They say many things about love. It is a many-splendored thing. It makes the world go round. It makes a 50 year old man sleep on the ground on a 30 degree night.
About that last one. Maybe they don’t say this, but they should. For nothing but love would have gotten me to forsake a warm and comfortable bed for a night of cold on a one-inch thick pad.
My son, Joe, you see, has come out to visit with me near Tahoe. He is a first-rate young man, and I couldn’t be prouder of him, or more glad to have him join me. But he had his heart set on backpacking. I am content with day-hiking. My idea of conquering the wilderness was to set my sight of some majestic peak, climb the thing, and then head for home and a warm meal and bed. He wanted to not only conquer the wilderness, but to place his foot on its chest and taunt it.
Thus we found ourselves on the trail to Mount Tallac, each with 150 pound packs on our back. I may have exaggerated that part a little. But Mount Tallac, you see, is close to ten thousand feet, and, annoyingly, the roads only go to about 6000 of those feet. More annoyingly, they have not yet installed an escalator to the top (stupid California). Thus, this nature walk has the feel of a seven hour stairmaster session.
We got a late start, and arrived at the trailhead at 1:00. We intended to climb the peak, and then go past it into the desolation wilderness and spend the night camped by some lake. Which we did. Here is Lake Gilmore, welcoming its sole visitors for the evening.
Because of the late start, we had to really hoof it, and still had only an hour or so of daylight to set up camp and eat. Joe, as I intimated, tends toward the extremes when it comes to showing mother nature who is boss, so this is our tent and camp for the night.
That’s right, young people, our tent was a tarp. This is because a tarp is lighter to carry than a tent, of course. The light-weight factor was also what led him to talk me into buying a sleeping bag that weighed a pound and half and that could fit in a shoe-box. He assured me it would (probably) be warm enough.
After setting up the tent, I mean tarp, he got out his ultra-light camp stove (about 6 ounces) and cooked some pasta. I had nuts and an energy bar, not being very hungry yet. It was going to be a long night.
The first problem was that it was fairly dark by 6:45. Unfortunately, my body is not used to going to sleep at 6:45. I tried to read a bit, but it was getting colder. Sitting in the dark, shivering, does not lend itself to literary enjoyment, at least to my odd tastes (Joe didn’t seem to mind it). I slipped into my sleeping bag a little after 8:00 and tried to sleep.
The second problem is that the temperature was now dropping into the 30’s. That’s just above zero for you foreigners. My 20 ounce sleeping bag was not doing the trick.
The third problem was that my sleeping bag was only separated from the cold dirt by a one inch pad. Now, I am not a man accustomed to luxury. I don’t ask for the cook to prepare my pheasant under glass while the man-servant draws my bath. But I am rather accustomed to a mattress thicker than my wallet and a little softer. I could not get comfortable.
So I laid there, in the cold, trying to find a position that did not hurt, while the north wind blew off the lake and into our tarp-home. I won’t say it was the most uncomfortable night of my life (being tortured by the North Koreans was certainly worse), but it was far from ideal for, you know, sleeping or something.
Joe, on the other hand, was quite warm and comfy and sleeping well. This I attribute to the fact that he had much better gear than I did, and that he is still a teenager and knows nothing of stiff joints and aching hips. I wanted to smother him.
The morning almost made up for it. We woke early and cooked some oatmeal. We forget to bring any sugar, so we decided to break up and energy bar and put the chunks in it. This didn’t quite do the trick, so we added a pack of instant coffee (Starbucks Pumpkin Spice). Thus we had the most unique oatmeal in the whole wilderness; it tasted of coffee, energy bar, and pumpkin. And a few pine needles. All in all, not bad.
We filled up our water bottles and treated the water, then made our way back up to Mount Tallac. The name means “great mountain” in some native American language or another, and probably has the best views of Lake Tahoe to be had.
We stayed on the summit a while, trying to get our money’s worth. It wasn’t difficult.
Eventually we decided to climb down. Since they still had not installed that escalator, that meant a descent of some 3,500 feet, which, while far easier on the lungs, is far more annoying to the knees. But three hours later we were at the vehicle, feeling more than a little tired and hungry, and, for my part anyway, sleepy.
We are resting a bit today. Tomorrow Joe and I go to Yosemite, a mere three hours away. He wants to backpack in the wilderness again. I just checked the forecast: low of 22 almost every night. I love my son, but, as the great Dirty Harry put it: A man’s got to know his limitations. I booked a hotel.
Here are some more pictures from the trip:
Emerald Bay from Mt. Tallac (by Joe)