Great Snowshoe Hikes in North Tahoe
Two peaks with superb views are the rewards of this trip. The distance is minimal, although the terrain is fairly steep, with the lone exception of the gentle, protracted crest leading to the summit of Mount Judah. Although the hillsides are too steep for most cross-country skiers, you may encounter snowboarders careening down the north-facing slopes during periods of powder conditions. If you are an accomplished skier/snowboarder and you don't mind carrying the extra weight, such a descent might provide a reasonable, if not exhilarating, alternative to snowshoeing back to the car (avoid the slopes of Sugar Bowl Ski area).
How to Get There
From Interstate 80, take the Soda Springs/Norden exit and travel 3.7 miles east on the old Donner Pass Road to the Alpine Skills Institute parking area at Donner Pass. You may park your vehicle in the lot for a nominal fee. Check in at the front desk in the main building of ASI for a parking permit, which must be displayed on your dashboard to avoid having your vehicle towed.
Begin snowshoeing south-southwest from the parking lot on a slight downhill grade until you reach a convenient spot from which to start up the moderately steep hillside of the northwest slope of Donner Peak. Proceed up the mountain through widely scattered conifers. As you climb, you have very nice views of Lake Van Norden to the west and the peaks of Donner Pass to the north. Before reaching the top of Donner Peak, you must climb over a minor summit, shown as point 7696 on the Norden topo map. A fine vista is at this point, a foretaste of what is to come from the summit of Donner Peak. Continuing the climb, you pass through a stand of trees on the way to the saddle that separates Donner Peak and Mount Judah.
Once at the saddle, turn northeast and make the short climb up moderate slopes to the summit rocks. From the top you have marvelous views in all directions. Donner Lake lies at your feet to the east, while massive cornices loom above along the ridge of Mount Judah. An array of peaks spreads out both north and south.
From the summit, retrace your steps quickly back to the saddle between Mount Judah and Donner Peak. If you were satisfied with the view from Donner Peak, you may elect to follow your trail back to the parking lot. Otherwise, from the saddle begin climbing steeply up the hillside toward the long summit ridge of Mount Judah. Aim for a pair of reflector-ized signs at the north edge of the ridge. Once on the crest the grade eases considerably as you head for the true summit at the south end. Remember to avoid the cornices along the west edge. Continue along the crest, dropping slightly before you make the last easy climb to the top.
The ridge and the summit of Mount Judah offer a grand panorama of the north Tahoe countryside. A flurry of activity occurs to the north, including skiers and snowboarders on the ski slopes of Sugar Bowl and Donner Ski Ranch, trains chugging up the long grade toward Donner Pass, and hundreds of cars snaking along Interstate 80 headed for unknown points. The bustling community of Truckee lies to the east beyond Donner Lake. A more remote scene is in the south, where myriad snow-covered peaks stretch along a series of ridges, beckoning the adventurous toward further exploration. For most people, the view from Mount Judah is a perfect reward for a half-day's journey. After taking in the scenery, follow your steps back to the car.
Come in from the Cold
Alpine Skills Institute offers a reasonably priced bunk-and-breakfast package for anyone with his own sleeping bag. Call (530) 426-9108.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication