Mount Tallac – South Lake Tahoe, CA

“Suck it Mother Nature! I win!

Early May we set off looking for dates to bring back our customary OG Vegas trip. It had been a long time since the 4 of us girls got together and I know I had missed the yearly pilgrimage because I love traditions. After planning emails are sent around, Yvo chimes in that she’d rather do Los Angeles since it’s the Disney 60th Anniversary and we always have a great time in LA since it’s casual and there are a plethora of fun things to do.

Week of I email the ladies and Yvo has hurt her back, and Laurie is tired from doing an impromptu podcasting bootcamp in New York courtesy of NPR. Jen was still in for going somewhere by her enthusiastic response, but now that it was just the two of us I wanted to go somewhere else, I’d gone down for my customary pilgrimage to LA already once this year and a 2 person Vegas trip just didn’t feel right.

Since my Los Angeles and New Zealand trips, I had missed exploring and discovering new places. While the Bay Area has some great hikes, I wanted to bring back that vacation feeling and break up the monotony of routine. Talked to Emily the week before about her hike in North Lake Tahoe and decided that if Jen was still in maybe I could convince her to go to Tahoe instead. After all I hadn’t been to Lake Tahoe in the summer since I was in middle school.

Briefly looked up what hikes we could do in Tahoe and found Mount Tallac on Everytrail. I often fall in love with photos of pretty places, and this was love at first sight. It was rated difficult, so I decided to consult my experts.

This is the route to Mount Tallac

This is the route to Mount Tallac

Talked to Renee and she mentioned that she had done that hike twice before and the bit near the top was steep, rocky and hard. Having not gotten to climb Mount Doom aka (Tongariro Alpine Crossing) in New Zealand as a test of wills because our driver convinced us the conditions weren’t optimal, I wanted to do something similar in difficulty. A ten mile hike with a 3500 feet elevation gain? That doesn’t sound too bad, and near home I’ve hiked Mission Peak, which is a 2000 ft gain and rated similarly with no coverage throughout. What is it about the desire to be high up on get aways? Maybe it’s because things seem so inconsequential when you’re up ~9000 ft and looking down on the world, or maybe it’s just the thinness of the air that helps one think less and be mesmerized more. Who knows? I digress.

Talked to Yvo and Laurie separately to confirm that they wanted to rest the weekend, and asked Jen if she’d be down for Tahoe. Yessssss. She was game. Told her about the trail and much to my delight she said she didn’t think it would be a problem.

I book the hotel 2 days before. You know what I’ve also been missing? Spontaneous and last minute travel.

Jen and I exchange cheery text messages:

Me: Can I just say how excited I am about this weekend?
Me: I’m super looking fwd to hiking and the super moon!
Jen: Hehehe I am too! And I really need the exercise! I have no idea what to pack though 😁

This is when I list out what I’m bringing along:

Because my car had the coolant light on, and I knew something was wrong because I tried refilling the coolant only to see a blue puddle in my garage the next day, Jen had agreed to drive. Getting to South Lake Tahoe would be about a 3 hour drive South San Francisco, normally it takes something close 5 in the winter with snowy conditions.

We decided to stop by Berkeley on our way up for dinner and I looked up something that looked good on Yelp near my old college stomping grounds. I picked Wood Tavern because they had 1410 reviews and were still 4.5 stars. We couldn’t get through on the phone to make a reservation, then decided to just show up and play by ear since there were tons of other restaurants around. Arriving at Wood Tavern they are completely booked and it would take 2 hours to get a seat. We turned on our heels at that wait time and looked next door at Southie where a table opened up within 10 minutes. After we were seated we began to order all the things.

After that we begin our trek. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the night before, so I ask Jen if it’s ok if I pass out to which she obliges. She’s the Christina Yang to my Mere, she’s my person. By the time I wake up we’re at the hotel and find a parking spot right out front. We lug in our gear. Tonight we’d be staying at the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. I stayed here years ago on a family vacation and honestly it hasn’t changed at all. Our room had two huge queen beds, a pull out couch as well as two bathrooms. Oops that’s Chase Travel for you, ended up booking a 6 person room just for 2, at least we each got our own bathroom. Being that we had so much space we emptied out all our gear and got ready for bed.

In the morning we needed to do a huge breakfast to prep for the hike and get snacks/supplies for lunch and our walk. Pulled out Yelp again to find A Cup of Cherries, it looks quaint and has a good menu. I have an affinity for small local diners and restaurants because they feel so cosy. I end up ordering a stack of pancakes to carbo load for the hike even though normally my diet consists of mostly organic paleo meals and a salted caramel latte for a shot of caffeine. Both were delicious. Jen orders a quesadilla like object and a coffee as well.

Once we have finished breakfast we head off to Safeway to buy lunch and some supplies. We grab 2 gallons of water and chicken caesar wraps for lunch, as we already have snacks from Costco for the quick fuel. Afterwards we map our destination to find that the parking lot is fairly full with hikers who left earlier in the day. Fill our packs with about a gallon of water each and proceed to the trail start. At the start we look at the course and it’s a straight shot to the summit. Fill out a day hikers pass and attach the tag onto Jen’s bag and then we’re off.

The beginning is a mix of a lot of flats then hills and our calves are being punished until we get to the mini summit which has a great view.

Later on in the middle there are two lakes in a flat area that are beautiful. I see a milk tea cup out in the open that someone left behind and vow on the way back if it’s still there that I will grab it to throw away in the parking lot.

