Eagle Lake & Mt. Tallac – January Snow

Newly fallen snow in Tahoe was all I could think of to celebrate my birthday with. Had a bad bout with the flu, but I had already paid for my fancy hotel room at the Grand Residences Marriott in Heavenly Village, South Lake Tahoe. I was not about to just lie around in front of the fireplace and not go play in the snow. It was snowing all the way over Echo Summit and down to the lake. There was still plenty of daylight left, so I went directly to the Eagle Falls Trailhead near Emerald Bay. About 8 miles north on Highway 89 from the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe, where Highway 50 and 89 meet. Parking is across the road from the Vikingsholm parking lot on Highway 89. If there is not enough space, park at Vikingsholm and walk (run) across the road to the trailhead. Before leaving the parking area, hike below the road on the Vikingsholm side, as the waterfall below the road is worth the effort to get there.

Once at the trailhead, the trail is not as easy to find with the accumulated snow from the past few storms. A little GPS, a little memory, and a little luck I found my way back to the lake. It’s only about one mile each way, about 20 to 30 minutes without snow in spring and summer. (If you wish to camp overnight in the Desolation Wilderness, you need to buy a permit from the Ranger Station in South Lake Tahoe or the Pacific Ranger Station in Pollock Pines on your drive up. You can also get a permit online at Recreation.gov. California Campfire Permits are also needed for camp stoves, and there are no open fires allowed in the Desolation Wilderness.)

Topo Map of Area

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.94707,-120.11198&z=15&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

The snow was getting heavier and the wind picking up right behind it. After leaving the bridge and stones, the trail turned to snow about 6 inches deep. It was now time for the snowshoes. I met several guys coming back out from the lake also in snowshoes. They told me that they were the only ones back there, so I kept that in mind going back to the lake, another half mile in the snow. I do crazy things, but not stupid things…since I was the only one that knew I was back here, I didn’t get overly adventurous and leave the trail.

After dipping my hand in the cold lake and admiring the icicles cascading down from the rocks, it was time to make track back to the car. The snow was coming down a little heavier now; gusts of wind would send it sideways into my face or down the hood of my parka. It was still plenty warm, even working up a sweat trudging through the gathering snowdrifts back to the parking area. One last look and picture of snow falling over Emerald Bay before I go.


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As always, another day, another adventure…

This time I’m off to Mt. Tallac, between Emerald Bay and Fallen Leaf Lake, Mt. Tallac is one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tahoe Basin, with a “T” or cross of snow below the peak in the spring and winter months. Rising above the lake at 9,735 feet from near lake level of 6,480’ at the trailhead, Mt. Tallac is about 4.8 miles to the summit. The views are some of the most spectacular in all of Tahoe, as you have unobstructed 360° views of the lake, the Carson Range to the east and Desolation Wilderness and Crystal Range to the west, and the Granite Chief Wilderness to the southwest and northwest. At this time of year, the metal barrier was not open yet for the season, allowing me to drive to the trailhead, about one mile up the paved access road. I parked my car near the roadside of the Mt. Tallac turnoff and Highway 89 and walked the extra distance. I started out wearing my Kahtoola Micro-spikes, as the snow and slush became icy in the shadowy sections of the road. Not long after first light, I was at the trailhead. I filled out my Desolation Wilderness Day Permit (instructions are at the trail sign), attached it to my daypack and was on my way.

It had snowed just yesterday, and the freshly fallen snow on the branches of the pine trees looked like Christmas trees, more than I could count. I was once again in a “Winter Wonderland” in one of my favorite places on earth.

The trail is fairly level for a half mile or so, until you begin to climb to the ridge between Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake. The higher elevation starts to open up views of Fallen Leaf, Lake Tahoe, the Carson Range and Heavenly Valley as you climb along the ridge line. The ridge is quite rocky most of the year and difficult to walk on. This time with snow and snowshoes, it seemed a little easier oddly enough. Once dropping down from the west side of ridge, the trail winds down and behind into a wooded section, deep in powder this trip to Tallac. After about 1½ miles, you arrive at Floating Island Lake, frozen over this time of year.

Looking up directly at Mt. Tallac peering down on you, the southeast chutes are visible for those die-hards that want to avoid the crowded trail in the summer, or ski down the gnarly face in the winter and spring.

About ¾ mile after Floating Island Lake, you emerge from the forested area of the trail at Cathedral Lake. A beautiful yet small lake, nestled in a rocky moraine at the foot of Cathedral Peak – this is a good place for a rest and a bite to eat before tackling the big climb that awaits you to the ridge.

