Take a few photos for me
“Have you ever been to Lake Tahoe,” was the leading question my son, James, asked me recently. I replied in the affirmative and briefly described my brief stay at the lake many years ago.
It seems that James, who works in administration at Youngstown State University, is planning to travel to that magnificent lake on the California-Nevada border late this year to take part in an annual conference of college financial aid administrators aimed at keeping them on the same page (or pages) in their administrative duties.
The conferences are usually held in locales with comfortable climates, such as San Diego, Orlando, Las Vegas, and even Hawaii, and, of course, those that offer the proper amenities needed to host as many as 8,000 people with fairly high expectations as to accommodations and cuisine.
The choice of Lake Tahoe did somewhat surprise me since as a place noted for its skiing, it’s a chilly place during the colder months of the year.
But as for accommodations, it undoubtedly has a lot more to offer than when I was there many years ago when the main draw of the place was the gambling casinos that lined the north shore of the lake in Nevada.
I imagine James’ arrival at the lake (after probably coming into the area at Reno, the gambling hub located about 40 miles east of the lake) will be much different than was mine. He will probably come up to the lake from Reno by bus or limousine.
But I was just a young college student at the time with little or no position in life, whereas James has been out of college for a good number of years now, which have been spent in various responsible posts at YSU.
My traveling companion from Erie, John Knight, and I arrived at Camp Richardson at the southern end of the lake late one August evening.
As I recall, we had hitchhiked up from Placerville, Calif., which was the headquarters for the El Dorado National Forest. We had been working out of Placerville, helping surveyors plot roads which would aid in the future harvesting of its towering ponderosa pines.
(We always had to wear hard hats when on the job as a safeguard against large pine cones dropping from branches high above.)
But the need for the surveying had ebbed, and we were sent up to the lake to close out our summer working for the national forest by brushing out rights-of-way for the roads necessary for future development at the south end of the lake.
Upon arrival at the lake, John and I decided against passing the night in the rather stuffy barracks room at the camp. So, we went down to the shore of the lake and built and lit a huge driftwood fire (which I learned later was a no-no) next to which we spread our sleeping bags. I went in for a swim but was shocked by how cold the water was.
The lake never warms up much in the summer, since it is extremely deep and lies at an altitude of over 6,000 feet.
We were only at the camp for a few weeks at most but never did much like sleeping in the barracks room, which accommodated not only a few young people besides us but a small cross-section society at the camp for public sector work. In our previous work for the forest, we had slept in tents far out in the woods.
The brush clearing work we did out of the camp left me rather distrustful of public sector employment.
It was common in the crew I was working on to cut some brush the first thing in the morning and then relax and smoke near or on the brush pile after posting a sentry down the cleared area to warn of the approach of a foreman.
When the foreman would arrive, he would just note that everyone was then working and go on his way, ignoring how slow the work seemed to be progressing. As I recall, we made rather slow progress as brush clearers.
My stay at Lake Tahoe also included a successful ascent of Mount Tallac, a 10,000-foot peak which towers over the south end of the lake and in warm weather presents on its rock face an impressive cross composed of snow that fails to melt in the summer.
I look back on this climb, my first and only ascent of a true mountain peak, rather ruefully today. This is because what I did then without much forethought and despite being in just moderately good condition I could never do (or even try) today, given the passage of so many years.
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” as the poem goes.
John and I decided to climb the peak on a weekend at the camp as there was little else to do. The lake was too cold for swimming, and neither of us could afford to gamble.
Our first attempt to scale the peak failed as we had tried to start the climb by going through the brush on its lower slope. However, the brush proved too thick.
Then the next weekend, I suggested to John that we try to reach the peak by climbing up the rock ridge that ran down the entire north slope of the peak.
John said that he had has enough mountain climbing and declined.
I did complete the 4,000-foot ascent, going up the ridge boulder-by-boulder. I recall meeting up with a good number of inquisitive pikas during the climb. The view from the peak was magnificent, particularly to the north out over the lake and to the southeast over a lake-studded area called the Desolation Wilderness Area.
But I was then left with getting down off the mountain. The boulder route was out … it would have been just too difficult a descent.
So, I climbed down to the top of the upright portion of the snowcross. I thought that I could slide down this icy snow chute almost to the base of the mountain and then hike through the forest to a road which led to a lodge on tiny Fallen Leaf Lake below the peak.
I hesitated a good while at the top of the cross upright, unsure of how safe that descent option might turn out to be. I was afraid I’d get going too fast and ending up injured … or worse.
I decided to abandon that descent option, and climbed up to the top of the south slope of the mountain, and descended from there, sliding down through mostly loose rock and wearing out my cheap boots in the process.
After I reached the base of the peak, it was just a short walk to the road to the lodge, where I encountered a car carrying John and others from the camp who had set out to see if they could find me since I had been away for so long.
It was good not to have to hike back to the camp since I had had a rather long day.
I know that I would not recognize the south end of Lake Tahoe today.
I will ask James if he could take a few photos of Mount Tallac for me.
I could point out the chute that probably would not have been a very good way for me to have descended that peak.
Incidentally, there is now an established trail up Mount Tallac. But it is rated “difficult.”
Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.