Donner and Lassen Snow Climbs

30 Nov 1997 - by Rich Calliger

We (John, Mike and Max) started this trip out to be a late fall (Since I was reminded that winter does not start until 20 Dec) snow climb and of Shasta. Storm warnings and job obligations changed the trip however.

John reported that Lassen was great and had good weather both days. Snow was up to the knees and beyond. Even with skis he was sinking in above the ankle. He was FIRST this year up summit after the snowfall. Snowshoes had to be used to get up the final portion to the summit as it was too steep for skis, too deep for feet. John did 11 ascents of Lassen last year so he has to work to catch up to that record.

For me, It was now a ski and snow shoe climb up several of the smaller peaks around Donner Summit. I first spent a day taking xc lessons at Royal Gorge (highly recomended- $39 gets you all the gear, plus a 2 hr lesson PLUS an all day trail pass.)- and if you camp in the snow it is a very inexpensive trip. I planned to meet John up at Royal Gorge for a day of xc sking and then try Lassen weather permiting.

However I was too flued out to do otherwise do anything but rest... thus John took off for Lassen and I took off into my sleeping bag and pad and climbed up a local snow-covered hill for an early night.

I had made one of the SNO-PARKS (Donner summit) my base camp since it allowed overnight parking ($5/day or $25 for 1 Nov to May 98 season pass- Let me know if anyone would like to borrow this as it is transferrable vehicle permit). About 75% of the sno-parks around allow overnight parking w/ the permit.

The climb up Donner was easy and afforded ok to good views from the summit. The snow averaged about 3.5 feet deep and had not yet turned to Sierra cement so building a snow cave was a little difficult; however I cheated and found an huge drift between two 15' boulders and knocked snow down from the tops and the hillside and compacted it with my snowshoes. The weird light and tomb-like silence took some getting used to again...but it was an enjoyable respite from "civilization". As I dug into the snow I found two dead wasps apparently caught in the freeze. After a quick but solemn burial, I was snug as a bug in my shelter.

The climb up two other smaller unnamed peaks was also straightforwrd except with the soft snow on the steep sections it was difficult to frontpoint with the snowshoes' crampons (60 degree slope)- so I traversed around instead of removing my snowshoes and kicking steps up.

Up early and on the trail at 5:30AM I was treated to a very dense and wonderfull looking snowfall for about 1 hr. . It stopped shortly after 6:30 AM but clouds looked like it would snow for a week. Around 10AM the front broke up and the storm dissolved into high wispy clouds. Maybe we should have climbed Shasta after all...

-- Mother Nature 1; me 0.

General conditions: 3-4 feet of mostly loose unconsolidated snow at 9000 feet. Some crusty areas facing south. CC was pretty well covered at 8500 down to 7200 where it stated getting spotty at 6800 with some rocks and dirt exposed.


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