dogs on leash
This is a hike that is going to test you physically yes, but mentally as well. I went on a Saturday, didn't start until 3:30pm, so there was a lot of traffic moving against me. I reached the summit at 5:30pm and had it all to myself for about 20 minutes. A few backpackers came up from Gilmore Lake, the lower left lake from Tahoe, to watch the sunset.
Having hiked the PCT in 2014, it brought back fond memories of the Desolation Wilderness and absolutely stunned me with the view of not simply majestic Tahoe, but the oceanic roll of the mountains behind. Simply the best that life has to offer.
All in all starting in the later afternoon was ideal because I had very little direct sun until I reached the pass, false summit. I brought 2.5L and this was perfect, particularly because of the cool afternoon. Pace yourself, it is much easier on the mind to keep your eyes just in front of your step, not staring off to see how far you are from the summit. Enjoy the walk and feel the reward
My father and I completed the entirety of this trail before sunrise en route to Mount Tallac's summit. This trail is a great, scenic option if you don't feel as if you have the stamina, determination, or materials necessary to summit Mount Tallac. However, the notorious views aren't on this trail, but rather on the trail starting after Cathedral Lake.
The incline is not as strenuous, in my opinion, as others have suggested. It's a peaceful 1,000 foot elevation gain with scenic views and occasional meadows- definitely not difficult. The trail quality, however, is not quite up to par. A great quantity of this trail is on loose and/or protruding rocks that are the product of washout from Tallac's melted snow.
The two lakes, while modest in size, are clear and extremely beautiful. They're better defined as washbowls: stagnant, melted water that collect at the base of peaks. They're great for photography, a cooling dip, or a picnic, but respect the Desolation Wilderness campers that take shelter by Cathedral Lake.
Additionally, beware of yellowjackets. Start early, at sunrise, to help alleviate some of the challenging uphill; hiking in the dark limits your visibility, meaning you take the trail one step at a time. This helps mentally due to the fact that you cannot view the incline that you have to undertake. Furthermore, the yellowjackets are only prevalent after sunrise, so go early if you wish to avoid them.
If you're feeling energetic after Cathedral Lake, I encourage you to try summiting Mount Tallac. Even if you fail, you'll always possess the indescribable views that are only seen on the stretch of trails after Cathedral Lake. Have fun, and bring enough water!
My father and I completed a three-summit weekend by climbing Mount Tallac. We left from our hotel at 4:45 AM, which disgruntled my father, and were hiking by 5:15 AM. The beginning of the trail is easily navigated with headlamps and moonlight, for there are no junctions and the trail is well-maintained. To the left, views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Mount Tahoe were already visible, illuminated by the moonlight. Above us, we could see the Milky Way, albeit not as clearly as we had in Yosemite.
It was still before sunrise when we arrived at Floating Island Lake. In the dark, it's an incredible optical illusion; we had thought it was an abyss of some sort before realizing we were virtually standing in the water. The night sky had rendered the lake invisible, with not even starlight visible in the nonexistent reflection of the lake. Fearing bears, we quickly hiked past the area.
The sun rose as we arrived at the second lake/pond. Our objective was visible to the right: a towering section of rock, 2,000 feet above us, looking as intimidating as a mountain could be. Regardless, we continued on the way up to the summit.
At this point, the trail conditions deteriorate significantly. The route becomes littered with loose, watermelon-sized rocks which disallow you to look at the views; if you're not attentive, you'll surely fall while heading up this trail. There's also small sections of snow adjacent to the route, which acted as a nice addition to the trail.
The most damning section of trail is roughly halfway up from the second lake. Note that the route shown on AllTrails is INCORRECT, for a new trail has been established to restore part of the wilderness. As it turns out, this trail is indescribably tough to follow. There aren't many trail markers, no arrows, no signs, etc. With no one else to guide us up the mountain (we were the first on the trail,) my father and I were confused as to where to go.
At one particular point, the trail consists entirely of pumpkin-sized rocks, with no gravel to mark an established trail. As it so happens, this is where we lost the trail. Instead of continuing straight, we interpreted a switchback, and subsequently began a class-3, unmarked climb up deceivingly loose rocks (check "recordings" if you're interested in the route we took). So much for restoring the wilderness, I suppose.
The last 0.8-mile section up to Mount Tallac is mentally taxing. Despite only having to gain 300-400 feet, Mount Tallac looks much higher as it comes into view. Furthermore, the ascent is on loose, washout rocks, preventing you from swiftly moving through the trail. Nonetheless, this did not deter us, and we summited at 8:30 AM.
We left early enough to be the only ones at the summit. Waking up at 4:00 AM, packing our bags while half-asleep was suddenly worth it. Unobstructed 360 degree views were visible from the 9,700 foot tall peak, with no other souls distracting us from the serene beauty. No matter how early you have to leave, it'll be worth it to have the summit to yourselves.
The views from Tallac's summit are remarkable because of the variety. Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe are obviously the most recognizable parts of the view, and they're indubitably beautiful. The sandy Freel Peak is visible in the distance, as well as various other named and unnamed mountains. The city of South Lake Tahoe can also be seen.
The real jewel of the views, however, are seen to the West. A cascade of snow-tipped mountains offer an immaculate background to Aloha Lake and other smaller ponds in the area. An evergreen forest completes this ineffable view, truly making you feel that you're above the world. While you can see this view in pictures and visualize it based on my words, it's exponentially more beautiful in person.
The descent is as expected of this trail. Loose rocks require all of your attention; my father admired the view of Mount Tallac as we were descending, and subsequently mildly rolled his ankle. Additionally, traffic becomes heavy after 9:00 AM. We saw two people- backpackers trekking through the Desolation Wilderness- on our ascent, and 80-100 on the descent. Start early to avoid these crowds.
This trail is definitely difficult, not well-maintained at times, and mentally onerous. This is clear from the topographic map on AllTrails. However, do not let this deter you. Whether it takes you two hours or ten hours to summit, the views will fulfill all of your hard work. Bring hiking poles and your sturdiest shoes to help alleviate some of the difficulty.
Yes, there are bees. Remember the golden rule: don't piss off the bees, and you won't get stung. Have fun, start early, and enjoy the impeccable views!