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Barb and I took a break from the house-building project to go to Clair Tappaan Lodge for the weekend. Not exactly camping or backpacking. But on Saturday, Peter (the lodge manger) and I headed over to the fantastic granite on the pass itself to do a bit of rockclimbing. We swapped leads on some moderate routes for a very enjoyable few hours, while Barb headed out and back along a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. Sunday, Barb and I headed for Flora and Azalea Lakes, a side trip from the PCT, for a bit of photography and just general enjoyable hiking. Well, part of the hike proved less than enjoyable, when we encountered a group of people with a huge pack of dogs, some of which were very vociferous in this challenge to someone on the trail besides their handlers. This type of disruptive noise-making in what is otherwise a serene and quiet wilderness is something that makes me question the lack of consideration of some dog-owners for the many people who go hiking to enjoy the quiet of the wilderness and the presence of the local animal life. The noise guaranteed that there were not only no deer or bear to be seen, but also not even a chipmunk. The lakes themselves were, as always, fantastically gorgeous.
During the evenings, the lodge staff twisted my arm into giving a star talk each night and narrating a couple of slide shows.
If you are not familiar with it, Clair Tappaan Lodge is a Sierra Club-owned lodge, built in the 1930s at Donner Pass of huge lodgepole pine logs. It is run much as a hostel, with all guests doing chores to help with the meals and maintenance of the lodge, thus keeping the costs down to a very reasonable price. You have to bring your own sleeping bag and soap/toothbrush/toothpaste. The meals are sumptuous and tasty, as appropriate for outdoor activities, with lots of hiking trails (or in winter, ski-touring and snowshoeing trails). Donner Pass is, as the name implies, right above Donner Lake, site of the winter camp of the Donner Party, during which the people got so desperate that they resorted to cannibalism. When you look at the steep cliffs that make up the pass, you wonder how they could have thought they could haul wagons with oxen across this crest of the Sierra. Today, people zip across on a wide Interstate (I-80) or on trains that follow the route carved by hand by Chinese immigrant labor in the 1850s. But even today, sometimes in winter, the snows are so deep that the highway is closed and the trains are held at either side of the pass (makes for fantastic ski touring in winter, though).