Sierra Crest 30k Preview and Race – Donner Ridge to Donner Summit

This time I’m on my way to Tahoe-Donner to preview a trail race I entered for August 8. I volunteered to preview a portion of the course at the request of Race Director Megan and “AB” from Tahoe Mountain Sports in Truckee. “AB” fitted me with a GoPro camera on my chest to record some “action videos” and pics of the trail, to promote the inaugural event. I asked my friend Sara to help me with the trip, as the run I was doing was a “point-to-point” run, and I needed her to pick me up at the end. Sara is also a professional photographer, and contributed many pics to this post.

Sierra Crest 30k Preview Run

AB gave me a crash course in operating the GoPro, but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped…or I didn’t remember what he told me as well as I had hoped (I’m sure you can gather which one went wrong). Problem was, I was wearing too many bloody things on my chest already to add one more… luckily I had my own camera and iPhone for back-up, and Sara took some pics with her camera, so we still got some good shots in the end.

The first part of the course started at the Tahoe-Donner Equestrian Center and encompasses the vast Tahoe-Donner trail system, in summer months, mostly horse traffic. We opted to bypass this section in favor of a quicker, shorter, more picturesque section, that of Glacier Way to the Donner Lake Interchange (west-bound offramp for Donner Lake from Interstate 80). This is where Aid Station #2 will be. Trailhead #24 at Glacier Way on Donner Ridge was a beautiful, regional park location for the Aid Station #1 for the run. The pretty park-like sitting is probably used only by locals as there are no toilets or trash receptacles that we could see.

At the trailhead, there was a trail map of the entire system, but more than we cared to digest in the amount of time we had to get it done, and get the camera back to AB before the store closes. I did have  my GPS’s on my iPhone and my new Garmin Epix watch to guide me.

After making it to the ridge and I-80 overlook, there were few choices of trails, so little chance of getting lost. Sara and I ran for about one mile together until we reached the Negro Canyon Overlook Trail sign. From there, she doubled back to the car while I continued on down the hill. On her way back she snapped a picture of a buck grazing, seemingly unfettered by her presence.

At the Negro Canyon sign, I was conflicted as the sign said that the trail ends. I watched a single mountain biker pass me, and I waited for him to turn around or continue on, to see what to do. As he pedaled into the distance, I followed assuming this must be the way.

Finally the trail matched up with my GPS’s, and I was on my way down the trail.

Donner Ridge Preview from Tahoe Marmot on Vimeo.

Switchbacks down face of Donner Ridge from Tahoe Marmot on Vimeo.

I did come to a trail marker for the Donner Lake Rim Trail that was laying on the ground, not instilling a lot of confidence in me. There was a bushwhacked trail next to it, so it was a little confusing which way to go. After a little scouting, I found the correct trail and continued on. This brought me to a 4-way junction, but this time the markers were in their proper place. I followed the trail over the face of Donner Ridge and along the switchbacks, taking in the incredible views and panoramas with both cameras.

I made my way down the mountain in good order. The trail was in great shape but I still took my time getting down, taking in the beautiful day, and the sights and smells of the trail. Sara was picking me up at the Donner Lake Interchange off of Interstate 80, where the Aid Station #2 would be. This part of the course is a perfect 2-4 hour run or hike, with great views and no technical climbing. You would have to plan ahead and have someone pick you up at the Billie Mack Rd. parking area, or leave a car at both ends of the trail.

Sierra Crest 30k and 50k Trail Race Aug. 8, 2015

Now for the day of reckoning, the race itself. Over 70 entrants will be racing two slightly different courses, mostly over common terrain. We will all finish at the Auburn Ski Club’s Lodge at Boreal Ridge near Donner Summit. Race Director Megan Seifert and Glenn Jobe from the Auburn Ski Club put on a well organized, well marked and staffed event for their first attempt. I met several new friends prior to the start, all accomplished trail runners eager to get on the trail as much as I was. Pre-race briefing was on Friday at Tahoe Mountain Sports to get last minute instructions for tomorrow’s start and to pick up my race bib number. On race day morning at 0630 many of us met to take the shuttle bus to the starting line, as this was a point-to-point race, leaving our cars at the finish. We all gathered at the starting line at Tahoe-Donner Cross Country Ski Resort (15275 Alder Creek Rd, Truckee, CA 96161) The 50k runners were off one hour before us in the 30k. Their course took them through the Euer Valley, beautiful, mostly level terrain, making them run an additional 20 km, about 13 miles.

