A Little Bit Closer to Heaven? 10/17/12

I love Indian Summer:  Sweet warm days, cool fresh nights.  Days with brilliant azure skies.  Wednesday was one of those days -- it was way too fine outdoors to stay inside.  We packed a hearty picnic lunch and took off "up the hill" to Donner Pass Road and one of the best hikes we've ever done:   Donner Summit Pass.  At this elevation, we took it easy, especially when climbing; the hike is only three miles R/T, but throw in our usual lot of sidetracks and backtracks and our trek ended up being longer.  The colors in this rarefied air were outstanding; quaking aspens were decked out in dazzling yellow and local grasses and shrubs had metamorphosed into a hundred shades of scarlet, orange and yellow.  

Our hike would take us along the route where people have crossed the Sierra Nevada for thousands of years - by foot, wagon, car and train (and plenty of bicyclists today!).  We saw petroglyphs; a massive "China" wall built for the Central Pacific RR by approx 12,000 Chinese laborers - in its race east to meet up with the Union Pacific RR in Promontory Summit, Utah (the first transcontinental railroad); walked thru RR snow sheds and tunnels; clambered over granite slabs on the Pacific Crest Trail; past a small pond to a vista overlooking Donner Lake; backpedaling to Lake Angela, and finally down a switchback trail to the car parked at Rainbow Bridge.  What a singular day!

Self explanatory signs!

One of several rock people we spotted.

Setting off on granite slabs.

Arrow points to the China Wall.

Jimmy leaning on the China Wall.

One part of a "snow shed" with the RR tunnel in the distance.

Entering the tunnel.  Don't worry - the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train.  It's the end of the tunnel!  Not sure exactly how long the tunnel was (guess 1/4 mile), but we both used lights.  (Is it art or is it graffiti?)

China Wall across the valley.

Beautiful Donner Lake vista.

Switchback trail seen in the distance.

Spotted this curious fire ring off the beaten path.

Lake Angela - a reservoir.  Low water, waiting for winter snows.

Fantastic juniper trees, twisted and shaped by brutal winter winds and snows.

Mixed conifers and aspens are pleasing to see.  On another part of the trail, Jimmy perches on a juniper root.

Red arrow points to the China Wall opposite.  We were awed by the size of this Jeffrey pine.

A bit of history for those who want it.  Enlarge the picture to read it easier.

We hear that winter snows in these parts aren't far away - though snow can fall in any month of the year at this elevation, the snows usually begin in late October.  Then this wonderful landscape will be transformed into a winter wonderland.  Picture postcard perfect!  


  1. Awright, then, next time we're there we do this trail! K?

  2. What a great hike! In all the years passing over 80 and seeing Donner, I have never managed to do this hike. Thanks for the photos. Lovely.

  3. A singular day for sure! Did you know ahead of time to bring lights, or do you normally tote them when on a hike?

    1. Judy - we knew ahead of time to bring lights (internet info). Don't normally tote them around.


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