While we can’t go back in time, we can experience some of the environmental conditions of historic events. Snowshoeing at Royal Gorge will begin to give you a little perspective of the challenges immigrants and the Donner Party faced when they attempted to cross over Donner Summit down into the Sacramento Valley.
Snowshoe Through History
I have been snowshoeing at the summit valley when it began to snow. It was a little frightening with the fear that I might lose sight of the trail. My fear, and actual exposure to a life-threatening situation, was small compared to immigrants of the 1800s. However, when the weather is good, you can rent a pair of snowshoes at Royal Gorge and trek over and around ground that thousands of immigrants walked across.
The summit valley is the head waters for the South Yuba River. Theodore Judah surveyed the area for the route of the Pacific Railroad. If you are lucky, you’ll hear and see one of the trains as it passes on its way to the Donner Summit tunnel. I find it interesting that the snow you walk on will melt and flow into rivers and lakes. The water will be claimed by many different interests from boaters to agriculture. However, I don’t see anyone’s name on the snow that they own it. How this ownership transformation happens – from snow to river water – is an interesting topic.
Royal Gorge great place to snowshoe
Snowshoeing is hard work. You can quickly work up a sweat. Unless it is windy and very cold, you will be taking off your heavy goose down jacket shortly after commencing your hike. I have found that a leather jack is very comfortable, similar to what the immigrants wore, because it breaths and does not retain too much body heat.
I did splurge and bought some nice snowshoes, Symbioz Hyperflex Phoenix. They are light weight and have very good bindings that are easy to adjust. I just wear my favorite hiking shoes, usually Keens, strapped into the snowshoes, and head out onto the snow. When you are on a trail, you can snowshoe almost as fast as a summer hike over dry ground. Occasionally my feet get wet. I wear wool socks and they dry fairly quickly with the heat of walking.
Hazards of snowshoeing
There are plenty of hazards. There are creeks that might be snowed over. You need to pay attention to the terrain and stick to official trails if you are unfamiliar with the landscape. I’ve also run into branches because I was focused on the ground and not looking up. You are walking on snow several feet deep, which means you are closer to normally higher tree branches.
You can take comfort, or fascination, that the challenges you face while snowshoeing are similar to the ones of early immigrants. It is hard to express in words what snowshoeing is like. Below is a short video of some of the terrain and hazards I encountered on my snowshoeing hike on January 15, 2022.