The trail becomes quite rocky and steep much of the way up to Mt. Tallac. There are several switchbacks up the mountain, but it still quite steep and challenging any time of year. It is quite a cardio workout even if you don’t do the entire 3,300 feet of climbing to the summit of Tallac. After many stops to catch my breath, photo ops and just taking in the grandeur of the sights below me, I finally made it to the ridge. The saddle branches off at a trail junction, one direction continuing on to the summit of Mt. Tallac, the other, down the back side of the mountain to Lake Gilmore, deep in the Desolation Wilderness. That trip will have to wait until summer, when the snow and low temperatures melt away with the warm sunshine and more livable conditions.

The usual 6 hour, 4.8 mile hike has taken me that long to get nearly half way in the snow. I will not summit today, as I need to get off the mountain before nightfall. I hadn’t planned on being this slow, and did not bring my Petzl headlamp with me to hike after dark. Now to slog down the switchbacks in snowshoes – I actually think it was easier going up. Snowshoes were not designed to sideways, and it’s a killer on the ankles trying to do that. OK, I’m past Cathedral now, so the real steep past is past. Another hour plus getting out of the shade of the forested section and past Floating Island Lake, and I’ll be on the open ridge above Fallen Leaf Lake and in the sunshine. I came upon a couple with their dog, that must have turned around backtracking to their car. They didn’t have snowshoes and seemed to be moving faster than I was, so I took mine off and tried that for a while. It was all good until the shady areas turned to ice, and I had to put my Micro-spikes back on before I fell on my butt on the icy sections.

Finally back to the car, I have been out nearly 10½ hours today. Quite an adventure. At least nobody needs to come looking for me. Now, back to my fancy hotel for a sauna and jacuzzi bath tub, cozy in front of my own fireplace – a kitchen to make a nice pot of hot peppermint tea… and a giant king-size bed to fall asleep in.

After all…this was my birthday weekend to play in the snow – flu or no flu
I had another fun-filled vacation, in the Tahoe Wilderness.

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See ya on my next adventure, in the Tahoe Wilderness
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Jake’s & Maggie’s Peaks – Snowshoes in April

Fresh powder just fell up in Tahoe and I made a beeline to be one of the first to make some tracks with my snowshoes on some of the north facing peaks on the west shore. Those areas would most likely have the most snow accumulated, not getting much sun light to melt it yet. I decided that I would do two separate outings, Jake’s Peak rising above D.L. Bliss on the west shore on Day 1 and the next day I would do Maggie’s Peaks starting at the Bayview trailhead across from Inspiration Point overlooking Emerald Bay on Day 2.


I arrived at Tahoe city and the weather was perfect. Lows in the 40s highs in the 70s. Crystal clear blue sky… hardly a cloud anywhere. From Tahoe City I drove for about 17 miles south, or a half an hour on a good day, down the West Lake Blvd. to D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. (In case you needed, the TART bus runs down to Bliss also every hour, June to September 1st) The entrance is also several miles north of Emerald Bay. There is a small parking area off of the east side of the road near the entrance to  D.L. Bliss State Park and campground. Well great minds think alike and I wasn’t only one that thought this would be a great idea to go out on the mountain today. About six young “telemarkers” in their 20s climbed up to Jake’s to do some backcountry skiing with the fresh powder. Jake’s is a favorite spot of the locals, kind of like a favorite surfing spot and they get a little territorial as well. Today I only had to contend with the telemark backcountry skiers with climbing skins on their skis. I tried to stay out of the path that they made with their skis, just using their marks as my general direction.

The route starts at at just above lake level, about 6,800 feet, and is nearly straight up the eastern facing slope for about 1.5 to 2 miles up to the main peak which is closer to 9,137 ‘ from my GPS. I doubt if I will get all the way to the top today. The southern route to the ridge is the most popular route to take in the spring time. If it hadn’t recently snowed, the conditions would’ve been typical springtime corn conditions to hike and ski on. This route also gives you an unbelievable view of Emerald Bay from high above. Let’s see how far I get today.

