Mount Tallac Via North Ridge


Difficulty 5 Advanced
Length 5.9 miles one-way
6400 feet
+3300, -3450 round trip
Navigation Map
Time Most of a day
Season January through April
Snowmobiles Low
USGS Topo 7.5' series, Emerald Bay
Start From the intersection of highways 50 and 89 in South Lake Tahoe, drive 4.7 miles northwest on Highway 89 to Spring Creek Road and turn southwest (left) onto it. Drive 0.4 mile, turn right onto Mattole Road, and continue for 0.5 mile to the starting point. In recent years a gate at the bottom of Spring Creek Road has been locked during the winter months.

Parking can be found 1.1 miles away (mileage point 9). From the intersection of highways 50 and 89 in South Lake Tahoe, drive 4.5 miles northwest on Highway 89 to a turnout on the north (right) side of the road. This point is 0.2 mile east of Spring Creek Road.

This parking area fills quickly. The next closest parking area is 0.5 mile east at another plowed turnout (mileage point 10).
End This tour ends at the parking area on Highway 89 (see above).


This route to the summit of Mt. Tallac is presented primarily for its historical value. During the infancy of backcountry skiing in California, long before fat skis and plastic boots, in fact before backcountry skiing was revolutionized by heavy leather boots, this route to the summit was the standard. Today it is made difficult by no vehicle access to the starting point; you need to park 1.1 miles away.

Image of Lake Tahoe from Mt. Tallac
Author near the summit of Mt. Tallac (March 1974)

Mt. Tallac is a favorite destination for Tahoe’s telemark and AT ski crowd; it's also popular with boarders and on occasion downhill skiers endure carrying their skis to the summit for the pleasure of the grand descent down the northeast bowl – almost 3000 feet of steeps in just over one mile.

Although the tour up the north ridge could end at the starting point, it is described ending at the parking location which is 1.1 miles from the start of the tour. This location is also the start of the most direct route to the summit of Mt. Tallac, which is described in the Mount Tallac Direct tour.

It is worth noting that while the north ridge is slightly less steep, the trail is not likely to be broken. That said, the ridge does not retain much powder that needs to be broken. The neat thing about the north ridge is simply the view; east and west as you ascend the view is outrageously fine.

Without question the number one draw of Mt. Tallac is the steep return descent. But the panoramic view from the summit is astounding and worth a trip in itself. Nearby are dazzling blue Lake Tahoe, Cascade Lake and Fallen Leaf Lake. Across Lake Tahoe is the Carson Range. Turn around and Desolation Wilderness lays before you with Pyramid Peak looming on the horizon.

From below on Highway 89 and elsewhere in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the face of Mt. Tallac is obvious to everyone familiar with it. Some people say that a cross of snow is visible on its face winter and spring.

Before the boom in telemark ski equipment and more recently AT ski equipment, the ascent of Mount Tallac was not popular. More often than not those who climbed it carried their downhill equipment to the top.

With new equipment a whole new sport evolved and has grown at an amazing pace. Mt. Tallac quickly became one of the premier destinations for those seeking the exhilaration of challenging steep backcountry terrain in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

We're not talking about a dozen people on a nice weekend day. We're talking about 20 or 30 car fulls of skiers on a weekend day.

It appears that the congestion and parking problems created in the Spring Creek Road development by this large use resulted in the road being gated closed in winter with access only to residents. The result is that the traditional starting point can only be reached by a 1.1-mile walk.

With all this interest in Mt. Tallac it is not uncommon for the traditional route down through the north bowl to be tracked out soon after a snowfall. There are other less used routes down but they are not described here.

You may want to consider going to Waterhouse Peak or Powderhouse Peak if you find Mt. Tallac too intimidating or too crowded. These fine peaks offer excellent downhill terrain, retain their powder conditions long after the last snowfall, have lots of routes down to choose from, and parking is abundant and adjacent to the start of the climbs. Of course they offer only slightly more than half the vertical descent of Mt. Tallac but you can do them twice in a day.

No matter what route you follow to reach the summit of Mt. Tallac, the descent down the north bowl should only be skied when avalanche conditions are not present. The slope in this section is in the 20- to 25-degree range, which puts it in the prime avalanche range.

An interesting one-way tour can be created by ascending Mt. Tallac and descending south and then east to Fallen Leaf Lake; in effect you cross Mt. Tallac. This route is described in the Mount Tallac to Fallen Leaf Lake tour.

Mileage Log
Numbers in parentheses
correspond to mileage points on map

Miles: 0.0 - 0.4
Elevation change: +600 feet

From the trailhead (1) climb northwest for 0.4 mile until you reach the north ridge (2).

Miles: 0.4 - 2.1
Elevation change: +2200 feet

Ascend the north ridge of Mt. Tallac at first to the southwest and then to the south for a total of 1.7 miles until you reach the ridge descending to the northeast that is part of the Mt. Tallac Direct tour (3).

Miles: 2.1 - 2.7
Elevation change: +500 feet

Continue south on the north ridge and as you approach the peak ski around to and up the south slope of Mt. Tallac to its summit (4).

Miles: 2.7 - 3.7
Elevation change: -2300 feet

Ski north down the main bowl and gradually curve to the northeast for a total of 1.0 mile until you reach a distinct flat area (5). In this section it is important that you avoid the cliffs on the east (right) side of the bowl.

Miles: 3.7 - 4.1
Elevation change: -450 feet

Descend to the east end of the flat area and then ski slightly south of east for 0.4 mile until you reach a creek (6).

Miles: 4.1 - 4.5
Elevation change: -150 feet

Ski east for 0.4 mile until you reach the creek that drains Floating Island Lake (7).

Miles: 4.5 - 5.4
Elevation change: -250 feet

Ski north, eventually on a ridge, for a total of 0.9 mile until you are near the end of the ridge (8).

Miles: 5.4 - 5.9
Elevation change: -300 feet

Leave the ridge and ski northeast for 0.5 mile until you reach the parking area on Highway 89 (9).

Elevation Profile
Elevation profile
Link to elevation profile
Link to waypoint data
Link to full page map
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