The great thing about this trail is that everyone was super friendly. I feel like in the Bay Area no one says hi while passing strangers on trails, but here everyone gives a cheery hello or good morning. Along our journey we meet a group of guys that we keep taking turns passing each other on breaks, a group with 3-4 dogs, and 2 ultra marathoners one guy and one girl (not together) who brought nothing on them since they can easily do this 10 mile in and out trail without water.

It seems like forever that we’re walking through the woods until finally we start scaling into the open reserve area. Here we run into a couple where we chat with them about how everyone on the way down says the summit is just around the corner. We look up at the peak and wonder if that really is the summit. Nevertheless I keep asking folks coming down how much further. Most of these people give an encouraging lie about the distance, but one man tells the truth with “It’s pretty far.” We heed his word and continue on, I’m stopping frequently since the air is getting thin.

Eventually I ask Jen to stop so we can eat, I have a bit of a headache and feel like the pancakes I had this morning were long gone. We break under one of the few trees in this area and take on both snacks and our chicken wraps. After lunch we both seem re-energized and keep trucking along.

This is when we hit the hilly rocky part that Renee had mentioned. No longer are we shielded by trees. Jen trucks along and we run into the group of guys that we kept passing and having them pass us earlier in the day. They say it’s not that much further to the top, but as did everyone else on the trail that we encounter on their way down.

Finally we meet up with a couple that is also lamenting at how cheery everyone is, despite how far the summit is. Finally about 4 hours in we hit the summit and it’s breathtaking. Once we’re at the top I’m suddenly more in tune to Jen’s fear of heights. I ask her to follow me to the top, but she hesitates as I coax her gently by saying we’re not going near the edge but through a path of boulders. With this she’s satisfied and we reach the highest point of the summit where you have this beautiful 360 degree view of South Lake Tahoe’s finest. We take some photos and then sit down to have the rest of our lunch, whereby we are delighted to be joined by these locals.

Squirrel!

Squirrel!

They are super aggressive as I’m guessing hikers leave behind lots of treats for them regularly. Jen pulls out a piece of chicken to offer, and I’m a bit shocked when they take it. Gah. The animals here are flesh eaters. I took out some freeze dried fruits and nuts and hand out to pacify the locals since they are almost at the point where they are rummaging through my bag.

Celebrating another epic hike with Haribo

Celebrating another epic hike with Haribo

After second lunch and my customary Haribo on hike photo. I ask Jen if she wants to make it to the other edge to take photos, but she’s content staying not near the edge. Scampered over to the area facing the main lake and meet a group of 20 somethings trying to do a selfie, whereby I just offer to take their photo instead.

One of the guys offers to help me get a photo in return, as well as being in the photo with me “So it looks like you have friends” he says. I point at Jen off in the distance and she waves back, ok young cute guy “I do have friends but sure you can be in the photo with me if you like.” He gets embarrassed and just takes the photo of me.

Mount Tallac View

Mount Tallac View

We spend a good 45 mins on the top before turning around to go back.

Going down is easy except for an uncontrollable el banos break that I took behind a tree, then we get to the crazy rocky area. Jen tells me to go ahead since she wants to take her time here because she’s afraid of heights. I’m afraid of heights in general as well, but this area feels safe to me and it’s all downhill. I start the downhill taking it at a light run, it’s easy to slide into the larger rocks and if things slip I lower my center of gravity by heading into a squat. I lost Jen in the hills, so I take a break on a boulder and let people pass me.

Soon after the Ultra marathoner that we met earlier stops by me, and mentions that Jen is having a panic attack further up the mountain. He tried to help her by walking with her and blocking the steep view, but she yelled at him to leave her alone so he took off. He reminds me of this guy I used to work with named Rob, who is tall lanky with a fluff of curly hair. Rob was really athletic, biking and running daily, he also taught me about krav maga techniques. I digress. This Rob like guy, took some time to tell me how I should walk with Jen once she reached me and gave me a stern look with the lecture about getting out of eyesight from my friends. I nodded, but honestly, how was I supposed to know Jen was afraid of heights? We’ve never hiked together before, and she told me to go ahead.

I backtracked up towards Jen and when we met her face was pale white. She was inching along so slowly. I did as “Rob” said and tried standing on the edge to block her view but Jen yelled that she was going to murder me by mistake by pushing me off the edge. Instead I just decided to walk slowly in front of her and let her know where to step and how to avoid people coming and their dogs. This goes on maybe for 30 minutes before we’re at the flats again.

“Jen! We’re at the flats! Look up.”
“NO!”
“Honestly! I wouldn’t tell you we’re at the flats unless we really are.”

Jen looks up and praises the lord she doesn’t believe in and then falls over to hug this huge rock. The rest of the way we trod along quietly and she paces faster than I do once again. Near the exit Jen has to take an el banos break and hides behind this huge tree. Yes all, we both peed in the woods. We might now be Tahoe Woods Pee Sisters.

We’re nearing what we feel like is the end, but can’t really tell since it felt like it was so long, it was 6.5 hours from our initial start time. We sit on a rock and I pull out my phone to map our location on GPS along with another supply of Haribo Gummibears. We’re right near the exit. This lifts are spirits and we scamper to the car.

The parking lot is empty now, but Jen cheers in triumph “Suck it Mother Nature! I win!”

We head back to the hotel for my favorite, celebratory steak dinners.

Mount Tallac you were beautiful, challenging and fun. I can’t wait to see you again.