a stellar Saturday morning. I never realized how spoiled I am to be able to do most of my hikes, both local (Bay Area) and in the Sierras mid-week. As I drove up the entry road for July’s Saturday morning hike, the Mt. Tallac trailhead lot was already filled and there were cars parked along the entry road and more than a dozen hikers preparing to enter the trail. I enjoy the solitude of hiking and it’s not like I was shoulder to shoulder with hikers on the trail. Once I started up the trail, I’d occasionally see others and the summit was a bit crowded, but it was a great day on the mountain. The above photo was one of my first of the day as I crested a ridge and looked back at Lake Tahoe in time to see the balloon just above the lake surface. The previous image, the sepia-toned silhouette of the trees, was taken on a previous trip along the same ridge overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake. As for the hike itself, there are plenty of sources for trail descriptions. I wrote an article for the Examiner.com recently, and found another detailed description on tahoebackcountry.net. But the basics: round trip, it’s about a 10 mile hike with roughly 3,200′ of elevation gain.
Depending on the time of year, wildflowers will be sprouting anywhere from the trailhead to the summit, especially in open spots where the ground is kissed by the sun.
There are two humble alpine lakes along the trail: Floating Isle Lake, at the 1.6-mile mark, and Cathedral Lake (2.3 miles). Compared to some of the other local lakes (the Velmas come to mind), neither of these are grand, but they are both pretty and excellent spots to take a break or even a swim. Floating Isle is a bit larger and more picturesque.
Obviously, in the Sierras, snow is an important feature and the level and amount varies dramatically from month to month and year to year. In late June of 2011 (6/30 to be exact), there was record snowpack and without snowshoes, I couldn’t get much past Cathedral Lake because of it. On that hike, I encountered snowfields as low as 7,000′. This year, doing the hike just two weeks later in the year, there wasn’t a molecule of snow, even at the summit.
Later in the year, October, the trail was clear and I made a return trip and reached the Mt. Tallac summit for the first time.
In early 2012, recovering from minor surgery that kept me from high stress endeavors like downhill skiing, I instead went snowshoeing up the trail. I made it about two miles in, stopping along a ridge overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake.
But for me, while I love the Sierras in all seasons, my favorite time is Autumn. The crowds have thinned, aspens are showing their color, and the air is crisp. Nearby at Taylor Creek, Kokanee salmon are swimming along the rock and gravel creekbed to lay their eggs and die. It’s a special time of year.
Lastly, a few images from Taylor Creek