Family Summits – Donner Pass

Donner Lake

Today was going to be a nonhiking day for me. I was seduced by the Donner Pass field trip. I read it as a moderate hike but looking around at the 50 people in the group, I surmised that it was going to be just a walk.

Donner pass tunnelThe Donner party, from Iowa, tried to cross the Sierras. They were unprepared for the snow conditions in 1846-47, and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Everything around now has the name “Donner” – Donner Lake, Donner Pass and lots of Donner roads.

What is not so well known is that they were not the first group to attempt to cross the pass with wagons. The Stephens party had crossed it successfully a couple of years before. But with the drama of the Donners, everything got named that way.

An amateur historian,Mark McLaughlin, gave an introductory slide show and took us to Donner Pass. We then walked up to the railroad that finally connected the east with the western part of the U.S. in 1869. He said that it was the first time nitroglycerine was used in railroad construction.

Chickaree groupWhile I was learning history, Hannah went to the Truckee  River with her Chickoree group. When we came back at lunchtime, I found her wearing a hot long-sleeve shirt. She had either fallen into the water or jumped in but the upshot was that she got wet from head to toe. I brought her dry clothes and followed them for a short while.

Hannah as beaverThe Chickoree group went to work with beekeepers while I volunteered at the Summit store for a couple of hours. But nothing could beat the drama happening right at our back door.

Baby stellar jayA baby stellar jay had fallen out of its nest too early and was hopping on the ground on our porch. The mother kept screeching up in the tree but was too scared to come down. The baby felt trapped by the benches and maze of the porch.

I walked away while it finally figured out how to get out and onto the pavement. A resort employee came by to ask us not to touch the baby bird  because then the parents would abandon it. Hannah and I watched in amazement while the mother came down and hid under the porch; the baby was still clueless. Drama, loss, parental responsibility right in the parking lot.

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