Monday, April 27, 2009

Donner Summit

On Friday, I was going to Hayward, California, a city sandwiched between Oakland and San Jose on the east side of the San Francisco. But when trying to get anywhere from Nevada to Sacramento and points west, there's a small logistic that needs to be overcome.

Make that a big logistic, called Donner Summit. Yep, Donner, as in Donner Pass, as in the Donner Party.

There are only two practical ways to get from northern Nevada to California over the Sierra Nevada mountains. One is west from Carson City over Spooner Summit to the south end of Lake Tahoe, then down toward Placerville. That's Route 50, which ends in Sacramento (and begins in Ocean City, MD). The other is through Donner Pass, now traversed by present-day I-80.

I guess the Donner Party would have given anything to have the problem I had Friday morning. I had just gotten off my overnight shift, bought gas, and gotten some money, and was ready to head west. Earlier in the week, temperatures had been well into the 80s.

But that day, there was snow just west of Reno, those big, wet, and thick flakes. And it was snowing hard enough at Donner Summit that vehicles needed chains to get over it. There are many passes in the country that are at a higher elevation than Donner, but probably not as many that are as treacherous and fickle. And as far as I know, Route 50 was open with no controls, but that's a considerably longer route from Reno/Sparks. Finally, I don't cross the Sierra enough to warrant purchasing chains.

So I chose to have breakfast at Boomtown Casino in Verdi (rhymes with "where-dye") and wait things out, taking a brief snooze in my car afterward. With signs in the casino still saying "chain controls," I took a chance and got back onto I-80, and as I approached the summit, the clouds were breaking right over it! Wish I'd had a camera. And I had no further snow issues, but I did have probably the only car in the Bay Area with salt on it.

Unfortunately, a big rig had chosen that time to break down in the right lane, so it took me another ten minutes to get through the summit. Again, that would have been the least of the Donner Party's worries.

Footnote: When LC and I first visited the area in 1993, we both swam in beautiful, but chilly, Donner Lake. That lake is NEVER warm! She shivered just about the whole rest of that August night.