Tahoe Donner Snowshoe Running

Left my friends house in Verdi, Nevada at 7 AM, where it was chilly 2 degrees. All of my bottles of water in the car were frozen solid. I headed up to Tahoe Donner ski area to meet up with Helen from the Donner Party Mountain Runners. From there we carpooled up the hill to start our run for the morning.

It was a nice straight run, a couple of rolling hills to get up which made me gasp for air early on. Helen came back to check on me as I was bringing up the rear of the group. The 5° temperatures made your nose and lungs burn a little bit until you got used to the cold air. Except for that, the conditions were flawless, not a cloud in sight, snowshoe running on a perfectly groomed trail. I got about half to three quarters of the way until I stopped wait up for the group to double back. Ran with Helen a little bit more, and then we all met up at the house for some hot cider and a warm fireplace.

Though it’s still the 31st, I’ll call it a great start for the New Year.

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Christmas Eve Snowshoeing at Royal Gorge

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Had so much fun last week, and we had a storm since, I headed back up to Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski area for more snowshoeing. What I didn’t expect, the snow on the trees from last week and the storm melted already by the time I got back up. Plenty on the ground, with beautiful blue skies, I started out down the Yuba Trail. I had to make a few of my own tracks though in some large mounds of untouched powder…well, untouched until I got there.

I did test my next step each time I trotted out into the ungroomed snow. (Prod ahead with your poles to make sure that there are no holes or branches you could fall into or get your foot caught on) Once back on the groomed portion, I tried to pick up my pace a bit and run in my snowshoes. A couple of trips to start out, but got the form and the pace quickly. With the altitude it didn’t last long before resuming my walking pace. Always takes me a few miles to get my legs and my wind before I’m good to go.

From Yuba, I picked up Sidewinder, went down Fast Draw to Hawk’s Run (both snowshoe trails, but had not been groomed yet, so it was a little slow going but great to be in the powder!) Finally back to Sidewinder, I took a right on Sleigh Ride, a large wide open area, well groomed that follows the power lines down the hill.

Arriving at a crossroads for several trails, (Palisade, Stagecoach, Snow Mountain and Hi Jinx) I took a short jog to the right then quick left to pick up the Maintenance Road. It had crusted over after the Snowcat was over it, so it was a little crunchy to walk on. It did provide some beautiful, untouched areas with up close views of small streams flowing through the snow and under the road. I was the only one around, so I took my time about getting back on track to the groomed areas. I will get an earlier jump on the trails next time so I can get down Stage Coach, a long and scenic trail passing close to Deer Lake.

Back on Palisade Trail now, I walked as far as Killy’s Cruise, taking me back to Lyle’s Lookout where I was the week before. This time, the views were more beautiful as the skies were clear and blue with no impending storm clouds. Someone had made a small snowman I called”Lyle” and had to take a selfie of us before leaving. The sun was getting lower in the sky pretty early now, with sunset at 16:41. It was already 15:00 (3 pm), and time for me to start making tracks for the Summit Station. It was getting pretty chilly and crusty in the shaded areas of the trail. Met some nice folks to chat with at Palisade and Rodney’s Run.

There was a nice, snow-covered pile of logs that was very picturesque and I had to take the photo opportunity while I had it. Palisade took me all the way back to the Summit Station, but it was just too nice to leave yet. I took off my snowshoes and sat in a big mound of snow and ate my crunchy apple, and sipped my cold bottle of carrot juice. The view, breathing in the cold fresh air and the solitude of being back in the mountains reminded me of several of the many sayings of John Muir…

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”
― John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

“Going to the mountains is going home.”
― John Muir

See you soon on my next adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort – Snowshoeing

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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With 8.5″+ of rain in the north bay area of Marin County, it was time to head for the mountains and be the first to make my tracks in some fresh powder. The storms that dropped snow in the Sierra’s were mostly at higher elevations, near Donner Summit. Lake Tahoe level did not get any of the moisture as snow, but mostly rain.

Last October I rode my bike past the Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski area, just past Soda Springs Ski Resort. Royal Gorge caters to Cross Country Skiers and snowshoer’s, with groomed and virgin snow trails to spend the day on. The terrain features gentle rolling trails, with some that would have you gasping by the time you made the summit of the trail. There are no ski lifts here to rely on to get up the hill, only your lungs and raw leg power. You won’t find any snowboarders here either, only those that are looking for some back country peace and quiet, and hard-core cross country athletes out for an intense workout.

For those of you that may wonder if you can snowshoe or not…if you can walk, you can be snowshoeing in less than 10 minutes. It doesn’t really require a learning curve or much special equipment or clothing like skiing does.  Most of your equipment you can rent from the resort or REI and other sporting goods stores. I will make a list of recommended items to bring for safety and comfort and convenience at the end of this post.

From Highway 80 driving East, take the Exit number 174, Soda Spring Exit. Follow the sign to Royal Gorge, just beyond the Soda Springs Ski area. The resort opens at 08:30 am and closes at 4:00 pm daily. You can get a slight discount if you start your day after 1:00 pm. Seniors do get a small discount, but not worth mentioning.

Since they had only been open for one day for the season, not all of the trails had been groomed for use. There are several snowshoe only trails, but they were not ready for the season. You can use the ski trails if you stay to the right of the trail and out of the ski tracks in use. I met a lady that was local to the area on snowshoes as well, and I just made friends with her and chatted while we walked along the trail.

The route we took was down James Joy to Killy’s Cruise and out to Lyle’s Lookout. From there a panorama opened up to see Devil’s Peak and the Royal Gorge to the southwest.

Dark storm clouds were also looming in the distance to the southwest, so we took our photos and rejoined the trail at Crosscut and Palisade Trails. From there we parted ways and I took the maintenance road returning to the lodge and parking lot. Along the way were gorgeous wintery scenes looking like picture postcards everywhere I looked. The snow piled up so deep on the branches of the pine and fir tree, I don’t know how they didn’t break.

Being an aspiring trail runner, I can run 10 to 15 miles at sea level no problem. But now at altitude again, wearing clumsy snowshoes, I will barely make 2 miles today when I’m done. Snowshoeing is a very aerobic sport, and you will be exerting a lot of energy and getting quite warm. Make sure to dress in layers, so that you can remove a layer or two when you work up a sweat, then put them back on when you stop for a rest.

The snow was quite fluffy, and the new deep powder was calling my name to venture out and make my own trail.This is where a word of caution is needed. With new snow, the dangers of skier provoked avalanches are probable. So before you get too adventurous, arm yourself with a little knowledge, free of charge.

The Sierra Avalanche Center evaluates areas for avalanche danger and posts it to their website. The information is invaluable and is free of charge. You can visit the website and learn about avalanche dangers, and classes that are offered in avalanche awareness if you plan on any backcountry trips by yourself or in a group.

Well, the Maintenance Road back to the lodge was quite a workout, as it’s made for the snowcat to use, so a steep incline is not a problem. I was sweating bullets by the time I got to the top, and that was what I wanted. This was a workout day like any other, and I did’t come here for a walk in the park. I wished that I could have stayed longer, but the snow was starting to fall. Soon it would be a white winter wonderland, with slick roads and chain requirements. That is not the fun part of winter travel, so I got back on the highway while I still could.

I will return to Royal Gorge soon, for another day or two’s snowshoeing adventures. Anyone wishing to join me or put a group together to have a snowshoe and picnic day at Royal Gorge, feel free to contact me on this website.

I look forward to seeing you soon, on more adventures in the Tahoe Wilderness.

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