Clean-air Adventure Series: South Lake Tahoe

The “adventures-in-clean-air” series continues.

Big-city life has its advantages and benefits but it also has its drawbacks. So, it is with the last in mind, that there are times when the part of us that longs to be in the great outdoors, wants to get away to, the great outdoors. This impulse, motive force, urging, apparently it’s imprinted in our DNA.

Today, I’m more reserved. But, some 40 years ago, an entirely different story. Raring to go without the slightest hesitation, I was out the door in a flash. And, where was I headed? Lake Tahoe: twice, in fact, with but a couple of years separating the two independent trips.

As to Tahoe visit number 2, at the urging of one of my co-workers (and the very same I just so happened to rent a San Francisco Bay Area-based apartment with), he asked me if I wanted to spend three days of backpacking and overnighting in the South Lake Tahoe backcountry in the area around Fallen Leaf Lake.

Lake Tahoe as seen from space

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I responded in the affirmative. I was already something of a veteran outdoorsperson, having biked my way (here again, a 3-day outing) from Oakland to San Luis Obispo a scant two years earlier on, for the majority of the ride, California State Route 1, with overnight stays at New Brighton State Beach and Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park.

The Tahoe camping trip would be a first in the sense that the two of us would be well off the beaten path and that people encountered along the way would be few and far between. At the same time, it wasn’t like we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We knew, exactly.

Off the hook

Mount Tallac

Upon our arriving and the world familiar to us now seemingly a world behind in, coincidentally, Mountain View, a town nearer the coast, the place from whence we came could in no way hold a candle “mountain-view”-wise to the northern Sierra attraction. For you see, the mountains in and around the South Lake Tahoe region, that, plus the star-studded nighttime skies, what with the occasional shooting star thrown in for good measure, was, well, need I say more?

So, my co-worker parked his vehicle at a designated site for such. We unloaded our gear and set about on foot to try to find that perfect campsite. Since it was sometime in the afternoon when we found that ideal spot, we set up camp and perched ourselves on some flat rocks around a lake, the name of which escapes me. Getting out the fishing gear, we had this brilliant idea to try our hands at fishing.

We brought with us bait – salmon eggs – and plenty of it. That each of us was stocked with a healthy supply, mattered not, for no matter how many such eggs were baited, the outcome was the same, nothing biting.

So, as not to be for naught and be a total loss, there was this pesky fly buzzing about me. All I needed to do was snatch the insect from the air, place it on my hook, cast my line and wait. Sure enough, it wasn’t but a few seconds later that I got a bite! A bite is a bite, but, a catch? Not quite. As fate (luck) had it, while reeling my prized catch in, it somehow managed to get free.

Of course, it goes without saying that I never heard the end of it about how our dinner got away. Yeah, but, think about it: Had the fresh-water creature been snagged, bagged and eaten, the thrill of the catch notwithstanding, what’s special about that?! At least this way, I can tell of my “missed-fish” escapades.

Accepting the regrettable loss and moving past that, preparations were made to settle in for the night. The day following was to include a hike up to Lake Aloha located much higher up in elevation and with that yet another, dare I say, chance to do more fishing?

Creature ‘un’-comforts

In sleeping out of doors in the company of wilderness critters, expect the unexpected to happen and it did, I’ll be the first to tell you. It’s one thing to forgo a fish supper that we were most looking forward to. But, during the overnight hours to have something creep out of the forest, visit your campsite and scratch at your head, well, it’s enough to shiver anyone’s timbers, the most seasoned camper included. That it happened to my co-worker his reaction was highly warranted.

Among the possessions we brought along, was a flashlight. Speaking of which, in my then semi-conscious state, it was all I could do just to locate the thing having to fumble around in the dark to try and find it, and by the time I did that, the curious critter, whatever it was, was nowhere to be found. But it sure did give us a scare because the first thing you think of is: bear!

Vowing not to let that happen again, on night two while the other slept each of us took turns keeping watch.

At sun up, we chowed down, gathered our things, and moved on, climbing in altitude until we reached our next destination – Lake Aloha. The second and last attempt at fishing there, like the time before, proved fruitless. We both agreed that we were just too high up and the lake temperature was too cold to support fish life.

So, in admitting defeat – reluctantly, it was back down to the previous site and where we slept the second night also.

Our plan to keep watch apparently paid off as there were nary any more critter encounters. As for catching, keeping and cooking a fish, well, you know what they say: better luck next time. And, so it would have to be.


It is fun reminiscing about times like these, this sort of thing. And, this really was an adventure, especially considering that surprise visit by of all things a scalp-inspecting varmint the genus of which will forever remain a mystery.

If my then co-worker and I were looking for something to talk about on the ride home, we should have had absolutely no trouble at all finding that something.

I mean, after all there was that one fishing foul-up that I’m sure at the time should have been enough of a conversation-generator to keep talk about it going for hours, don’t you think? That and the head-scratching encounter that had the potential to fill out the remainder of time engaged in friendly banter.

It is stuff like this that makes these types of adventures the adventures they are. You see what I mean, I’m still talking about it.

Next in line: Yosemite exploring.

Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe

Image credits: NASA (upper); Jesse Bexten (middle); Bob Gries (lower)

Leave a Comment