Sunday, January 13, 2008

08Jan12 – Donner Summit

We arrived at Donner summit on Friday, the night after a horrific freezing rain storm. This storm had come on the heels of two other storm systems that had deposited over 7 feet of fresh snow at this elevation. The mountains were covered with a bullet proof glaze of ice on top of a rapidly consolidating blanket of “Sierra cement”. Ahhh – just the right conditions for a delightful ski tour.

We spent Friday exploring an atypically quiet corner of Donner pass – a left over piece of back country sandwiched by Boreal Ski resort and Donner Ski ranch. We parked at the Norden snow park permit area – at the very end of the road and followed map and compass along the lake dotted rim of terrain that buffers the development near Donner summit from the plummet down to Donner lake. It was quiet, and beautiful, and very very slippery.

We stayed at the rustic Rainbow Lodge – near Rainbow road off of Rt. 80. This lodge was built in the 20’s with hand hewn lumber and granite blocks. Much of the charm and character remains in this steep roofed sturdy building by the banks of the frozen Yuba river. The rooms are small, with shared baths down the hall – but if you close your eyes to the electric lights, you can imagine the visitors here long ago carried by horse and early automobiles. The lobby and restaurant have posted a very interesting collection of vintage photographs of the early recreational days in this region. The prices are reasonable and include a great hearty breakfast with the room prices.

Saturday we opted for a trail pass at Royal Gorge Nordic center, parked at the far end near the Ice Lakes Lodge, and ventured out to Point Moria where we got a marvelous view of Snow peak and the rapidly retreating storm system. We saw two funnel clouds form, the dissipate. As is our usual style, we ventured off trail and followed some of the older, but abandoned trails at this end of the trail system, following the old Sterling Canyon trail, and traveling back country to the summit of Mt Rowtin (Lola’s look-out) thus avoiding the overly packed and somewhat icy trail. From there, we got great views of the east face of Mt. Lincoln (SugarBowl) and I hope to use this photo for planning a spring time decent along the south west ridge.

Sunday, we ventured backcountry right behind the Rainbow lodge and climbed south and east, over the Union Pacific train tracks in search of the abandoned “Rainbow Lodge Interconnect trail”. What a treat this area presented with absolutely no other people, and wonderful ski touring terrain. The heavy snowfall had covered most of the stream crossings, and two days of temperatures above freezing had softened the surface to a consistent corn. Our hope was to climb to a view of Devil’s Peak, but after a few hours, we settled for a sunny meadow above tree line with vast vistas to the south and west. We stumbled onto a long ago abandoned piece of marked trail that led us to Lake Loch Levin where a sign proudly pronounced – this is the end of the marked trail. Duh! From there we took our compass heading and followed the rolling terrain 2 ½ hours back down into and through the forest back to the lodge.

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