Friday, October 28, 2011

Mt. Tallac Trail, Desolation Wilderness

Trail: Technical Singletrack

Distance: 22 miles, 6500' elevation gain (trailhead to Lake Aloha and back)

Difficulty: Challenging

Trailhead: The Mt. Tallac trailhead is reached via Highway 89 near South Lake Tahoe. Traveling from the west shore, look fir the brown trailhead sign on the right, just past Camp Richardson. Follow the paved road to the parking area for Mt. Tallac.There are no bathrooms or water available at this trailhead.

Season: July to October

Water: The upper slopes of Mt. Tallac are dry, but otherwise, streams and lakes are abundant throughout the run.

Notes: Wilderness permits are required. There is no fee, and permits can be filled out at the trailhead.

Trail Description: The climbing on this trail doesn't mess around, and we began gaining altitude immediately. I set off on the forested trail with Betsy, Jamie, Caren, Jenelle and three dogs. We were layered up on this crisp fall morning, but soon stopped to shed jackets and sleeves as the exercise and sunshine brought color to our cheeks. 

We didn't get into Desolation Wilderness until early August this year because of all the snow, and I think somehow that's given me a greater appreciation for these incredible autumn days on the trail. Every mile before the snow flies feels like a gift. 

If you sniff deep into the cracks of the bark, it smells like sweet vanilla. Mmmmm!

As we climbed higher, we finally left treeline behind. Following the switchbacks up, we were treated with expanding views of the lake below.


 Upon reaching the shoulder of Mt. Tallac, you can look out to see the granite ridge that rises above Lake Aloha, our eventual destination.

 At the spur trail, we headed towards the summit for a quick trip to the top.

Cap is not afraid to stand near the edge.

At the top: Caren, Jamie, Jenelle, me, with Betsy behind the camera.

Tallac is one of the tallest peaks around, and we spent a few minutes enjoying the views and snapping photos. It was surprisingly warm for late October, and we all felt lucky to be out on such a beautiful day.

After returning along the spur trail, we rejoined the main trail and continued down the other side of the mountain toward Gilmore Lake.

Betsy and Caren head down towards Gilmore Lake.

At Gilmore, we joined the Pacific Crest Trail and headed south towards Aloha. Jamie and Caren were doing a one-way run to the Glen Alpine trail, so we soon bid them farewell.

We skirted Susie and Heather lakes, where I decided to skip the final mile to Aloha in lieu of a rest. I hadn't been feeling well all morning, and a mental break seemed like just the thing I needed. Cap and I stretched out in the sunshine by the lake while Betsy and Jenelle ran off to tag Aloha. It seemed I had the entire wilderness to myself, and the stillness in both my body and my environment did wonders to soothe my mind.

The return trip over the mountain was somehow even more glorious. I felt better, stronger. There were more hikers out now that we again neared the trailhead, and they all kindly yielded to us. The downhill felt easy, in spite of the long day, and the miles back to the car seemed to melt away.

We drove back to Truckee, three tired and happy runners.


  1. Why are all the great places to run given names like "Desolation?"

    I have a plan to climb Disappointment Mountain. It's gonna be great! It'll be the highpoint of my life! People will look upon me with envy for having climbed it! (hey, the name has to mean something...) Then it's on to the Embarrass Mountains, but I don't want to talk about that.

  2. I've wondered about the name "Desolation" plenty of times myself, as it feels quite the opposite of desolate. Presumably it has something to do with the experience of the first white dude to travel through. Probably a good story.

  3. Yeah... I've been wondering about Swollen Ankle Lake here, myself (it's near Broken Elbow Lake).

  4. You all have cool places with funny names out there :) and lots of beautiful things! Out here, we have places like Belly Deep Slough and Bong State Recreation Area. Curious, verrrry curious :)

    Gorgeous run report, Gretchen, as always!