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By Deb Wong
|Click here for photos of our Tallac climb.
I'm not a climber, and never aspired to be. I also have a fear of heights. But when Michael suggested that I at least get an idea of what it means to summit a mountain, I figured, "Why not?" I wanted to understand why climbing meant so much to my husband.
So, we we set out for Mount Tallac, Lake Tahoe, very early in the morning on September 2, 2002 (Michael's 50th birthday). The Subaru was o.k. at first, then started overheating. About 30 miles from home, we discovered that the radiator had a hole in it. So, we went back, & picked up the truck. We started out again, 2 hours later than planned, including breakfast at a diner, then got our pass to hike for the day. I say: "hike" rather than climb, because we used no pick-axes, crampons, ropes, carabiners, or other climbing equipment. I DID bring the Epson 2000 digital camera, and Michael his Olympus film camera, along with our backpacks & supplies.
My shoes, soft-soled Reeboks, were not the best climbing/hiking shoes, as I was to discover. At least I was covered, thanks to Michael's planning - he lent me one of his long-sleeved shirts, and a scarf to place under my brimmed hat.
The trail was narrow, and the terrain consisted mostly of sharp rock shards, surrounded by brush. We didn't find it that strenuous, though it was uphill all the way (except for a brief level trail mid-way). However, we noticed a few people having trouble - I recall one German lady in particular, who was having difficulty catching her breath. Perhaps many think that this is an easy climb, but if you are not in shape, it can be difficult. Since we hadn't given ourselves time to acclimate, we weren't galloping up that "hill" ourselves! We stopped several times along to way for water or to pee, while enjoying the view of beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake.
There were times when we had to scramble, especially on one hill that we discovered was not on the designated route. Since I walk faster than Michael (he would say that everyone walks faster than him), I took the lead up what I thought was the main byway. After awhile, I noticed that the path was getting smaller & smaller, and when I looked back to ask Michael about it, found that he was just a dot below me, and that we were both cutting our own path....we could have called it "The Wong Trail"!
It was scary for me to be hanging off of that hill, but I scrambled up, grabbing onto shrubbery for support (Michael later told me that that was NOT the way that it should be done - like I cared about protocol, at that point). I tried not to look down, though when I did, I noticed several other hikers on the correct trail. I guess you can say that we took the long way 'round (the Wong way 'round?), but did get back on track. By the time we got to Cathedral Lake, we were overheated & hungry. We both dipped into the lake, and had some lunch before proceeding upward.
About halfway up the mountain, Michael said that if I wanted, we could go back down. He was looking wistfully at the boaters out on the lake. As serene and enjoyable as that looked, there was no way that I wasn't going to summit my first mountain. We pushed on, noting a few cairns along the way. We were also passed up by a couple of groups of younger hikers, who had an agenda to knock off a few local peaks, and were in more of a hurry than we were.
We finally made the summit around 2:00 p.m. I arrived first, practically running the last few feet up there. First thing I noticed about that mountain's summit is that it was just a bunch of off-kilter-looking, huge chunks of granite - with sudden drop-off points on all ends! Several others were resting up there, and I found a semi-comfortable rock to perch on. The views of Lake Tahoe were lovely. I kept checking my pulse, to see if I was o.k. Then, when Michael made it to the top, I pulled a home-made birthday card out of my bag, a surprise for him, wishing him a happy 50th birthday. We rested up there for a few minutes, & looked around. I saw a few of those mountain chipmunks running around, and even one butterfly that I photographed.
Descending should have been easier, but my feet were thrashed by that time, so it was a painful process. Since I don't abide by the climber's rules to always stay on one's feet, I slid down many slopes on my butt, which has always been a practical and effective method. It seemed to take forever, but we made it back before sundown, and the sight of our yellow truck was so welcome, I was almost in tears. Michael had a hearty appetite and scarfed down a big burger, but I was beat, and went to sleep.
Will I climb a mountain again? Probably not. Though I will go on to hike many trails, I'll leave the mountains to Michael!