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Donner Pass-Northern California

Donner Pass-Northern California

Donner Pass-California

Cycling across Donner Pass

Donner Pass (el. 7,056 ft (2,151 m)) is a mountain pass in the northern Sierra Nevada.

I cycled down from the pass to Donner Lake at 5935ft, went around the lake and then back up to the pass. It was perfect weather, even chilly at 7.30am on the descent.

The lake is surrounded by mostly beautiful homes and is a village extension to Truckee town. The south shore road along the lake is really secluded and a joy to cycle along. There were residents paddle boarding and kayaking, it was quiet and serene and the whole scene was bucolic.

Jhon Tomnay-Cycling across Donner Pass

I did not know the history of the place but after discovering some facts it became quite fascinating, even macabre.

In 1864 a group of around 90 pioneers, which nearly included Abraham Lincoln, set off from Springfield Illinois on the 2000 mile journey to California which in those days could take 6 months.

As series of misadventures though struck this group including wrong turns, bad advice and terrible weather.

Once they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, they took a short cut over the mountains as detailed in the guide book The Emigrant’s Guide to Oregon and California written by Lansford Hastings, an early California land promoter.

Lansford hadn’t actually ever taken the shortcut himself and this error among others caused the party to become snow bound and began to run out of food. They were forced to eat their livestock which were meant for their new lives, their pets and ultimately their dead. When the dead human stock ended they killed the 2 Miwok Indians and ate them, rationalizing that as Indians they were not fully human.

When rescue parties arrived 2 months later they found a terribly sorry scene and an emaciated lady approached them and asked if they were from California or from heaven.

In total 41 died and 46 survived but these sorry souls were suffering from frostbite and psychological problems.

Once the first railroad was built in 1870 the trip across the country was reduced form 6 months to 3 and half days at the cost of $136.

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