Now it’s time for my group, and we’re off…well they are off like a shot. I’m going to be be gasping for a while, trying to get my heart and lungs accustomed to less oxygen for the next seven to eight hours. I didn’t seem to mind some of the younger folks passing me early on, but when one spry older 74 year old lady left me in the dust, I was a little crest fallen. This first section of the course was previewed by fellow Donner Party Mountain Runner, Jon Murchison, forewarning of the 2,000 feet of climbing in the initial seven miles. The climbing never seemed to end in some spots, but the higher I got, the views steadily became more picturesque as the morning progressed. I was far above the fog that enshrouded Donner Lake and parts of Truckee. The rains from yesterday’s thunderstorms knocked down much of the trail dust, making for ideal trail conditions.

Finally at Aid Station #1 at Glacier Way, where Sara and I scouted out the race two weeks prior. Grabbed some fresh water and electrolyte drink, a few munchies, and off on the section of the trail that we previewed. At least this section, I knew what to expect. Tried to keep up with some of the people I met at the Aid Station, but they were mostly locals and had the altitude jump on me.

I made it to the second aid station at about 12 something, long before the cut-off time…but my most difficult hill was just coming up after that. A gnarly 4×4 road, with ruts as deep as canyons, loose sandy steep footing, and in full sunshine took it’s toll on me. After more climbing back up to the next ridge, another runner in the 50k came from behind and was becoming as weary as I was. It was a relief to have some company on this arduous part of the trail and co-miserate a little. Chris and I became running partners, encouraging each other to finish what we had started. Neither of us had any intention of throwing in the towel, and we had each other’s back on that.

We did take the time for a few selfies at Summit Lake, and enjoyed the view for a few brief moments before getting back into jogging mode. By this time my left knee felt like I had an ice pick jabbing me with every step I took. My running form was now something akin to Festus on Gunsmoke, hobbling down the trail, trying to keep up with Chris and not hold him back any more than necessary.

Not far from Summit Lake, one of the Medic’s on a mountain bike came by, sweeping the course for those of us near the end. I assured him that I was ok and fully intended to finish the race under my own power. After a few more of his check-in’s with me, I thanked him for his concern but that I was becoming increasingly annoyed by his hovering…so carry on, go grab a beer at the end and I’ll be along “whenever” dude! Just before the last aid station, two other runners in the 50k we catching up with us…they were at the back of the pack also, giving it their best and enjoying every minute of it as Chris and I were. One of the guys was wearing a running kilt (a first for me), and the only two other people using trekking poles. We’re finally crossing under Highway 80 now, getting big cheers for the last volunteers on the course (probably they’re just happy that the last guys are finally past and they can go get a beer now and go home). The course for me would have ended at the Auburn Ski Club, but I had given Chris my word that we had come this far together, we were going to cross the finish line together as well. Another 1.5 miles to go, so that Chris could complete his full 50k, tacked on another one and one-half miles for me that felt like five miles. After the last few humps in the road the finish line was in sight, with cones, flags, and ribbons still left up until we crossed. Chris and I had a few pictures of us together along with his 12 year old son…we hope to get copies of the momentous occasion soon from the race people. No one waiting for me at the end…just have to be happy with the fact that I survived and completed what I promised myself I would do, pain or not, I finished the 30k and then some.

R&R after Trail Preview at Donner Lake with Sara

After my run, we headed down to Donner Lake for some lunch and a dip in the cold water. Sara went in, I was too chicken with the icy water…should have in hind-sight. It was still such a beautiful day, and we had a little time to get the camera back to AB at Tahoe Mountain Sports. Found a nice parking spot in the shade and a short hike later to one of the public piers at Donner Lake and we were happy as clams. A few other ladies were the only other ones on the pier and they didn’t mind sharing some of the dock space with us. Sara was brave enough to get into the chilly water, but also seemed happy to get out and sit in the sun after. Never want to leave whenever I am anywhere in Tahoe area. Must say, I am becoming quite found of the Donner Lake and Truckee area as a place to live rather than the hustle and bustle of Lake Tahoe. Still have so many favorite spots around Tahoe though…just adding to my ever-growing long list of favorites.