I followed the young skiers’ tracks up through the trees… there wasn’t a defined trail, or if there was it was covered in snow now. My route was straight up the mountain making my own switchbacks along the way when it got too steep and some places. I made sure to look back often and admire the view – that was my primary purpose for being here anyway. Just like my snowshoe trip to Mount Tallac in January for my birthday, everywhere I looked was like a scene from Courier & Ives – snow drifts of fresh powder covering downed trees and boulders, sparkled like glitter in the afternoon sunshine. Behind me, Lake Tahoe lived up to its name as the ”Crown Jewel of the West”…the deep blue water, with snowcapped mountains of the Carson range behind it. With all the smells and colors of the trees, the bright white snow and deep blue sky, it was sensory overload and I was loving every minute of it.

After several hours of climbing, I sat down in the snow to take a little breather – I didn’t even bother taking off my snowshoes. I wasn’t getting anywhere fast today. Soon after returning to my climb, the young telemark skiers zipped on past me, enjoying all that they worked for that morning climbing the mountain. I’m nearly at the top now and gave it another 30 minutes before throwing in the towel and heading back down the mountain. After all, I was the only one up here and no one else knew that. I took my last pictures of the views that I earned on my way up, then made my way back down the trailhead across from D.L. Bliss. I need to go rest up for my next adventure tomorrow, climbing to Maggie Peaks from Bayview Trailhead.

Jake’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.96543,-120.10692&z=15&b=t

Another day, another adventure. I parked at the Bayview Trailhead to begin my ascent to Maggie’s Peaks for the day. Getting there early in the morning, it was half slush and half ice. Today I brought my snowshoes, crampons, and my Kahtoola MICROSpikes. The micro spikes were the best thing to start the hike with while walking from snow to ice on the paved road to the trailhead – kept me from falling on my butt mostly. At the trailhead you need to fill out a Desolation Wilderness Permit even for the day, as it gives the Rangers a “heads-up” if they need to come looking for you if you don’t get back before nightfall.

The climb to the saddle between Maggie’s north and south peak is a series of many switchbacks up the side of the mountain. There is a great vista point along the trail, one of the lake in the background and another 100 feet more opens to a beautiful view overlooking Emerald Bay directly below – far more beautiful than the Inspiration Point view could give you… this view you will have to earn by climbing here.

The trail flattens out a bit, meandering through the trees and manzanita brush, eventual bringing you to Granite Lake, nestled at the foot of Maggie’s South Peak. This is another popular spot for backcountry skiers, the real die-hards…but not today. Today I had it all to myself, with the fresh powder from yesterday waiting for me to put the first footprints in for the day. I got down to Granite Lake that looked frozen over, but it was so calm the powder from the day before was just lying on top like goose down feathers – not a breath of wind to disturb it.

The trail was obscured by the snow, though I had been on it before, it was still difficult to know if you were on the trail or bushwhacking your own. After a while, the slope became too steep to walk up. My MSR Ascent snowshoes have “Televators”, like turning your snowshoes into high heels! You pull a little bar up under your heel, so you walk more upright ascending a slope. Many switchbacks later, I made it to the saddle between the north and south peaks.

There, the panorama of the Desolation Wilderness unfolded before me. I could see Phipps Peak and other minor peaks that were hiding the Velma Lakes  and the rest of Desolation behind it. Below me was Eagle Lake, where I had been in January. (Eagle Lake is a short, very easy hike from a trailhead off of Highway 89 across from Vikingsholm and Emerald Bay) Climbing up on a rock, I just took in the incredible “Winter Wonderland” view that I had from the top. Shame I didn’t bring my tent and sleeping bag, as it would have made an awesome sunrise over the Carson Range the next morning. (Technically, I would need an overnight permit from the Ranger Station – I made a mental note to  make sure I camp here next spring)

Ok, time to go home. My light was beginning to fade and I’m already on the shaded side of the mountain. It was easy to find my away back this time. I was the only tracks around to follow down the hill. One final look at Emerald Bay then on down to my car. Walking with snowshoes does take longer than hiking of course, so figure you’re going to make good about half of you hiking speed at best. Less if the drifts are more than about 6” deep.

Maggie’s on area topo map

http://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=38.93419,-120.10477&z=14&b=t&o=r&n=0.3

That concludes another great day in Tahoe… After a hot shower and some dinner, I’ll start planning tomorrow’s great adventure.

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See ya on my next adventure…

Maggie’s Peaks to Azure Lake, Desolation Wilderness

It was Tuesday, September 15. I was driving on Highway 50 to the Pacific Ranger Station at Pollock Pines to pick up my permit for the Desolation Wilderness for the week. From as far away as Sacramento, I could see the smoke from the fire in the distance, growing larger the closer I got to Pollock Pines.

