What I’d Been Missing

My family’s annual Tahoe trip has really changed for me over the last few years. Although I still enjoy getting some time in the sun (especially in July when SF is often gray and cold) and I still love swimming in the lake (especially taking evening swims under the stars), the trip has become a vacation I take each year, not the best vacation I take each year.

And this year at the lake, I felt like doing something new, so on Monday morning, after the chumps left, Mr. WholeHog, my dad and I headed around the lake to hike up Ellis Peak.

tahoe-ellishikeIt had been a very long time since I’d done any hiking in the mountains. The coast is easier for me to get to and it’s available year round, while the Sierra often feels inaccessible– cold and snowy in the winter, and dusty and buggy in the summer. But the Ellis Peak hike showed me what I’d been missing.

The six-mile out-and-back took us through the often-strange beauty of the Sierra. It took us through alpine meadows full of wildflowers and butterflies, alongside craggy rock formations and under the shade of tall lichen-covered pine trees. While so much of California is dry and yellow by July, the Sierra was still blooming.

tahoe-ellistrees

We’d chosen this hike because we’d read that it offered memorable views of Tahoe, the views of the lake weren’t nearly as memorable as the views from a ridge we reached just a mile into the hike. We could see down into Desolation wilderness, with its granite slopes and its dark-green lakes. Beyond that, we could see a line of snow-touched peaks, which my mountaineer dad identified as the Crystal Range.

My dad has spent a lot of time in the Sierra and he pointed out Pyramid Peak and Price Peak. He told us how back in the 1970s, he and an old friend got snowed in at Loon Lake, one of the largest lakes we could see from the trail, and the rescue team showed up with a bottle of whisky and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

tahoe-ellisview

From that first magnificent ridge, we descended into the forest again and soon ran into another new sight: dirt bikes. Thankfully we only had to dart out of the way of oncoming dirt bikes twice, but they were definitely a downside of this particular excursion.

ellis-treespath

But I’d wanted to do something new and this hike – even with its noisy, dust-spewing dirt bikes – fit the bill. It gave me some distance from the usual family Tahoe experience. It took me to a different side of the lake, up a new trail with new views. and it reminded me how beautiful hiking in the mountains can be.

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