Donner Pass


Menacing weather at Squaw Valley

Day 87: (17 miles)
mile 1137 – 1155

The wind howled all night as it rained periodically.  The alarm goes off at 0530…it’s still raining, thus no reason to leave a perfectly dry tent, even if it is to slog our way into town, so back to sleep we go.  We awake an hour or so later, and the rain is barely audible.  It is only when the wins gusts that pellets of water blast the top of our tent.  We reluctantly rise and begin to pack in tight quarters.  Truckee will not come to us today, so we must exit our synthetic cave.  When we exit, we are enclosed in the rain gear we have carried since Day One (with the exception of the week we left our rain gear at home to “reduce weight” and almost learned the hard way in Big Bear, that it is better to carry that kind of “weight”).  It’s not so much as raining as it is misting.  It appears that the cloud has actually parked itself in the valley and plans to linger, at least until we walk completely through and hopefully out of it.  Pack covers to keep the contents of packs dry.  Check.  Rain pants and jackets to keep our bodies dry.  Check.  Galoshes to keep our feet dry and warm…ah, NO.  Today we will be walking in personal puddles that refill all on their own with the help of water saturated vegetation we brush up against and our rain pants that ensure all water repelled from our pants funnels directly onto and through the mesh of our shoes.  With each step water and bubbles ooze from the sides of our shoes.  Walk ’em warm and walk ’em dry never had such a purposeful meaning.  We walk through lush green vegetation and begin a slow climb out of the valley.  We decide to invoke the “glass is half full” perspective and comment that were it not for the rain, we would definitely be fighting off hordes of flying piranhas.  It may not be a silver lining, but aluminum will do.  A large buck runs across our path in front of us.  Cool.  The sun teases us as it peaks out and shines on us in chaotic intervals as we climb higher toward the peaks of the Squaw Valley ski area.  We eventually walk out of the wetness, but the sky continues to menace us with its dark and plentiful thunder clouds.  Paul decides to tempt fate and changes out of his rain gear.  I am noncommittal and remove the rain jacket that has, in all reality, outlived its usefulness (and needs to be replaced), but keep the rain pants on. 


The hillsides are covered with mule ears in full bloom. The sun comes out full force and we hit a thermalcline that makes me regret the rain pants.  They feel like those sauna pants that wrestlers wear to drop weight, and are probably having the same effect.  I almost cave, and take the time to remove them, when we turn the corner and whoosh!  Wind.  Big. Freezing wind! 


We curse the wind and then remember, ah yes, another summit ridge to traverse.  It just wouldn’t be the same without staggering gale force winds.  I’m pretty sure Mother Nature and Mr. Murphy have designed this as a reminder to us that they are still accompanying us on the trail.  Towards the last part of our trek toward Donner Pass, we are in search of the Benson Ski Hut.  Yogi’s guide says it’s hard to find, but we find it and take the time to explore. 


Benson Ski Hut


The "out house"

It was built in 1964 and is pretty cool.  It would, and probably has provided great comfort and protection from the elements for those who know of its existence and location.  We continue to Donner Pass and come upon one of the metal markers that Dori had been telling us about that are placed along the Mormon Emigrant Trail. 


Each of these markers have a quote of sorts from journals kept by the Mormon pioneers describing the significance of the site.  This one had to do with how they used oxen, a roller and 400 ft of chain to raise their wagons up a vertical cliff so they could get to the valley on the other side.  These people were amazing.  We still can’t help but wonder how they got and/or decided on 400 ft of chain.  Within a mile or so we run into a father and young son who are headed down the trail.  The father proudly exclaims that his son made it all the way to the peak (Mt. Judah).  Cool we say.  It’s a pretty good trek for a youngster like him.  The father asks us where we came from.  Paul asks, today?  “Yes. Where did you begin?”, is the reply.  ‘Mexico’, Paul responds.  The father laughs…smart ass he’s probably thinking.  Paul then explains how we are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and that is the trail they are on as well.  The father, intrigued, listens and asks more questions.  Paul tells him, as I sit on a rock and rest my sore feet, that we are on our way into Truckee for a resupply and a day off from walking…all day.  Turns out that the father, who’s name we later learn is Elan, is a native of Israel, in dental school in San Francisco (same one our dentist went to), and an avid hiker.  He offers to take us to Truckee, if we don’t mind squeezing in with his family (wife and daughter are already at the car).  We have no problem squeezing, we tell him.  As always, the last mile or two is the most grueling (this was nothing but large uneven rock steps or simply “organized ” rubble all the way to the bottom).  When we get to the parking lot Elan is making room in his trunk for our packs.  We meet his family and squeeze in.  Elan’s wife thinks we are “crazy…but in a good way”.  We agree with her.  During the drive, Elan shares with us some of his hikes to out of the way archeological sites in his homeland of Israel.  This peaks our interest for a possible future trip. They drop us off at our hotel. 


We thank them profusely and exchange phone numbers.  We tell Elan and his family that if they ever have the opportunity to visit So Cal, to give us a call…but after September of course.  We go to check into our hotel and discover there are no vacancies.  We didn’t think to make a reservation, nor did we know that the Western States 100 and another sporting event are this weekend.  The attendant apologizes (she tells us usually they aren’t full) but hooks us up with another hotel, the Truckee Donner Lodge (“its better” she whispers, “they have a jacuzzi”).  She calls us a cab, as Elan and his family are already on the road to South Lake Tahoe for more sightseeing.  For a nominal fee the cab transports us to the lodge.  We have learned that it is “Truckee Thursdays “, which means that in the historical downtown area they close off the streets for vendors, good food, music and a beer garden.  We tell the cab driver that we will call him to take us downtown after a quick shower.  While the cab fares we paid to get down there and back were a little pricey, it was better than walking, and worth the experience.  We’d do it again.

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3 Responses to Donner Pass

  1. BeeKeeper says:

    I’m jealous you found the Benson Lodge. I have quite the story to share with you about my experience. My longest hiking day and miles to date as a result of this misadventure.

  2. Quinton says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I seriously believe that this amazing site needs much more attention.
    I’ll probably be back again to read through more, thanks for the advice!

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