Niki Kangas, of THC, put together a quick recap of the club's summer hike up the mountains. Stay tuned to our blog for more from Niki!
Telegraph Hiking Club treks Donner Pass to Squaw Valley every summer. That's because it's a challenging overnight backpacking hike that's close to our Sacramento HQ in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, and because it's insanely beautiful. I mean, being up there is like that scene in The Sound of Music when Julie Andrews loses her shit and starts twirling around because it's crazy pretty up in the mountains.
The trip began a little rocky (I love puns). We separated to deal with parking the cars in two places, and I set off alone with my two sons. I was told to just follow the Pacific Crest Trail and the rest of the group would catch up to us. I was not told that there were unmarked junctions, and not having planned in advance to end up separated from the group, I had no map or compass with me. I took my best guess at which direction was the right way to go. Well, I apparently suck at that and we ended up going 5 miles or so out of our way. I realized that we were badly off track when we summited Mount Judah. My kids were not impressed, but luckily we had cell reception and were able to rejoin the group by dropping a pin and staying put until we were led back to the PCT.
After trekking through lush alpine meadows carpeted with wildflowers, over eye candy granite passes and under sweeping blue skies and cotton clouds, we arrived at Benson Hut elated, tired and hungry. Because I'm the best girlfriend ever, I carried a birthday cake, a candle, and plates and forks for everyone in my Osprey pack and we had a party for my man outside the hut. Cake never tasted so damn good.
That night, we cracked jokes and played Uno upstairs in our sleeping bags and slept hard in spite of mice scurrying throughout the hut.
Day 2 came too soon, and I was sore and needed all the coffee. We had about a 9 mile hike ahead of us. Once we got on the trail though, I was feeling good. I was amazed at how strong my 7 and 9 year old were, and at how surreal and perfect the scenery was that surrounded us. Yet I was also feeling the pressure of not wanting to miss the last gondola ride of the day, which would depart at 5 pm. If we missed it, we'd have about 4 miles tacked on, and I didn't know if my boys could do that.
Some of the unhampered and fast hikers bagged peaks along the way (Tinker's Knob and Granite Chief). I stayed fast to the trail and soldiered on with my boys, who needed a whip cracker to make sure we would get to the gondola in time. We barely made it—we arrived right at 5:01 pm to catch our ride, which was waiting for us since they could see us coming.
The ride down the mountain was magical as always, and so welcomed after all that hiking. My phone's Health app logged over 20 miles in 2 days, but that included me getting lost. If you research this hike and decide to try it yourself, it's supposed to be only about 15 miles total and is an amazing summertime camping trip.
Other notable elements contributing to this hike's super high radness factor include:
1. An overnight at Benson Hut nested under Anderson Peak. It's a backcountry ski hut managed by the Sierra Club with no electricity, a wood stove to make indoor fires, a second story accessible by a wooden ladder, and cots that fold down from the walls. No need to carry a tent! Also, no need to carry a shit shovel. There's a detached outhouse that is shared with a creepy, fat marmot who lives in the bottom with all the excrement. Luckily, you get to bypass this weird troll creature by climbing up a ladder and entering the outhouse by way of an elevated platform.
2. At the end of the hike, you catch the gondola that takes you back down the mountain to Squaw Valley. (This route requires two cars—one at the Donner Pass PCT trailhead, and one at Squaw Valley. Clever AF, that Joey Miller. She's my girl who organizes the Telegraph Hiking Club adventures and commemorates each trip with a video diary.)
Some helpful links to plan your own adventure are below: