Fourth of July 2010 on Mt. Tallac.
Tom McBride, Don McBride, Ollie

A local tradition for Tahoe west shore residents is to go up to Mt. Tallac (9,735') and watch the fireworks at Tahoe City, Incline Village, Glenbrook and State Line. (Camp Richardson also had some private fireworks in 2010).

Locals usually do it when there is a near full moon, but my son Tom, his dog Ollie, and I did it in 2010 when we were in the last quarter of the moon which didn't come up until about 2 AM.

We went up an uncharted (Middle Tallac Trail) (shown on the our map from the GPS track we did). Paul McCulloch of the Forest Service's Backcountry Information Center at the Taylor Creek Visitor's Center told us about it just before we left. We GPS'ed the route at his request sent him the file in addition to putting it on my Tallac web page.
The trail had been restored by the Fish family from Fallen Leaf Lake. (We met two of the family members who were doing trail maintenance on the way up.)
(There is actually a shorter version which heads north right after the ridge and bypasses Gilmore Lake, which we missed.) They said it was the most direct route. It was steep, but I had just finished three weeks of scouting, training and leading trips with the Sierra Club National Outings and Tom had been working out for a triathlon, so we got up (> 3,000') in 3 hours.

2010 was the heaviest spring snow year in recent memory, so we had some snow crossings which obscured the trail, but made it OK. We had plenty of time to relax (should have brought some reading). There were two other groups when we got there. and one guy showed up shortly after us with his dog. He'd been hiking in the Desolation Wilderness for several days and complained that he couldn't fish at Lake Aloha because it still had ice on it.

As the sun went down we were a little cold (had 3 layers, but no down or fleece), but had a big sandwich from PDQ, M&M peanuts and plenty of other energy food, to burn.

By the time the time the fireworks started, about 9:30-9:45, there were about two dozen people, a couple of forest service rangers and a half dozen dogs. Fireworks were great.

We started down with the mob, many of whom were camping at Gilmore Lake. Not too far from the top Ollie cut a pad on her paw and couldn't continue. We consolidated all our gear into one pack and put Ollie (about 25 lbs.) into the other pack which we mounted in front and took turns carrying her.

When we got to Lake Gilmore we decided not to return on the shortcut (which we had plotted on our GPS) but included some narrow (6") paths on steep rocky terrain and to follow the standard Lake Gilmore to Glen Alpine trail. We had trouble finding the trail from Lake Gilmore, the Garmin GPS and TOPO! CD maps showed the the Glen Alpine Creek crossing 500 ft. below Gilmore L. where because of high water from the snow melt it was impossible to cross. We started going up and downstream trying to find a crossing. After about 30 minutes of this one of our headlamps started to fail because of weak batteries and a backup light failed because of electrical problems. The GPS batteries also ran down and the spare pair said they were dead.
Now was the time to pray or panic.
We were faced with the option of wading thru a fast moving stream and going down carrying an injured dog with only one good light or trying to borrow some equipment from campers at L. Gilmore and toughing out the night there.

We sat down took a deep breath, put Ollie down and solved two problems:
The spare batteries for the GPS were NiMH and we had to instruct the GPS that we had changed from Lithium. It worked.
We took a look at the Tom Harrison "Desolation Wildernes Trail Map" we got from Paul and noticed the creek crossing was at a small dam where the creek started at Gilmore. (So much for modern electronic navigation!).

We decided to continue; We switched the one good headlamp from the 1 watt spot to 3 LED flods to double the battery life (It turned out we had plenty of power the 1 W spot will run for 50 hours). It was a tough trip down trying to avoid ankle sprains from steps and rocks on the trail which we could not see because of bad lighting. And we did not want to dump Ollie on her head.
We came up with a tactic that helped. The person carrying Ollie would have the good headlamp and go in back. The front person could step to the side and take advantage of the light and discover hazards first. It worked.

We were happy to hit the bike trail at Glen Alpine Springs about the time the moon rose which gave us a smooth trail back to the car where we arrived at 2:30 AM. We got back our cabin at Homewood at 3:30 and scarfed down the food Marty had left for us.

An adventure for the top 5 list.

Key Learnings:

  • When you have an out of the ordinary situation (unfamiliar, steep slope, at night) pre-planning is more important.
  • Have several, tested, backup lights and batteries for a night outing with no moon.
    Know the condition of batteries and the battery life at different light intensity levels (modern headlamps usually have two bulb options e.g. 1 W spot or 3 lower power LEDs and several intensity levels.)
  • It is best to do it close to a full moon for light.
  • Cary multiple forms of navigation aids maps, compass, GPS.
  • Check the trail you are going to return on in the daylight.
  • Don't trust maps. Trails can change. Use all sources, printed and GPS and note diferences. The forest service map of desolation we got from the visitors center was correct.
  • Know the limits of all (including pets) in your party.
  • Carry emergency gear (fleece/down, food (carbs) in case you get caught overnght).
    See the ten essentials on my day hike list for Sierra Club outings.
  • Plan to camp at Gilmore (8,320') instead of going all the way down.
What we did right:
  • Got a map specifically for the Desolation Wilderness rather than relying on our Tahoe Basin map.
  • Figured out the best way to carry Ollie (in a pack not wrapped around our neck holding her feet.)
  • Took the easy trail down.
  • Sat down and regrouped rather than panicking and trying to ford the stream when everything started to go wrong.
  • Worked out an efficient way to share the one good light.
  • We had a SPOT personal locator beacon in case things got really bad.

From the top of Mt. Tallac  (9,735')
tom mcbride, don mcbride, ollie, tallac, gillmore, crystal range, Lake aloha
Looking southwest over Gilmore Lake toward the Crystal Range in the Desolation Wilderness.

tom mcbride,  ollie, tallac, tahoe, emerald bay, 4th of july   
                             Tahoe                                   2:30 AM - The End

Mt. Tallac map

More pictures.

last updated 28 July 2010