High pro­file lake of­ten over­looked

Riverbank News - - 209 LIVING - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT 209 Liv­ing

TRUCKEE —I re­al­ized I liked Don­ner Lake the day I came within two inches of flip­ping a fully loaded tour­ing bi­cy­cle over the edge of the Rain­bow Bridge that graces Don­ner Sum­mit and car­ries Old High­way 40 down to the lake be­low.

It was my in­au­gu­ral out­ing on the tour­ing bike. I planned an easy three-day, 260-mile trip from Lin­coln to Truckee then down to Jack­son and then re­turn­ing to Lin­coln. I wanted to take the max­i­mum load the bike was rated for — 62 pounds — and dis­trib­ute it be­tween front and rear wheel pan­niers, a rear wheel bike rack with pan­nier as well, han­dle­bar bag and as many wa­ter bot­tles I could get on the down tubes.

The goal was not only to test my stamina powering my­self (I weighed 195 pounds at the time), the bi­cy­cle (17 pounds) and a max­i­mum load (62 pounds) but to sharpen the skills needed to han­dle the bi­cy­cle. It’s a much dif­fer­ent beast than a sleek rac­ing bi­cy­cle with 700cc tires you can lean al­most 45 de­grees in turns to get op­ti­mum speed and con­trol.

The pre­vi­ous line should give you a clue to where this is go­ing.

I had just fin­ished five rather chal­leng­ing hours go­ing from the val­ley floor to Don­ner Sum­mit at 7,056 feet while travers­ing of­ten steep roads and ped­al­ing the shoul­der of I-80 where it was le­gal to do so when there were no other roads avail­able. It was 90 de­grees. I was tired. And I wanted to get to the motel room I booked at the Best Western near Truckee Air­port.

I looked at Don­ner Lake be­low, shifted down, and started down­hill.

The Rain­bow Bridge is rather fa­mous. It’s a curved com­pounded arch beauty built on a grade with a stun­ning view of Don­ner Lake in the back­ground. It has ap­peared in nu­mer­ous car com­mer­cials over the years.

As I started my de­scent my speed picked up faster than I ex­pected. I ap­plied the can­tilever brakes in a man­ner to re­tain con­trol but then re­al­ized be­tween the curve and the bridge, its drop in grade, and the weight I was car­ry­ing things weren’t likely to end well. I leaned the bike as I hit the start of the bow of the curve

— not an ex­cep­tion­ally wise move given the weight. But if I didn’t do so I was go­ing to run out of pave­ment, hit the curb, and sail over the rail.

I was able to come to a stop just be­yond the mid­point of the curve but in or­der to do so I crossed the on­com­ing lane and my front tire had two inches to spare be­fore it hit the curb. With the weight I was ped­al­ing even a slow-mo curb bump given I was go­ing down­hill on a curve would have been dis­as­trous.

Af­ter my heart stopped do­ing a ren­di­tion of the Wil­liam Tell Over­ture on steroids, I pedaled to an over­look at the end of the bridge, got off and looked around.

I was stunned at what I saw given what I had seen on the sum­mit area be­fore was through the glass of a car win­dow.

This wasn’t my first trip to or past Don­ner Lake by far.

One of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries of a 5 year-old kid in 1962 was be­ing in the back of our fam­ily’s 1957 Chevy sta­tion wagon as we were inch­ing over High­way 40 in hor­ren­dous traf­fic to meet my un­cle’s fam­ily at their cabin along Don­ner Lake’s north shore where less than a 100 feet be­hind it crews were putting the fin­ish­ing touches on In­ter­state 80.

Years af­ter that when I was a Lin­coln High stu­dent (Lin­coln in Placer County) we’d whiz by Don­ner Lake at least eight times a year when the Ze­bras (my high school’s mas­cot) played Pi­o­neer League ri­vals at Truckee High and North Lake High.

Maybe that’s why Don­ner Lake is per­haps one of the most high pro­file over­looked lakes in Cal­i­for­nia.

Tens of thou­sands of mo­torists whiz by it daily ei­ther head­ing to or from Reno on In­ter­state 80 or on their way to im­pos­ing Lake Ta­hoe just 11 miles away.

Don­ner Sum­mit of­fers some of best and most var­ied rock climb­ing in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia

But if you stop and take it in, it is an amaz­ing place.

On that late July day in 1988 I was mes­mer­ized by what I saw.

Be­low me there were nu­mer­ous rock climbers hon­ing their skills on the same im­pos­ing rock walls that the Don­ner Party sur­vivors and their res­cuers had to find a way to scale with wag­ons.

It turns out the spot right off Old High­way 40 be­low the Rain­bow Bridge of­fers some of the best climb­ing gran­ite around for be­gin­ners to get the hang of rock climb­ing or for those seek­ing to gain in­ter­me­di­ate, ad­vanced or ex­pert skills. No less than four firms cur­rently of­fer lessons be­low Don­ner Sum­mit that of­fers ev­ery­thing from be­gin­ning climb­ing slabs to ex­pert pitches.

One such firm is the North Amer­i­can Ski Train­ing Cen­ter and Rock Climb­ing School (ski­ or call/text (510) 386-2102.

