Getting Out: Prepping for Mt. Tallac Challenge

Three hikers stop for a chat at the top of Mission Peak. 

Since New Year’s Day, we have been preparing for the hike—no, climb—up Mt. Tallac. At 9,783 feet, Mt. Tallac is the highest peak on the Lake Tahoe rim. We call it the Mt. Tallac Challenge for good reason. As I learned when I recently revisited the mountain, after you climb it, you will no longer be a hiker, you will be a mountaineer.
On a recent Saturday, Mt. Tallac Challengers walked up Mission Peak—our sixth and final prep hike. Mission Peak rises sharply overhead as you drive through Fremont on Interstate 680. It is an abrupt and imposing hill—the first fold of the Diablo Range that constitute the East Bay Hills. It is also an extremely popular hike. I had never hiked up Mission Peak on a weekend day, but the East Bay Regional Park ranger I spoke to told me that as many as two thousand people climb the peak on a weekend. He said there can be a half hour wait to take a picture at the summit monument there.
Normally, that’s enough information to send me away, but our route up Mt. Tallac rises 3,300 feet in less than five miles. That is more vertical gain in a shorter distance than our hike up Clouds Rest last year. The three-mile walk to the top of Mission Peak climbs 2,100 feet—a worthy climb as well. Here was an opportunity for us to taste a bit of the relentless “up” that waits on Mt. Tallac.
There are two trails up Mission Peak. By far, the most popular route is up the front of the mountain. The other route leaves from Ohlone College and follows a more secluded path. It does not overlook the populated bay basin the entire way, but faces the East Bay hills as they quietly roll their way toward the Central Valley.
The Ohlone College route was an easy choice. During the week, there is a charge for parking on campus, but on Saturday, we parked for free. From the trailhead, the dirt road path looks down on campus construction and Fremont subdivisions as it steadily turns left and edges up and across a knob in the foothills. The steady swing to the left led away from the busy bay basin and into a classic California landscape of coast live oaks and bay and buckeye trees. Standing tall amid the dry brown grasses grew hundreds of elegant red-purple clarkias commonly called Farewell-to-Spring. How does this delicate beauty thrive when all others have succumbed to the long hot and dry days?
As we rose higher, the view across the East Bay hills widened. On the mountain’s long level shoulder beneath the last summit push, we joined the hordes walking up the busy front route, and the rock concert atmosphere began.
No more dirt road, just a wide, well-worn foot path that edges up to the summit. While the top of Mission Peak had graffiti-tagged rocks and scores of kids lined up to take a summit photo, there were charms to enjoy as well. To the west, the San Francisco Bay is a long pride-inducing distance below you. On the bayside, the view reaches all the way to Mt. Tamalpais. On the other side, far away Mt. Diablo and Altamont Pass. Spectacular.
Mt. Tallac Challengers: See you on Saturday, July 19 at 8:00am at the trailhead. I will send you hike details and directions to the trailhead. If I don’t have your email address, and you feel up to it, contact me at [email protected]