Cross­ing Don­ner Sum­mit when Sierra wears its win­ter coat

Riverbank News - - FRONT PAGE - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT

If I had to pick a trip I’d do again that didn’t in­volve hik­ing above 10,000 feet or trekking 10 miles across al­lu­vial fans and re­mote canyons in Death Val­ley but sim­ply sit­ting back and re­lax­ing, it would be rid­ing Am­trak’s Cal­i­for­nia Ze­phyr from Sacra­mento to Truc­kee.

It’s a 3 hour and 29 minute one-way ride when Am­trak is on time that gives you an en­tirely dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of head­ing up and over Don­ner Sum­mit. It is a stun­ning, leisurely trip. And the best time to do it is af­ter the snow has started fall­ing in earnest for the win­ter.

A bit of back­ground first. While I’m in what might be called a pas­sion­ate love af­fair with the high coun­try of the mid-Sierra on both sides of the Range of Light’s crest, my first love was Don­ner Sum­mit.

I can say I’ve eas­ily trav­eled In­ter­state 80 from Ro­seville to Truc­kee that many thought was one of the true won­ders of the mod­ern world at the time it was com­pleted in the mid-1960s more than 200 times.

I grew up in Placer County while my mother’s fam­ily her­alded from Ne­vada County of which Truc­kee is its east­ern most town.

My un­cles had a cabin near the shores of Don­ner Lake less than a quar­ter of a mile from where the in­fa­mous Don­ner Party be­came stranded the win­ter of 1846-47. Lin­coln High (in Lin­coln of Placer County) was in the old Pi­o­neer League with the likes of Col­fax and Truc­kee — and later North Lake Ta­hoe High. You haven’t seen a high school foot­ball game like you’d see in Truc­kee on an early Novem­ber Satur­day when the grass was still thaw­ing out from an overnight freeze.

When I lost weight and gained what is now a full blown ad­dic­tion to ex­er­cise and jour­ney­ing to places un­der my own power, I made mid-week drives when it wasn’t win­ter to do quick cy­cling loops start­ing in Truc­kee, climb­ing over Brock­way Sum­mit, rid­ing along the lake and back past Squaw Val­ley. Once a month I ei­ther cy­cled around Lake Ta­hoe or headed south of Reno to the base of Vir­ginia Grade and headed up that,

Photo courtesy Snow Brains/Truc­kee

Down­town Truc­kee — with a host of din­ing spots and spe­cialty stores — has the am­biance of a Cur­rier & Ives Christ­mas card. This photo of down­town Truc­kee was taken at dawn.

Photo courtesy Down­town Truc­kee Cam

This is the typ­i­cal scene that greets you when the Cal­i­for­nia Ze­phyr nears Truc­kee in the late af­ter­noon if you de­part Sacra­mento on time dur­ing the win­ter.

Photo courtesy Loco Steve

The Cal­i­for­nia Ze­phyr just be­fore en­ter­ing the snow sheds east of Truc­kee near Don­ner Sum­mit.

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