Donner Pass & The End, July 18

Day 77

Start – Mile 1137, 7am 

End – Donner Pass, Mile 1153, 4pm

Miles – 16

Another beautiful day on the trail.  The morning started out with a climb up from a low meadow, where I crossed the American River, but at this elevation its not much more than a small creek.

After that I entered the Granite Chief Wilderness and came up and over a ridge that took me under one of the ski lifts at Squaw Valley.  From that vantage I could see over to where the Squaw high camp is, where they have a lot of summertime activities like mountain biking.  As is typical of areas around Tahoe where day hikers are prevalent, I got to see a couple dog hikers as well, which is usually a treat.  

After passing through Squaw I made my way up another ridge past a rock formation called Tinker Knob.  Along the way the views were pretty well obscured by the smoke from the fire near Yosemite, the same situation as the day before trying to look out over the Lake.  But today the smoke was thicker and I could actually smell it.  Once I got up to the top of Tinker Knob, it was similar to the approach into Sonora in that the trail runs along a ridgeline with views in both directions.  In this case, smoky views in both directions, but it was still a nice spot to stop and have lunch and rest my feet.  

As I was starting up again I met a woman who was hiking from Tuolumne to the Oregon border, because her job affords her summers off.  She works for a non-profit that does outdoor education in Yosemite, so the park’s busy season is their slow season as they can’t get school groups up doing the summer months.  Instead, she’s out hiking about 700 miles of the PCT, which seems like a good use of her time except that she was concerns that her home in El Portal may need to be evacuated due to the fire, so she was understandably preoccupied with that, but still in good spirits considering.  

At the top of the ridge I also got my first glimpse of Donner Pass and Donner Lake.  At this point the pass was only about 3-4 miles up ahead, so I pushed through in hopes of getting there pretty early.  After one more small rise the trail drops down behind Sugar Bowl and I passed under another chair lift, this time with a man doing some maintenance on the lift right above the trail.  After a couple miles of switchbacks made up of loose rock, I emerged from the trailhead at Donner and made my way the short distance to Donner Ski Ranch to get a burger.  A few of the hikers I’ve met over the past few days were there also, and they do offer some accommodations in a bunk house if you want to stay at Donner, but I had heard about a better option up the road and set out to stay the night at the Claire Tappaan Lodge, owned by the Sierra Club.  

Claire Tappaan is the largest of the Sierra Club’s wilderness lodges, they also have four back country huts that you can use for cross country skiing or snow shoeing, but Claire Tappaan is more full service, with meals and laundry and games, and a hot tub.  The accommodations were still similar to a hostel, but the experience was far removed from my time in South Tahoe.  I shared the men’s dorm with two other guys, though it fits 10, and was able to get a shower before dinner, which is served family style in a small dining room.  Guests are encouraged to sign up for chores, so the dining room is set up by guests, and the cleanup is also done by guests.  

The day I was there the main group occupying the lodge was a Grandparent/Grandkid group of about 20 people.  So the little kids were all taking care of serving the food and putting out the dish wear, before undertaking a game of hide and seek that overtook the entire lodge.

The past week has felt great to be back on the trail, in most ways.  Unfortunately, my feet are not one of them.  Despite taking a break at Sonora to rest up for Northern California, I have found that once back on the trail my feet are immediately in pain again.  I can usually go a few hours in the morning but by mid-day my feet, legs, and increasingly hips are in misery, and hiking is a chore.  I’ve been debating for a few days how long I could give myself to see if things would improve, but they haven’t – if anything the gaps between painful feet and joints have grown smaller, and I’m struggling to get in the miles that I expected would come easier after getting through the high Sierra.  

Coming back on trail I had intended to finish out California, but its become apparent that, while I may be able to force myself to complete the additional 550 miles that would require, doing so is going to be slow, painful, and not enjoyable.  I’ve enjoyed this trip so much (despite my sore, blistered feet) that I don’t want it to become a miserable experience, and I’ve noticed that I’m staying in my tent longer in the mornings to delay having to get up and hike.  So that’s a bad sign.  

Because of that, I have decided that Donner Pass will be as far as I make it this trip – 1153 miles from where I started back in Campo.  I’m pretty disappointed that I didn’t at least finish the state, and know that while I can go back and finish it in sections, it won’t be quite the same as the unified, shared experience that doing the whole thing at once with a good group of friends would have been.  So I’ll be watching my old trail family as they progress up the trail and hope they all make it to Canada without me.  

For me, its back to the Bay Area and on to figure out what comes next after this great experience.  But this will be hard to top.  

(End of the Line)

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