See you again soon, on my next adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Castle Peak 100 k Briefing with Donner Party Mountain Runners

This trip took me into Verdi, Nevada to stay with friends and then back to Truckee to meet with Lesley and Helen of the Donner Party Mountain Runners, my trail running club. Since I am not able to run 65 miles in one day at my present level of fitness, I wanted to volunteer my help and support for my fellow running club friends. Our event, the Castle Peak 100k, will be held on Saturday, August 29th. (You can find out all the particulars of the event, including route map, length, elevation gain and location of aid stations on the Castle Peak 100k website.)

The finish line for the race ends at Donner Memorial State Park, near Donner Lake. A memorial at the east end of the park is dedicated to the Donner Party that lost many lives, snowbound in Donner/Truckee from November 1846 to February 1847. Hence, the origin of the motto of the Donner Party Mountain Runners – “…FACING THE BRUNT OF FATE; INDOMITABLE, — UNAFRAID.”

No trip to Truckee would be complete without stopping off at my favorite candy store, Mountain Hardware and Sports, the Ace Hardware store on Donner Pass Rd. If I had the money, I’m sure I would not leave there every day of the week without spending at least $300. It has everything you need, and everything you don’t need, but it all looks so good you just got to have it. When I ever get around to decorating my new place up in Truckee someday, this is where I’m going to buy all the things to furnish my house. My dream is to make it look like a trapper’s cabin, but upscale.

Ok, let’s get outside and get some air. I grabbed some fruit and yogurt at Safeway and headed down to Truckee Regional Park to lay out on the grass under the sun and enjoy the beautiful day. The park is just south of downtown Truckee on Brockway Road. There are tennis courts, a baseball diamond, BBQ’s and public bathrooms all at the park. A walk along the access road toward the Truckee River brought me to the Truckee Legacy Trail… a 2.6 mile paved pathway along river for biking, jogging or running your dog, and splashing in the river. A small foot bridge, the East River Bridge connects a parking area at the end of East River St. and the Legacy Trail.

Okay, enough fun on the paved trail, not good for my swollen knee… off to meet up with Lesley at Wild Cherries Coffee House in Truckee for a coffee and talk about the race. At this point it looks like I’ll be helping out with parking at Donner Memorial State Park and helping runners get on shuttle buses to the starting line at Stampede Reservoir. I’ll try to help out wherever I can…should be a great weekend, staying at the campground and talking trail stuff with fellow dirt baggers in the club. Any day spent in the mountains is like heaven to me, so I will truly be a “Happy Camper”.

My trip would not have been complete had I not hiked on a trail and rolled around in some dirt, mud and snow before I came home. A short drive south on Interstate 80 to the Donner Summit Rest Area, I began the trail on the east side of the rest stop. This was the Summit Lake Trail that would intersect with the PCT within ½ mile or so. There was some snow along the trail, much of it melting onto the center of the trail, so I had to bushwhack a little bit to avoid getting too muddy. At the trail junction the PCT northbound to the left, Section L, still had some snow patches that I didn’t care to hike over without spikes on my shoes. I already had a bum knee, I did didn’t need to make it any worse. I took these few pictures and decided to call it a day and get back down off the mountain. I’ll be back in a few weeks anyway, hopefully with my knee better off and less snow to negotiate on the trails.

Thanks for following… until then, I’ll see you next time,

Somewhere in the Tahoe Wilderness

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Brockway Summit East Trailhead to Vista Point

Well this one was truly the Mother of all “out and backs”, as I got on the road at 6:30 am and drove to Donner Summit, and didn’t get home until 11:30 pm. This time I decided to take a road less traveled and got off the freeway in Cisco Grove. I haven’t been in Cisco Grove in a little over a year, previously cycling with my fellow Grizzly Peak Cycling club member Brenda. We biked a loop from downtown Truckee to Cisco Grove and back with several side excursions. This time on Donner Pass Road, I followed along the Yuba River along Highway 80, taking my time, unfettered by speeding traffic on the highway. I passed Soda Springs Ski Resort on Donner Pass Road, all but closed up for the season for the lack of snow. This was the gateway to my usual hang-out at Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Resort. I am certain that it was closed for the season as well. To the south, I passed the Lake Van Norden, A popular kite skiing area when there is snow. A short ways down the road I came to Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, still in operation, but at the time of this writing on March 19, Sugar Bowl has ultimately thrown in the towel for the season as well. Donner Ski Ranch had closed until next season also. It has been a dismal two years for the ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe/Donner and Truckee area, more so for the resorts in the north.

