Mount Tallac


At breakfast, the weather service called for a one-percent chance of snow. Why would they consider that a chance at all? Why not just round to zero? We laughed about it as we wolfed down toast and eggs. After months of drought and no indication from long-term weather forecasts, there was no way it would snow today. We finished our breakfast, got into the car, and drove out to the trailhead. We had in mind to climb Mount Tallac, one of the more prominent and recognizable peaks of the Tahoe area and Desolation Wilderness.


The ice started at the trailhead

The road from Highway 89 to the trailhead was closed. We parked the car at the gate and hiked along the road to the start of the trail. The road had patchy ice over the pavement, making for quite the slippery walk. Other hikers at the start had traction devices for their boots, but we went in without anything of the sort. These would have proven useful on a day like today.


Most of the road to the trailhead was covered in ice

The packed snow continued as we hiked parallel to Fallen Leaf Lake. We slipped and slid, hoping that the sun would soften up the snow a bit as the day went forward. George, after hiking for about a mile, decided to turn back, but Lance and I kept moving forward, hoping that the ice would soon turn to snow and rock.


Not surprisingly, the trail proper was icy as well

Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake

As the trail starts to move further away from Fallen Leaf Lake, it skirts by Floating Island Lake. Here, Lance and I paused to walk onto the frozen-over lake. It rumbled and cracked below us, and after fiddling around for a bit, we continued on our way. Further up the trail we walked by Cathedral Lake, and from here, the path turns right and climbs steeply upward.


Our first views toward the summit of Mount Tallac

Floating Island Lake

Floating Island Lake…from the middle of Floating Island Lake

Snow Slope

Here, the pitch gets steeper

We took a direct path up the slopes of this eastward-facing bowl. Here, the snow finally softened, and we were able to find a slow but steady rhythm to our steps. In no time at all we found ourselves on the southern slopes of the peak, looking across the Desolation Wilderness to the west. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped. From here, it was a decidedly less steep but equally tedious hike to the summit.


The east-facing bowl is the steepest part of the climb


The bowl gets quite steep at times


The Desolation Wilderness comes into view as we emerge from the bowl


We could see the summit for a long time as we climbed the south slope

We got to the summit, found a bit of shelter from the wind, and pulled out some food. The views from the summit were some of the most spectacular in the Lake Tahoe area. One can see across most of the Desolation Wilderness, out toward the Carson Range, down toward huge Fallen Leaf Lake, and to the left of that, even bigger Lake Tahoe. We took plenty of pictures of the panorama before us and of the ominous clouds coming down upon us. After a half-hour or so of putzing around, the blue sky we had when we had first topped out was gone, and we decided to start our descent before we got caught in a storm.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe from the summit of Mount Tallac

Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake from the summit of Mount Tallac

Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness from the summit of Mount Tallac

Coming Storm

The storm clouds quickly rolled in

Desolation Weather

The weather over the Desolation Wilderness quickly deteriorated

The going was quick until we got to the rim of the eastward-facing bowl. Here, we plunge-stepped

down the steepening slope without the benefit of trekking poles, resisting the urge to tumble forward or slip on the patches of harder snow. We reached more level ground near the lakes, but with the storm clouds and the drop in temperature, the trail was a long, narrow ice-skating rink.


Storm clouds dropped over the Carson Range

Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake under storm clouds as we returned from the summit

We slid flat-footed for what felt like miles. By the time we reached the road it started snowing on us. It seemed our one percent chance was panning out after all. We hiked the mile or so out to the highway as fast as we could. At the highway, George was waiting for us at the car with some snacks he picked up from the grocery store. Just as we got to the car, I took one last big fall onto the ice. It was quite the trip.

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