Viewing posts from: October 2013

Just Chute Me – Hiking at Fallen Leaf Lake

by The Aviator

10 15, 2013 | Posted in Recreation | 0 comments

The Chute is a noun specific to Stanford Sierra Conference Center. When staffers come into the staff lounge with Camelbaks and haggard expressions, declaring: “I just did the Chute,” the response is one of respect and approval. Beginning in spring, a perennial waterfall slides down the Chute between Cathedral and Mount Tallac. When the waterfall dries, it leaves a steep rocky path. Hiking the Chute reminds you that even water—fluid and malleable—has the power to erode and transform landscapes.

View of the Chute from Fallen Leaf Lake

View of the Chute from Fallen Leaf Lake

Hiking the Chute is slightly dangerous. The scree can shift under your weight and there is a fair amount of free climbing. Through one section you have to pull yourself up using crevices your hands can feel, but your eyes can’t see. As you lift yourself higher with your arms, your feet push off against solid, smooth stone.
Gracie, Fountain Manager, Climbing the Chute

Gracie, Fountain Manager, Climbing the Chute

Fortunately, my first time up the Chute I went with fall conference staffer Rebecca Duffy (she named this blog post). Rebecca is working her fifth season at Stanford Sierra and has spent many hour traversing the Fallen Leaf Lake area trails. Rebecca loves trail running and describes it as power walking the most direct route up a mountain, then running down it. Rebecca introduced her friend, Kali Kirkendall, to trail running in Montana, then Kali wrote a fun blog post about Rebecca's trail running prowess and fancy free ways in Trail Runner Magazine . When the view is just right and she has free time, Rebecca climbs to her perch halfway up the Chute and writes overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake.
Rebecca's view from her perch

Rebecca's view from her perch

Hiking the Chute feels like climbing into an Escher painting—the angles are so steep and odd.
Two of Rebecca's young trainees climbing the Chute

Two of Rebecca's young trainees climbing the Chute

At the top of the Chute the world falls open below you. Ahead is Fallen Leaf Lake, Lake Tahoe  and the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. To your back are Cathedral peak and Mount Tallac. The beauty of Fallen Leaf Lake alters with the time of day, so every photo is different, yet still breathtaking. Mornings over the lake are gradients of light blues, purples and faint pinks—soft and subdued. On a sunny day, the mountains across from Lake Tahoe are ochre and sap green while the lake is a vibrant and full blue. You can see the wind flicker in wisps of white across the lake—water giving the air shape. I used an app, Strava Run, to track the elevation I gained while climbing the Chute. There is no specific path to the top, so every climb is new with only one constant goal—move up.  My route had a 2,107 foot elevation gain in under a mile.
Harrison Kass climbing the Chute

Harrison Kass climbing the Chute

Michael Kleinman, Jake Wixon-Ganack, Emily Lohmeyer and Harrison Kass joined me for my second Chute ascent. Morgan Marshall, head of housekeeping (HOHO), holds the record for the fastest climb up the Chute with a time of thirty-two minutes. Michael almost beat him that day with a thirty-five minute ascent. Jake and Emily, both athletic and avid hikers moved quickly and were close behind. The Chute feels like a rite of passage here at Stanford Sierra Conference Center. For those who make the climb it becomes an addiction because of its views, intensity and strategy.

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Me climbing the Chute

Me climbing the Chute

It only took one climb for me to experience the magic of the Chute. Already I am planning a day when I can beat my own personal time: 1 hour and 23 minutes. With less than a month left of the fall conference season, my days at Fallen Leaf lake are numbered. But you can bet on the next bright day, when I have a few hours to spare, I will head out on the trail towards Cathedral Peak and start to climb.

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