The views were still spectacular as I drove over Donner Pass Summit, overlooking Donner Lake. A virtually cloudless sky and calm winds added to the gorgeous views of Donner Lake. Walking out on one of the public fishing piers, the lack of water in the lake became increasingly obvious. Pier pilings that should have been underwater were high and dry. Luckily, the clarity of the water was unaffected.

It was close enough to lunch time for me so it was time to head to downtown Truckee, for a bite and some good coffee at the CoffeeBar Truckee. This is one of our favorite hangouts for my trail running club, the Donner Party Mountain Runners. It was a beautiful day and I found a perfect spot on one of the outside tables to enjoy my coffee and gluten-free sandwich. Good stuff.

If you’re coming from out of the area and are not familiar with parking in downtown Old Truckee, a word to the wise. Donner Pass Road, the main drag in town is very crowded and finding a parking spot is next to impossible on weekends. Some of the side streets like Jibboom where the CoffeeBar is located has additional parking, but be sure to purchase parking at one of the Parking Kiosks in town (usually at the street corner) and place the receipt on your dashboard. The open parking spaces are not free. Don’t forget to find the Kiosk and pay for your parking before returning to you car hours later to a parking ticket. OK, nuff said.

Okay now it was time for some trail time. Turning right on Bridge Street from Donner Pass Road will bring you to Highway 267. Turn right at the light and continue south on Highway 267 driving past the Truckee Airport and the Martis Valley on your left and Northstar Ski Resort on your right. Several miles past the Northstar begin the climb up to Brockway Summit, elevation 7,179’. Within the next mile on your right, you will come to a parking area for the Tahoe Rim Trail Brockway Trailhead East and West. Parking is only allowed on the right side of Highway 267 as you’re driving toward Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe. The East trailhead for the Brockway Tahoe Rim Trail is on the other side of the highway. Get there safely as you can.

Once on the forest service access road on the other side of the green barrier, walk to the top of the hill to see the TRT Brockway Trailhead Sign. In the summer season, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association places segment maps at the trailhead that you are welcome to take. (Please try to remember to slip one or two dollars into the donation pipe near the trailhead. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association operates purely on donations from people like you and I)

The trail now is fairly well marked, with very few switchbacks to contend with. At 1.25 miles from the beginning of the trailhead, the spur trail makes a sharp left, doubling back on itself, to the Vista Point. Be on the lookout for this sharp turn, as sometimes the trail post is missing. (This time it is not missing due to vandalism, but from the deer that rub themselves against the post and “crib”, or chew on the Tahoe Rim Trail signs themselves, thus knocking them over). This time, on March 8, there were still patches of snow and mud on the trail in the shaded areas. In one quarter-mile you will arrive at the summit of the Vista Point.

The rock formations resemble something from the Flintstones cartoons from years ago. There are some breathtaking views of the southeast, south and southwest. Spend some time to take it all in…afterall, you just climbed about 800 feet to enjoy the view.

After 30 minutes of photo opportunities and drinking it all in, the spectacular views and mountain fresh air, I decided to go take a look at the lake near Kings Beach.

Once on the beach, the evidence of the drought on Lake Tahoe was more evident. Standing at the waters edge, I looked back on the pier facing, that should have been in about five feet deep of water, was now some 30 or 40 yards from the lake. The outlook is pretty dismal for our water in California for the next year without snow or rain to return the lake to its natural level.

Well, once again, it’s time to hit the road, Jack. Time to get back home as nightfall is drawing near. Some 3½ to 4 hours later, I arrived back home at 2330 or 11:30 PM. That was a long day. Rest assured, I will be sleeping in tomorrow.

Thanks for following along.

See you again on my next Adventure in the Tahoe Wilderness

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