Sunday, April 20, 2014

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Tahoe Mountain, South Shore

Category - Moderate but for experienced hikers due to confusing trails
View Rating - 8 out of 10
Distance - Approximately 4 miles round trip (As always on any hike of distance, bring extra food, water, and clothes!)
Elevation Gain - 950 feet
Highest Point - 7249

Overlooked by the hiking guidebooks, Tahoe Mountain provides fantastic 360-degree views of surrounding, loftier mountains, along with sweeping vistas of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake. Tahoe Mountain's views are more spectacular than those of many “famous” hikes.
Lake Tahoe with sailboat and Mt. Rose in the far distance

The reason few people pay much attention to Tahoe Mountain is that it is a modest little bump just west of South Lake Tahoe, and its trails are somewhat disorganized and confusing. Because it doesn't look like much, people don't think to climb it. And if you like to tell others about your grand Tahoe hiking accomplishments, it doesn't sound very impressive to regale people with your amazing hike up Tahoe Mountain. But it is hard to find a more accessible hike that will give you such a choice of gorgeous lunch spots. (Bring a picnic in your pack!)
Tahoe Mountain can be accessed from many locations from Fallen Leaf Road to Camp Richardson to the Gardner Mountain/high school area. But the best, clearest, and easiest access is from Lake Tahoe Blvd. where it intersects with Sawmill Road.
Go to Google Maps and plug in “Sawmill Road and Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe.” After the map loads, click on “Satellite” view in the upper right corner. Zoom in and you will get a clear picture of the trail from the highway up to Tahoe Mountain.
Google map with Fallen Leaf Lake on the left. The red teardrop is the
beginning of the hike, and Tahoe Mountain summit is near the top.
The parking area is directly across from where Sawmill Road comes to Lake Tahoe Blvd.
The parking area is on the divided portion of Lake Tahoe Blvd.
right across from where Sawmill Road intersects from the left.

There is a Trailhead sign with a somewhat confusing map, but combined with your Google map printout, it should be clear.

The main thing to remember is that the trail from the trailhead sign takes to you to a broader trail where you turn right. Then watch for a left turn onto another trail, and take that.
You are now heading up the mountain on a gentle, winding path. Here and there you will come across intersecting trails. At each juncture, take the fork that goes up. Occasionally, a “Y” intersection will have just one trail that goes up, and two or more trails that go down. This is easy to navigate on your route up, but confusing on your route back down! (TIP: you can use your phone to take pictures of the intersections as you go up and then consult them coming back down.)
Trail rising up through the Angora Fire area
The trail leads you through the Angora Fire burn from 7 years ago, and it is fascinating to see how the landscape is returning. Although the fire was a terrible tragedy, the burn area is now starkly beautiful and provides the advantages of great vistas that were once hidden by the thick forest.

Eventually, you will come to the first of two humps that make up the Tahoe Mountain summit with a long saddle connecting them. In some sections, the trail is broad and open as it goes past the tower that supports the red navigation light for aircraft. There is also a tacky-looking shed that houses a radio transmitter.
But you won't notice these as the amazing views unfold.

Be sure to walk the entire saddle over to the second, higher bump that is the true peak of Tahoe Mountain where the views are best of all.
As you pause and look around, you'll enjoy large views south back to Christmas Valley with 10,059-foot Steven's Peak at its end. Behind and to its right is 10,381-foot Round Top in the Mokelumne Wilderness near Carson Pass, 18 miles distant. 
Christmas Valley with Steven's Peak to the rear on the left,
Round Top in the distance in the center. Just out of sight behind the ridge to the right is Kirkwood Ski Resort

To the south-southwest and closer, you can see some runs of Sierra At Tahoe up beyond Echo Summit.
Ski Runs at Sierra At Tahoe, just past Echo Summit

The winding trail provides great views

To the southeast is Freel Peak (Tahoe's highest mountain at 10,881'). Directly to the east, you look over South Lake Tahoe and 10,067-foot Heavenly resort beyond.
The ski runs of Heavenly to the left
Freel Peak is to the right.
The Angora Fire, tragic as it was, created open vistas.

As we hiked on April 18th, the snow was completely gone off Tahoe Mountain, but the ski runs of Heavenly still had lots of snow.
To the north is a “wow” view of Lake Tahoe stretching all the way to Mt. Rose, 10,778 feet high and thirty miles distant. It is easy to imagine where Reno lies just beyond and over 6000 feet below Mt. Rose.

Tahoe's East Shore in the distance
Below is the Tahoe Keys, a residential area crisscrossed with canals

To the northwest are enticing points of the big lake's West Shore, Eagle Point by the entrance to Emerald Bay and beyond it, Rubicon Point, which is the top of one of the world's tallest underwater cliffs.

Tahoe's West Shore

To the west lies the incomparable Fallen Leaf Lake, site of multiple Hollywood movies like Kevin Costner's and Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard. Fallen Leaf Lake is towered over by Mt. Tallac, Tahoe's most famous mountain rising directly from Fallen Leaf's shore to 9735 feet. 

Fallen Leaf Lake with Mt. Tallac

Completing our 360-degree view is the Glen Alpine valley to the southwest. 
Glen Alpine Valley is to the left, stretching up to Lake Aloha at 8116 feet of elevation
The snow fields reach from Stanford Camp at the end of Fallen Leaf Lake, up the valley and over Cracked Crag to the Lake Aloha Basin and Pyramid Peak, a picturesque, pointy peak just 17 feet shy of 10,000 feet. As you walk north along the ridge of Tahoe Mountain, Pyramid Peak disappears behind Mt. Tallac.

Pyramid Peak poking out behind Cathedral Peak, which is actually
the shoulder of Mt. Tallac. Magical Fallen Leaf Lake is below.

Find a nice log to sit on or lean against to have lunch. It will become one of the most memorable lunch spots you'll ever have!

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