Friday, 12 June 2009

Donner and Blitzen (Lightning on Donner Pass)

After the storm

With Bay area weather grey and the prospect of racing at 14,000ft of elevation starting to loom large in my plans it seemed about time to head to the Sierra and tackle some hills. Also a good chance to see how the “new” transport works – I figured that buying an old but solid Subaru and selling it again at the end of 6 months would work out way cheaper than the Hertz/Avis options. A quick scan of maps reveals that the Pacific Crest Trail runs right over Donner pass on the I80 east to Reno at the 8-9,000 ft level – accessible in less than 3 hours and, since the PCT is 2,300 miles long, plenty to go at!!

A 9 ½ hour day took me down to Squaw and Emigrant pass where the Western States course starts and then a big loop over to a lake which the map showed as a possible overnight stop only the lake is still frozen and there is extensive snow cover under the trees. I need to get onto the South and West facing slopes where it has melted to higher elevations. In the end, a loop back to the far side of Emigrant pass provides the ideal spot at just over 8,000ft. I quickly chill off whilst setting up the tent and put on every scrap of clothing I have inside the sleeping bag – including a shirt over my head on account of having forgotten a hat. Still, there has been hardly a spot of rain all ay despite an unpromising forecast and now it’s clearing out with a few last rays of evening sunshine. After worrying about bears and mountain lions plus the odd “thwump” as pine cones fall from the trees I fall into a good sleep until – 2.08am and I am woken by an enormous noise reverberating from the hills. A thunderstorm seems to be about 4miles away – that is until there is an almost simultaneous flash and bang, crack, fizzle, pop – now I am scared!! I quickly figure that when the lightning is zero distance away you never hear the bang and rationally figure that I can’t do anything about that – I chose a safe looking spot anyway – the bigger worry is that hailstones a little bigger than marbles have started to hit the tent and the wind is picking up big time. OK – better put on full waterproofs and pack everything just in case I have to make a rapid exit. The “fun” lasted around 2 hours and apparently made newspaper headlines down in Sacramento where they figured it was a pretty big storm.

One month to WS100 - snow likely on the course!!

Early next morning a hasty retreat seems appropriate only the clag is down now, there are 2 inches of hailstones everywhere and the early part of the previous days route I need to retrace is mostly under snow – I’m all geared up for a map and compass epic but this is June in California so it’s not long before patches of blue sky appear and it becomes quite atmospheric. Back to the car shortly after lunch and my first little Sierras trip is complete. Still grey in the Bay and about 20 degrees cooler than usual in Auburn though – those training for states are running around in woolly hats and fleeces convinced that by race day we will be in 105 degrees: El Nino maybe? Back to the UK for a few days now and then starts the build up to Hardrock – some time on the States course with Jez Bragg then pacing at the race then a road-trip to Colorado and fastpack the Hardrock course (always brutal but effective in getting fit and acclimatised).

1 comment:

Team Vasque said...

Good effort getting out there in the snow Mark. I've spent several nervous nights out in the Sierra listening out for bears and mountain lions, so I know how you feel. A tip: don't pack you sleeping bag in the bear canister with your food: you end up smelling like a Clif Bar and bears like Clif Bars.