Monday, August 13, 2012

Pacific Crest Trail: Old 40 to I-80

Trail: Technical Singletrack

Distance: 8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead: From Truckee, head west on Donner Pass Road, past Donner Lake, and up the switchbacks of Old Highway 40 (also Donner Pass Road). At the top of the climb, look for the Sugar Bowl Academy on your left. You can park in the dirt area adjacent to the paved lot of the Academy.

From Sacramento, take I-80 east and exit Soda Springs. Turn right (east) on Donner Pass Rd. and follow it to the Sugar Bowl Academy. Park in the dirt lot. If you start heading downhill and can see Donner Lake, you've missed it.

The northbound trailhead leaves from the north side of the road.

Season: June to October

Water: There are a few mosquito-ridden ponds along the trail, but you're best advised to bring what water you think you'll need. One hand held bottle is usually sufficient for runners.

Notes: Please avoid parking in the paved lot of the Sugar Bowl Academy, as this is private property.

Trail Description: This 8 mile round trip run is a pleasant alternative to the more popular southbound section of the PCT that begins from this same trailhead. The rolling terrain, while often technical, does not have long, sustained climbs and thus is typically quite runnable.

The Trailhead

Start by crossing the street onto the singletrack marked with a PCT sign. You'll have views of Donner Lake below to your right. In this first mile, it is common to see climbers crowding the cliff faces to your left.

Rainbow Bridge and Donner Lake

There are a number of smaller, unmarked trails that climbers use. You want to stay on the main trail. If you feel like you are no longer on the main trail at any point, just back track until you find where you made a wrong turn.

You'll go up and over several small rises. Once you are about 1-2 miles from the trailhead, you can often have the trail all to yourself. Enjoy the wildflowers, the shady pines, and the rocky granite outcroppings.

When you come the junction with this sign ...

... continue toward Summit Lake for about a half mile to the tunnel under I-80. From there, turn around and head back to your starting point at Donner Pass for an 8 mile out-and-back. Of course, if you want to go farther, you can go under the freeway and make this run as long as you want!

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