Down Days on Donner Summit

Who: Julie and whoever wants to come

What: Climbing, biking, skiing

Where: Donner Summit

When: Summertime, wintertime, anytime

Gear: Jacket, Hiking Pants, Climbing Shoes and Gear, North Lake Tahoe Climbing Guide Book, and shoes for all sports

Donner Pass in Truckee is where the West meets the East. It’s the transition between Nevada’s arid high desert and California’s fertile valleys. It stretches across the spine of the Sierra Nevada and it survives some of the most severe weather coming in from the Pacific and heading East. Since the 1800’s — and likely before then — Donner Pass has seen countless travelers traverse from one side to the other and back again. It’s the eye of the needle. It’s also home to limitless recreation.

I’ve spent a lot of summer days on Donner Summit. And a few winter days too. It’s where I find myself passing time, getting strong on the rock or pushing my legs uphill on my bicycle or skiing lake runs. These days are mellow. They’re not epic long days (although that’s not meant to discount the quality of terrain). Donner Summit is a perfect spot for a couple hours, in the day before heading to work a night shift, or in the evening sun burning off energy pent up from sitting at a desk all day.

This summer, I owe my progression in climbing to Donner Summit. It started with a solid couple top roping sessions on the southwestern face of Grouse Slabs. With just a couple ropes, you can access anything from a 5’8 corner to a 5’10 slabby arrette, including one of my favorite 5’9 routes, Greener Pastures, which features a solid undercling move into one of the most perfect lieback cracks ever.

From Grouse, I went to Snowshed and attacked a line that’s intimidated me since I’ve known it’s name: Farewell To Arms. And from Snowshed, I progressed to a place where my head space wanted to be pushed.  Leading: It’s a different game when you are actually climbing at the top of a rope. But Donner Summit, (I love this place!), is the perfect spot to ease into it. Started with the aptly named Kindergarten Crack on School Rock, and graduated to Junior High Crack. Then made the move to Jellyroll Arch. And from there it felt like the sky was the limit — until I found myself off route in ’10a sport climbing territory and fell on my ankle, which has been about the size of a golf ball ever since. I’ve since been humbled to take a week off from climbing. But it won’t be long until I’m back up at Donner Summit, taking a step back, but still getting after it.

Despite what I may say, it’s not all about climbing at Donner Summit. The other night, I found myself sitting on a pier on Donner Lake at midnight. The sky was clear and the Milky Way was a cloudy streak behind the stars. Across the lake, the horizon lit up from lightning in a distant thunder storm. In a split and silent second, the sky flashed as bright as day and then turned night again, like nothing ever happened. I went to sleep and in another hour, a torrential rain hit the roof and thunder clapped the sky.

This is a place named after the worst in humanity — a group of people so desperate they ate each other. But honestly, I find that Donner Summit brings the best out of me.

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
MSRP: $189.

Kuhl Revolvr Pants
MSRP: $68.95

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