We've been eyeing the Mount Tallac ski descent ever since we began backcountry skiing. Over the holidays, we finally decided to tick this one off the list. After having done the regular hike to the summit a few summers ago, I was feeling a little apprehensive, since I recalled that to be an all day affair. Even though I had my hesitations (in typical Reluctant Alpinist fashion) I was feeling surprisingly good about the adventure ahead. The wind was borderline non-existent, which is rare anytime you're in the mountains, let alone standing on summits in the winter. And although the snow wasn't all that great (we did end up finding some nice pockets on the way down), the avalanche conditions were next to none. This day turned out to be a perfect introduction to a peak I hope to reach many more times in my life.
It took one false start at the wrong trailhead followed by some interesting maneuvers to get all three of our packs with skis attached back into the car so we could drive down the road to the actual trailhead. Somehow, by around 7:30 am, we were on our way! The "trail" started outside of a gated neighborhood. We mused how if only we had a key to this darn gate, we could cut off at least a half mile off our journey, but alas, we continued by foot. After walking through the adorable wooded neighborhood, we started up the hill over loads of manzanita bushes only half covered in snow. Every step got us closer to the established skin track. A week later in the season and we could have skinned the whole way!
Finally, the brush turned to just enough snow to begin skinning up. We found a conspicuous stick to tie our boots to in the hopes we could find them easier on the way down. The skin track was notably steep, but the three of us managed to make our way up with some welcome views of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake along the way.
Quick gear plug: ski crampons are the best! If you're skinning up hard packed snow with a dusting of fresh snow on top, they make traction sooo much easier to manage. Especially on those steep kick turns. 2 out of the 3 of us were very happy with our decision to bring them along (sorry, Blake).
It's pretty exciting to see something as magnificent as Lake Tahoe become smaller and smaller in scale as you make your way up a mountain side. With every small break I would turn around to make sure it really was diminishing in size, even just a little, and relish in the fact that my own two legs took me from there to here.
We soon approached the edge of the tree line and the steep track through the tall pine trees led us to even more gorgeous views of Tahoe and the newly exposed view of the Tallac's summit and the Northeast Bowl we were going to ski down... as soon as we skinned up it! But first, photo ops!
Last but not least was a quick traverse across the Northeast bowl. Honestly, this looked quite daunting from below, but in the snow conditions we had, we made quick work of it, and it ended up being far less steep than I anticipated. Funny how the mountains often choose to play mind games with you, or is it just me?
With all of this effort to get to the top, we reaped all of the benefits and were rewarded with a very big "ta-da" moment! Since Tallac is the tallest peak on the Lake Tahoe's immediate shoreline at 9,735 ft high, the 360° views are truly spectacular. To one side you can see almost all of Desolation Wilderness blanketed in snow with Pyramid Peak looking pretty enticing (you're next on the list!). To the other you can see all of the many rocky peaks near Carson Pass, including Kirkwood Ski Resort. And of course, you can soak in the gorgeous Lake Tahoe, almost in it's entirety. 10/10 worth the effort, even in mediocre snow conditions.
And really, what's a summit without a quick refreshment at the tippy top? We also happened to spot the party coming up behind us in between summit snacks, which made for some cool photos of where we had just come up.
And, of course, the best part of hiking with skis is that you don't have to walk down! I was focused on the fun rather than the photos for the rest of the day, so you'll have to take my word that it ended on a high note! Until next time Tallac, thank you for providing us with such a stunning winter day.