Although not on the bike, today could not be called a “Rest Day” by any stretch of the imagination. On our outing to Bliss and the Rubicon Trail on day one, Ben had pointed at the cross of snow up on a far, jagged peak, and announced “that’s what we’re going to climb in a few days, Mount Tallac.”
“looks steep, and hard” i say, “Do we go through that giant meadow on the face?”
“Not really, we approach it from the back side, and then along the ridge line.”
So that’s what we did yesterday, and it was indeed hard, but the payoff at the top was totally worth it. This is what the book sez* (Ben showed me this morning… after we did the hike yesterday!):
Distance: 10.0 miles round trip
Starting point: 6,400 feet
High point: 9,740 feet
Map: USGS Emerald Bay 7.5′
This hike to the summit of Mount Tallac isn’t easy. In fact, the climb is downright punishing much of the way. Don’t try it if you’re not in shape. Don’t try it if you’re afraid of heights. And don’t try it on a cloudy day. But if you’re willing to work hard, and if you’ve got an entire day to spend, and if you want to earn the most spectacular view of Lake Tahoe anyone could ever hope to see, don’t miss this hike. It’s a winner!”
(from Best Short Hikes in California’s Northern Sierra, by Karen & Terry Whitehill, copyright 1990)
The book goes on to describe a rocky ascent with no shade supplemented by occasional pristine small lakes and increasingly amazing views in every direction the higher you go. In that way, the hike did not disappoint. Beautiful snowcapped peaks and faces on the eastern slopes of the Crystal Range to the west, bountiful wildflowers in the meadows and along the rocky crevices along the mostly rock path, small waterfalls now and then.
The trail is mostly rock filled path with some of the terrain’s natural rocks and boulders having been rearranged into “steps” — one of those wonderfully foreword thinking WPA projects from the 30s. So you’re in the wild, and the trail is indeed steep, but the path is pretty civilized, too, and easy to follow, although with an utter lack of the normal trail appointments you might see in other parks. Indeed, this is not a park, but the Desolation Wilderness.
The path follows an initially shaded valley of pines and quickly mixes in with dessert sage and manzanita (“little apples”. . . . funny, before this trip I had never made that connection, but on our first hike this week, when I’d commented that i’d never seen the berries on manzanita bushes so lush or big, larger than snap peas and bright green, like baby Granny Smiths, and Ben reminded me of that etymology of the plant’s name). On today’s hike, however, in higher altitude and on drier rock faces, the bushes display only the more familiar leaves and barely sprouting clusters of berries.
As we ascend the sides of the moraine, we begin to see the lupin and penstemon in full array, along with plenty of Indian Paintbrush, columbine and mules ears. We soon get up higher through a series of meadows, but throughout the climb, the footing is loose rock. Think a carved pathway of talus. That just keeps going up, relentlessly. I am glad that I double-layered my socks (cozy SmartWool under layer beneath my Grizzly Peak Cyclists socks… cuz i have to keep thinking “bicycle”).
I’m one of those hikers who does happen to be a bit afraid of heights, but love the climb. Also, partly due to my knee surgery (and tendency to favor my injured parts when pursuing athletic activities), and partly due to a slight astigmatism in one eye and a general forgetfulness about bringing the pair of glasses that is NOT a triple-Rx progressive lens), I’m much more powerful and confident on the uphill than on the downhill. So whereas most people might struggle to get to the top and then hammer blissfully on the way down, it’s safe to say that my descending speed is at least as long as my trip to the summit, maybe even longer.
We are two of about 20 hikers who are venturing to the top this day, and there’s a general celebratory atmosphere up on top. Most of the folks (including Ben) have put on their jackets to enjoy the views, and for me my arm warmers are just perfect in the protection of a nice rock, where we savor our lunch of Triscuits, Jarlsberg and fresh cherries. We linger a while, enjoying congenial conversation with other hikers, then decide it’s time to brave the descent before the afternoon shadows descend onto the rocky trail.
And we have a deadline, not only the shadows of the afternoon, but a dinner date … for Ben has asked me to make a reservation last evening on Open Table for the Edgewood Restaurant at the fancy golf course at 6:15.
Characteristically, for the me it was the downhill that was punishing, as i took baby steps baby steps in an effort not to step wrong or fall or slip or do anything else which would jeopardize my bike bicycling event Saturday for which I’ve been working so hard.
Eventually we make it to the bottom and are in the car heading back to South Shore before 4:30 (meanwhile, Ben has literally confiscated the camera about 2/3rds of the way down to prevent me from dawdling even more.) Ben stops the car at the 7-11 right before the “Y” and returns a few minutes later with a giant Gatorade and some “Guacamole twist” salty snacks to share for the remainder of the ride back to the condo.
Back in our little “house” there is plenty of time to shower and relax before getting “dressed up” for dinner, which up here in mountain country, even at the most beautiful place in town means a casual summer dress for me and nice shirt and slacks, but definitely no suit or tie. The dinner also does not disappoint. Perfectly seared scallops with tangerine & blood orange sauce for a starter (Ben has a seafood salad), and a peppercorn sauce 10 oz rib-eye with fingerling potatoes, braised chard and butternut squash for the entree (Ben goes with the exquisitely roasted rack of lamb, set on a bed of chanterele and gruyere risotto, and also accompanied by the chard and butternut. A bottle of Ferrari Carneros 2009 Cabernet makes a fine pairing with both of our meals, and a shared flour less hazelnut torte with a scoop of coffee ice cream for a well-earned dessert, a glass of really nice port (for Ben) and doppio espresso (for me), followed by a walk in the fading sunset around the golf course grounds and beach near the restaurant, and it’s been just about as perfect a day as one could hope for.
Pictures to follow. We took lots!! Today (Friday) is a rest day, time to recover, re-energize, and let the muscles do something OTHER than work hard. (in fact, i need to go check the laundry… Coach Ben has just finished duty as bike-mechanic Ben, so my chain is now clean and lubed for tomorrow’s adventure.