Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Snowshoeing at Donner Pass

Unlike everyone else in the Bay Area, it seems, I'm not a skier, and I don't think I ever will be. Instead, my favorite winter activity for the past few years has been snowshoeing. I must be in good company too, since snowshoeing is reportedly the fastest growing winter sport.Now that I own my own pair of snowshoes I'm inclined to go more often, although it's sometimes hard to find time in my already busy weekends.

Since President's Day weekend was a holiday weekend for me, and since we had just had a strong storm roll through dropping several feet of fresh snow, I was determined to head up to mountains. My initial plan was to try to do a winter ascent of Mt. Lassen, but the conditions from the recent storm made the idea seem a little risky. Making it to the top and back in one day with having to break trail in deep powder seemed a bit too extreme, even for me. The Lassen visitor's center was closed in the days leading up to the weekend because of the storm so I wasn't able to get any current trail conditions, and I didn't even know if the road to the park had been plowed. I decided to shelve this plan and return to it at a later date.

My backup plan was to do some shorter snowshoeing around the Donner Pass area. I learned that Brent was also planning something similar, so we coordinated to head up together. His cousins' families had rented a nearby cabin where we would be able to spend the night, which worked out great. Brent and I had snowshoed near Donner pass before, on a trip to the Peter Grubb Hut and to Castle Peak. I wanted to try out a different hike on this trip so I picked a loop route on the ridge along the south side of Donner Lake. The entire loop was about 9 miles. Since we weren't able to start until the afternoon we knew we wouldn't be able to finish the whole route before it got too late, and planned to just go as far up along the ridge as we could reasonably get and then turn around and retrace our steps to get back the car before it got dark. We followed existing tracks up the ridge and saw only a few other snowshoers and a few adventureous snowboarders on the route. After a while the tracks ended and we had to start breaking the trail ourselves, which was hard work in the deep snow. Even with the snowshoes I'd sink down a foot or more into the snow with each step. This slowed our progress considerably. Soon we found ourselves in a dense thicket of trees which became more and more impenetrable the further we went. The trees made it difficult to continue, or even to tell which way to continue. That was about our turnaround time anyway, so we turned back the way we came. Although we had only been out a few hours, we were both wiped out for the rest of the day, and spent the evening refueling with pizza and watching the first DVD of 'The Wire' with Brent's cousins' families.

GPS Track of Day One here

On Monday we planned a shorter snowshoe hike before heading back to the Bay Area -- a short, but steep hike to the top of Donner Peak. Despite a few navigational difficulties (mine) we made it to the top, where I discovered I had cell phone reception after I got a call about rescheduling a physical therapy appointment. (Obligatory snarky iPhone remark: Funny how I often can't get AT&T service in San Francisco, but I can at the top of a mountain.) We called it a day after that and headed west on the 80 hoping to beat the rush of weekend traffic returning from Tahoe. We stopped long enough in Fairfax for some lunch. Since I can never pass up eating something exotic I had the yak burger, but I'm not sure I'd order it a second time.

GPS Track of Day Two here

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