The King Fire had just started on Sunday, but was growing rapidly with southwesterly winds and continued dry weather. I pulled into the Ranger Station to find an exodus of vehicles leaving the station. The office personnel had already evacuated and the smoke and flames were just behind the station. One half mile down the road it was growing rapidly with fire crews gathering roadside, ready to do battle with the wildfire. I still needed a permit from the Ranger Station in South Lake Tahoe, so change course for the USFS South Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Offices on College Ave. When filling out my itinerary for the permit, the young lady behind the counter informed me that they had just had a fire reported at Fontanillis Lake, my intended first night’s campsite. An illegal campfire that was quickly contained by USFS personnel. My intentions were to still make the trip.

I spent the night at Fallen Leaf campground trying to find out the most efficient way of getting to the trailhead in the morning and how I was going to get back to my car. I picked up a senior discount card for the campgrounds which helped quite a bit. $10 for lifetime gets me half off federal campground fees. It’s about time we started getting some discounts around here for our age.

My hike itinerary was to enter the wilderness at Bayview campground across from inspiration point overlooking Emerald Bay, going over Maggie Peaks down to Fontinillis Lake for the night. It was a pretty steep climb going up Maggie Peaks; I’ve done it before in April in snowshoes and it took me a lot longer but it was fairly strenuous this time with the 25 to 28 pound backpack on my back.

Parking at the Tallac trailhead at Highway 89, I had about 5 miles of a hike to get to the Bayview trailhead. I started thumbing a ride but was all in vain, even with my pretty legs I could not get a ride. I was beginning to think I couldn’t get laid if I smeared myself in bananas and jumped into a gorilla pit with a bunch of female gorillas in heat! Don’t know how long it took me but it was a long time, and it was warm and I took a lot of breaks. There were a couple of sections of 7-8% grades on the highway with very little or no shoulder. I remembered so well when riding my bike around the lake many times. I finally reached the Bayview trailhead by about 11 AM.

The trailhead is about 300 yards from Highway 89 through the Bayview campground. Right off the bat, the trail starts at a 7 to 10% grade. Many switchbacks through the wooded area finally brings you to a clearing, with a nice view of Lake Tahoe.

Another hundred feet of the trail brings you to a wonderful view of Emerald Bay.

Another half mile or so brings you to Granite Lake. While still semi-frozen in April, September it was nice and cool to get a drink from and wash my face. I carry the Sawyer Mini water filter with collapsable 1 liter bags. Only 2 ounces for the filter, comes with a straw for sipping out of the lake or stream.

By the time I reached the pass between the two peaks the Pyrocumulus clouds of smoke from the King Fire was becoming more ominous.

I kept trudging on though, only meeting a couple of people on the way up, and one young trail runner girl who passed me going down to Azure Lake. Not too far from Fontanillis lake, my destination for the night, I met another big guy with a sizable backpack coming back up the mountain stopped to chat for a while.


He told me he had just come over Dicks Pass to see an illegal campfire on the west side of Dicks Lake. It got out of hand from the two idiots that started it. He said some other backpackers and pitched in with a bucket brigade trying to extinguish the fire but with little luck. We discussed my route beyond Fontanillis which would’ve been over Dicks Pass to Gilmore Lake for the next night, summiting Mt. Tallac on Friday, then returning to my car at the Tallac Trailhead. He cautioned me to reconsider my decision to stay at Fontanillis saying the heavily wooded path and 1,400 foot climb back up over Dicks would have left me little margin for error as an escape route. After hiking about another hundred yards after he and I parted our ways, I stood staring at the enormous clouds of smoke from the King Fire. I then pondered the routes to get out of Desolation if something went horribly wrong. Since Dick’s Pass would’ve been blocked by fire the only other routes were to continue onto Velma Lakes and Phipps Pass or back the way I came over Maggie’s Pass.

I ended up choosing the latter, backtracking from where I came at the Bayview Trailhead. (You will see the pictures of the smoke when I reached Maggie Peaks again from 8,400 feet.)


Without a ride, I hoofed it all the way back to my car at the Mt. Tallac Trailhead, then drove to Fallen Leaf Lake Campground to get a campsite for the night. Today I made the right decision to abort my original plan.

As it turned out, that was a really good thing, as I realized Fallen Leaf Campground had hot showers… Just four quarters gave me three minutes of a nice hot water shower, giving back the trail dirt I had borrowed that day. I ate a nice trail dinner and was fast asleep by 1930 that night.

GPS Track

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/594408890

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See ya on my next adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness