My trip to Donner Lake (close to Lake Tahoe)
I started on a Saturday in the morning. It was sunny and warm (like 65 degree Fahrenheit/18 degree Celsius) in Lodi when I left and I couldn’t imagine that I would stay on top of 10 feet/3m high snow after only 2 hours drive.
Even half an hour before destination I couldn’t see any snow. And then, out of nothing, huge white walls appeared next to the road.
I stopped at a small grocery store, rented a pair of snow shoes and drove to a small parking lot. I didn’t hesitate, grabbed all my camera equipment, 1 gallon of water, lunch and other stuff and started my trip on top of the Donner Peak, a mountain with a great view over the whole area.
The ski area was a few miles away, thus I had the whole mountain almost on my own. I just met about 5 people on my whole trip.
I had to walk down a hill and cross a road before I could start climbing up Donner Peak. You don’t realize that there are several meters of snow under you, while walking on it. Only when you see the actual ground, like crossing a street, you actually recognize how tall the white layer is. Well, there is another situation, where you could recognize it: passing power lines. I was walking across a wide meadow when I suddenly stood in front of power lines! The cables were in in my head’s height, since most of the electricity pylon was under the snow! I don’t know how skiers and snowboarders see those thin lines while driving down the hill with high speed! They would directly drive into the power lines! Nevertheless, I crawled under the power lines and proceeded my trip.
It sometimes was quite steep and difficult to go on, since I was sliding back half a step every time. And there were no tracks I could follow. Only a few old traces of skiers. I just followed my nose across country. The only advice I had to consider, was to avoid trees. You don’t see how deep the snow is next to them and due to all the branches it’s soft and easy to fall in the deep hole around the tree. You might think that you could climb up the tree again, but you would more likely bury yourself in snow while trying this and consequently die.
Nevertheless, I arrived on top of the mountain at about 3pm. Still too much time until the sun would set. I decided to climb on the next peak and arrived there after 2 hours. I found a deactivated elevator on the other side of the mountain with a little booth for the staff. Empty and unlocked.
It was surprisingly warm inside and had a chair inside. I had a perfect view over the whole valley and the sun disappearing behind the mountains. I have never seen a more picturesque scene ever! It was marvelous, as you can see on the picture and I enjoyed the silence and solitude.
In the moment the sun were gone, a quite obvious thought came to my mind, after I tried not thinking about it all the time: the way back. I spent about 7 hours to get there and the shortest way back wasn’t the same I came from, since I climbed on Donner Peak before. That meant that I had to find a new way back in the dark, only armed with a flashlight.
I couldn’t stay and had to get back somehow. The beautiful landscape was a weird contrast to my creepy situation. A foreign country, completely alone in the wildness, only a cheap flashlight in the forest in the night, with no clue about wild animals (black bears and mountain lions do live here), trees as life-threatening traps everywhere and only an assumption how to get back.
You won’t believe how fast you can walk with snow shoes in moments like this. I saw different shapes in the dark shadows, but nothing attacked me and I made my way back step by step.
I wasn’t sure if I was on the right way when I suddenly saw a familiar thing in my flashlight ray: the power lines! They were even deeper this time, thus I had to lay on the floor and crawl on all fours to pass them.
I finally arrived at my car and heated up a can of soup, inflated my air mattress in my car and fell asleep.
I woke up at 5.30am to take pictures of the sunrise. I recognized that my car’s windows were frozen from the inside due to the humidity of my breath and and my clothes were extremely wet and cold. I have actually planned to see Lake Tahoe on this day, but I decided to go back home after I realized that I had an extreme sunburn! I totally forgot how much snow reflects the sun!
I arrived in Lodi at 11am and could relax after my little adventure.