Distance: 2.95 miles
Elev. Gain: +3,250'
Take Highway 89 to the Camp Shelly/Tallac City Camps turn-off. If you are coming from the north, this is first right turn after Spring Creek Road (just after the "25 MPH" right hand curve). If you are coming from the south, it is a left turn about 3/4 mile past the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center. Once you are heading east on this paved road, follow the signs to "Tallac Trailhead".
The Mt. Tallac trail receives high use and is thus well marked. From the parking lot, the trail climbs gradually up a forested slope and soon gains the ridge above and to the SW of beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake. The trail hugs the spine of this ridge for about 3/4 mile, affording incredible views over Fallen Leaf Lake towards the Carson Range south of the Heavenly Ski Area.
From the ridge, the trail eventually drops down the west side of the ridge to a small saddle, then ascends a few switchbacks to the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness. Permits are required after this point for all visitors. Just beyond the wilderness limit, you reach Floating Island Lake. Above Floating Island lake, you get views of the SE spur ridge of Mt. Tallac, and the actual summit poking its head up above it. The steep SE face of this ridge provides an alternative route to the summit for adventurous hikers who want to avoid the populated main trail. If so, you can peel off the main trail in the clearing about 0.2 miles before Cathedral Lake. From this point, an easy 100 yard bushwack to the NW heads towards a seasonal creek leading up to a steep slope of fairly large talus. Climb the steep talus slope, which leads higher up onto the hillside below the SE Chutes, which are clearly visible above you (note: even though it looks way up there, the top of the chutes is not the summit, so don't get summit fever too soon).
From the top of the steep talus slope and looking up, you will have a full view of the SE slopes. Above to your left is a nasty looking cirque that is filled with scree -- not advisable. However, above to your right is a steep slope comprised partly of larger talus and brush, leading up to some chutes at the top. To ascend these chutes, contour up and to the right (north) to a large rock. From this rock, pick out a route that clings to the rocks, thus avoiding the relentless and prickly willow and alder brambles (see photo). Climb steeply up mostly class 2 (with some easy class 3) talus until you top out on the ridge. Use caution in the last 100 or so vertical feet below the ridge, as the chute steepens considerably, and the larger talus turns to more unstable scree.
At the top of the chutes, you gain a ridge which presents a panoramic view across the top of the two large cirques between Mt. Tallac and Cathedral Peak, including Fallen Leaf Lake and tiny Cathedral Lake (see photo). From this vantage point, you also get an impressive view of the summit towering above you. Unfortunately, a huge chasm separates you from the sheer SE face of the mountain, so unless you have a death wish, you follow the ridge to your left which makes a long "C" around and up to the summit. Eventually, you rejoin the main trail (about 200 yards below the summit) and climb up to the top.
Nothing required but good legs and water. In fact, bring a lot of water on this trail. The climb to the summit can get very hot in summer, and much of the trail (including the steepest part) lies above timberline, where you are exposed to the relentless sun. Dehydration is a real risk here, and water sources past Cathedral Lake are seasonal and cannot really be relied on.
Click here for a topo of the SE Chutes route, and the other routes on the mountain.