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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