Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Donner to Squaw

Preparations and rations were acquired in Reno and Tahoe City. Once that was dialed and the cars were shuttled to the appropriate locations, we found ourselves at the summit of Donner Pass. The tour began with an ascent to the top of Sugar Bowl resort. Some of the Sacramento ski bunnies were providing some unique grimaces as we were apparently going “the wrong way,” up the hill. Upon reaching the top Sugar Bowl we continued along the ridge to the top of Anderson Peak (8,683').

Located about 650 feet below Anderson Peak is Benson Hut, a historical fragment of the infamous Sierra Club. Built in the 1930’s, we had a little trouble discerning the exact location of the hut. After a few minutes of wandering around, we stumbled upon a small building with the name Ken’s Place carved delicately into the shack above the door…it was the outhouse. Fifty yards uphill we discovered a small opening in the snow to what appeared to be a snow cave. 15 feet within it was a small window, the attic window to the Benson Hut. We had reached the hut after 8 hours of touring. A small ladder led to the first floor from the attic. The base area of the hut has a front door that is completely locked by snow. Like a cartoon after a huge snow day, the entire hut was completely enclosed by snow. The windows that normally provide light had been completely shaded by snow for months now. It was a powder hound’s dream to literally see nothing but white as one’s headlamp shined through the window. We had reached our first destination.

After a long day of travel, the first priority is the fire. Once that is lit, the most important element needs to be created, water. With a group of eight, snow needs to be melting on the stove constantly in preparations for the next days travel. Once that is established, it becomes the typical camping scene with the cooking crew and the dish crew. Conversation began to flow as the wine and bourbon were poured and cheese and salami were served. This is our vacation.

With another few miles ahead of us to the Bentley Hut, a few turns are made in the morning with lighter packs, before we leave our winter palace. The high traverse continues over to Tinker Knob (8,949’). From there, we are adorned with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, a forever unfrozen masterpiece. The topographic maps and compasses are pulled out of the packs to navigate us. A few lines are spotted and skied in route to the Bentley Hut. Skiing with a 35 pound backpack strapped on, can be discouraging; it’s like swimming against the current.

The Bentley Hut is a little more modern in comparison to Benson. It is an A-frame without the abundance of mice. We arrive in time to take a trek without the heavy packs. A huge lightening storm brings this skin to a halt (apparently a bolt of lightening from this same storm struck Squaw’s gondola with enough volts to shut it down for the remainder of the season). The same routine takes place. As dinner is cooking and all things are hung around the fire to dry, some games of cribbage bring the conversations to an even louder decibel level.

The next day, there are a few more turns taken with lighter packs down Silver Peak. The sun is out and its time to make our way to the base of Squaw Valley. After many river crossings, we find ourselves toasting beers at the Le Chamois.

The tour has concluded. Our team of eight splits off for a variety of destinations. Some head to Mt Whitney (the tallest peak in California), others to the Ludlow Hut (another Sierra club gem, closer to Lake Tahoe) and a few are off to the coast to catch some surf on Pacifica Beach.

b. gulotta



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