Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

Donner Pass to Squaw Valley 2006

On September 16-17, 2006 a group of Talusdancers did a late-season two-day trip (mostly) along the ridge between old Donner Pass (near Sugar Bowl Ski Area) and Squaw Valley.

***Saturday, September 16, 2006

While a few participants had arrived at Tahoe on Friday night (and called back to the Bay Area to report, “It is snowing!”), most of us met at Owen’s place in Concord before 6:00 a.m., meaning that a few of us (like me!) had to get up at 4:00 a.m.

By 6:30 a.m. we were on the road to our rendezvous in the Squaw Valley parking lot, with only a stop for espresso near Auburn to delay us. As we drove over Donner Pass there was about an inch of scattered snow – the first of the season – and it was cold.

After arriving at Squaw and making arrangements to leave a couple cars overnight, we put 8 people and gear into two other cars and headed back to the Truckee area, from where we drove around Donner Lake and up old Hiway 40 to the trailhead for the southbound Pacific Crest Trail. With little delay we emptied the cars, applied sunscreen, and started up the trail, passing across more of the past night’s snow.

After climbing past the boundaries of Sugar Bowl, the trail began to follow the crest of the Sierra along a high ridge composed of old volcanic rock mixed with sections of gravel and covered by vast fields of Mule-Ears plants going brown at the end of the season. It never got very warm and it was occasionally quite windy on this ridge. We traversed the ridge for some miles before crossing the northwest face of Tinker Knob and then dropping down along its southwestern side to finally arrive at a small flat with some water where we set up camp for the night. (Note: until this point there was no water on the route.) The total hike was probably about 9 miles.

Early in the evening it seemed like it was going to be a very cold night as the wind came up strongly before sundown. However, it never got as cold as we expected, perhaps dropping only to near freezing.

***Sunday, September 17, 2006

It was still windy in the morning, and the fact that a tall ridge blocked the morning sun convinced most of us to stay in our tents and bivy sacks quite late. It was nearly 8:00 a.m. before most of us were up. After breakfast and packing we headed south on the PCT, at first continuing the descent into the upper drainage of the American River.

Before long we passed the bottom of the canyon and began to climb to the next ridge – a steady but not overly-steep climb. After topping this ridge we could see across the canyon to Squaw Valley, which now seemed to be not very far away. We passed a trailhead for the route straight down to the Village (which would have taken us back to espresso in about a mile and a half) and continued on the PCT towards the backside of Squaw Valley. We finally crossed a ridge before the meadows and brushy area behind the main ridge of Squaw. Most of the group ascended steeply to the ridge to cross into the ski area, while a couple of us thought we might find an easier way by traversing around to the left of the main ridge. (We were soon disabused of that notion!)

We reconvened on the other side of the ridge and walked (which seemed strange to those who have only skied this slope in the past) down to the Upper Lodge at Squaw where we invested in shower and spa passes, getting cleaned up and relaxing before taking the gondola down to the Village to conclude the trip.

Well, almost conclude – there was still time to head to Tahoe City for burgers at the Bridge Tender before returning to our cars back at the start of the trip and heading home.

– Dan
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September 18, 2006 - Posted by | Commentary

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