Mount Tallac

Mount Tallac is a stoic hike. It sits like a middle child, balancing the terrain with strategy and lure. Dwelling at 9,890ft, Tallac hovers over the scattered, wild lakes of Desolation Wilderness in the Southwest area of Lake Tahoe.

The start of the ten-mile hike is a welcoming, reliable, open space. Trees look down with parenting eyes. My ears tune to soft whisperings on the wind. Tallac embodies a morning huddle; prepared, having checked every station, every path.

I look down at Fallen Leaf Lake, over the great blue of Lake Tahoe. I must have stepped into one of those paintings in Mary Poppins. Treetop horizon. Giant granite boulders perfectly placed among native grasses and clover. Recognizing the art of nature is inevitable.

Even though the mountain is visited often, something quiet, alone,and  distant remains in Tallac’s essence. It offers an embrace that feels more like truth than comfort, more mysterious than precise, and all the while, surprising easy to climb.

Between red fir, hemlock, pine, there’s a hidden pathway to the belly of the mountain. Perhaps there is a doorway leading to a maze of tunnels, to a city in the heart of the mountain keeping another world alive. It draws me near, a buried treasure deep within knocking on my door.

The trail leads to an open staircase on a moderate grade between Tallac and Cathedral Peak. The stairs are hand sculpted boulders, surrounded by loose granite and debris. Views are rugged, scarce, and desert like. My gaze gets lost in the sandy colors of tan rock, over the brown lines that sweep the terrain.

Arriving at the southside ridgeline, it’s exposed and windy. It is such a stout wind, that is all there is, even with the stretching views of snow crest mountaintops including, Pyramid and Ralston Peak. A deep breath allows the pressure of the wind to cut through me in full measure. There is not much that compares to the way wind can lift the inside of someone and also deposite a ferocity of intent.

In all the history the wind carries, I ask how far and deep these gusts have traveled, and how much will push through me before I become a ghost. Walking past the purple silhouettes and powder, I daydream. I am in the Himalayas, seeing through the camera angles on documentaries. I meditate on small bits of regional data, think on the past and the future. I know what is now, I am here, my eyes open in the dusk of a cold chill and the urgency to push on to the top.

In the distance, blue skies fade under grey hues. The mountain empties, wildlife tucked away in their evening shelters. Plant life curls down to bear the cool hours of the night. There’s a patch of tree coverage patterned in aesthetic vignettes, a path veers northeast to the summit base. We move up a level, as in a game, on a new terrain, we can only climb up.

I need all fours, stretched out, clasping my claws around large flat boulders piled on top of one another in a Janga tower. My legs push. I leap. I pull my way upward then perch on a cluster of pointed rocks. I held my balance, found my footing.

The top gives access to large slats of sedimentary rock. Wind currents circle the open peak, allowing me to hear the ocean’s tide in those waves of air. Clefts of rock offer shelter to snuggle down on the fancy peak, practically perfect in dynamics and terrain.

As we sat on the summit, under bright stars in a black sky, a friend shared a story. He said once there was a man who hiked up a mountaintop. He was tired, cold, hurt, and could not get back down. He looked out across the dark, and saw a small fire on another mountainside. The very site of this fire brought him enough comfort to survive the freezing night and get back home the next day.

I looked in the distance, across the dark and there were glowing, residential lights. They were warm, like small fires reminding me of the car, my home, pancakes,… society. I was cold, hungry, tired, but felt a light within, a fire that could be like that hidden city in the mountain, yearning for more than my phone and consumerism. I needed to feel the dirt, not just under my fingertips, but in my soul.

Moving down layers of stacked stone to the hillside, we settled on a patch of land under a large conifer to rest, to be there at night. The moon was bright enough to cast a pale light across the ground and still hide behind the stars. Shapes of hanging branches and navy-blue clouds filled my head.

Against the earth, moving in and out of featherlight thoughts, the hearth of my heart was burning. keeping me awake, awake before dawn, in the coldest hours, but was not cold, not until my way down the mountain. The fire fades, though kindling. Logic tells me what time it is, the schedule for the day emerges and immerses me back into too much comfort. 

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