Lessons range from half day per per­son (party of one $350, party of two $220, party of three $160 etc.) to full day (party of one $545, party of two $265, party of three ($195) or two-hour lessons (party of one $185, party of two $130, party of three $100).

Truckee area is hiker’s par­adise com­plete with aban­doned train snow sheds to walk through

The greater Truckee area — in­clud­ing Don­ner Lake — is a hiker’s par­adise with a wide va­ri­ety of short, medium and long hikes rang­ing from easy to mod­er­ate to stren­u­ous.

One of the two hikes that let you ex­plore the stun­ning Don­ner Sum­mit area is the five-mile hike (more like a walk) that takes in the orig­i­nal aban­doned rail­road snow sheds and stun­ning view of the lake be­low. It starts at a small park­ing lot on the south side of the bridge. The trail takes you past China Wall — a memo­rial to the Chi­nese la­bor­ers that played a key role in build­ing the Transcon­ti­nen­tal Rail­road — as well as pet­ro­glyphs cre­ated by the Mar­tis peo­ple thou­sands of years ago.

The tun­nels are a trip in them­selves. There is an on­go­ing de­bate whether the ex­ten­sive graf­fiti – a lot of it border­line high qual­ity art – that lines the in­side of the tun­nels is a neg­a­tive or a pos­i­tive. It is def­i­nitely in­ter­est­ing.

Hik­ing it in win­ter is even more im­pres­sive. If you time it right you won’t need snow shoes. The tem­per­a­tures in the tun­nels are typi- cally 20 de­grees lower. There’s lots of drip­ping wa­ter and you’re likely to en­counter iced over ground that leads to some in­ter­est­ing — and en­ter­tain­ing foot­work. Don­ner Lake it­self is a treat. It’s rich in his­tory in that on its south­ern flank was where the first Transcon­ti­nen­tal Rail­road was built (the Don­ner Sum­mit seg­ment con­sid­ered the tough­est to con­quer), the first transcon­ti­nen­tal high­way along its north shore (The Lin­coln High­way that is now Old High­way 40 and was re­placed by I-80) and its eastern shore where the ill-fated Don­ner Party win­tered in 1846.

Plenty to do along eight miles of shore­line as well as on lake

The lake is at 5,935 feet above sea level with its deep­est point plung­ing down 235 feet.

Al­though a lot of the ac­cess – boat ramps, docks, and even some beaches — are pri­vate, there are still plenty of ac­cess points. The Truckee Don­ner Parks and Recre­ation Dis­trict op­er­ates a fee-based boat on the north­west cor­ner of the lake.

Don­ner State Memo­rial Park is the place to go to fully en­joy the lake. It wraps around the east and north side with 1.5 miles of pub­lic docks for both swim­mers and boaters.

There are 2.5 miles of hik­ing trails in ad­di­tion to be­ing able to hike a loop around the lake that comes in at eight miles.

The state park of­fers mul­ti­ple camp­sites. In the late spring, sum- mer, and early fall pic­nick­ing, boat­ing, camp­ing, fish­ing, wa­ter ski­ing, wind surf­ing, hik­ing and moun­tain bik­ing are the pop­u­lar pur­suits.

Don­ner Lake of­fers Rain­bow Trout, Brown Trout, and Koka­nee Salmon. The mar­quee at­trac­tion — and chal­lenge is snag­ging Lake Trout. Don­ner Lake is said to hold some of the big­gest Lake Trout in Cal­i­for­nia.

Easy to wed visit to Don­ner Lake with nearby at­trac­tions

What makes Don­ner Lake a solid at­trac­tion is how it can be an effective week­end desti­na­tion or a mul­ti­day stay dur­ing the week or even a day trip.

Given it is just a step off the beaten track of Lake Ta­hoe, you can sa­vor a bunch of at­trac­tions within 25 min­utes of Don­ner Lake. If you choose to camp there or in Truckee, ac­com­mo­da­tions range from 19th cen­tury ho­tels across from the train sta­tion, mod­ern mo­tels, bed and break­fasts or rental cab­ins.

A 25-minute drive can get you a float trip down the Truckee River, a visit to Olympic Vil­lage in Squaw Val­ley, horse­back rid­ing, gun range shoot­ing or the food, spir­its and unique shops of down­town Truckee.

And if it’s night life and gam­bling you may want a sam­ple of Reno 32 miles away.

For more in­for­ma­tion on ac­tiv­i­ties to pur­sue in and around Don­ner Lake and in Truckee go to

PHOTO NEXT TO 209: The beach at Don­ner Memo­rial State Park. PHOTO ON TOP: The Rain­bow Bridge just be­low Don­ner Sum­mit with Don­ner Lake in the back­ground. TOP PHOTO: Hik­ers near Don­ner Sum­mit. BOT­TOM LEFT PHOTO: Hik­ing the aban­doned rail­road snow sheds. BOT­TOM RIGHT PHOTO: This small lake is along the Pa­cific Crest Trail near Don­ner Sum­mit.

Kids float­ing on Don­ner Creek as it me­an­ders through Don­ner Memo­rial State Park.

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