Donner Peak was today’s goal, and Mount Judah would be a bonus. Most of the route being directly adjacent to Sugar Bowl, it wasn’t exactly wilderness, and I probably shouldn’t have expected any sort of alone time. I got to the Donner Ski Ranch parking lot around 8:30, crossed the Donner Pass Road, then hopped onto the snow so as to avoid the walk up the road to the Sugar Bowl Academy.
I followed tracks onto the Pacific Crest Trail, then turned South on it for a quarter mile or so. There’s a private property area to the right of the trail, and here I took off to the left straight uphill. The wind blustered and blew against my face as I climbed the ridge toward Donner Peak, and I had to wear a facemask for much of the time. From the ridge I could see the entire Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, and at one point I was only a few feet away from the boundary. By now, skiers were putting tracks into corduroy, but I continued to skin up a mix of crust and powder. Here the path is clear, even without tracks: follow the ridge.
I reached the saddle between Donner Peak and Mount Judah. I ate a granola bar then turned toward Donner Peak and started climbing again. A few minutes later I had reached the top as it is not a particularly prominent peak. I could see snowboarders carving nice S-turns into the North side of Mount Judah, which looked like a much more interesting peak to ski than Donner. Donner had the advantage, though, of having no other people on its summit. I pulled off the skins, pointed my skis downhill, and took all of fifteen seconds to get back down to the saddle.
It was still really early, so I made the climb up Mount Judah. I had to climb under a rope to get to the top, and here I removed my skins again. Skiers and snowboarders rode past me through the gate out of bounds. I guess that even for backcountry skiers, solitude can be tough to find. Fortunately, the views here were much more spectacular than Donner. I could see out to Donner Lake, Truckee, and the Carson Range, and looking back West I could see Sugar Bowl too.
The ski down Mount Judah was a thrill. Most of the side-country around Mount Judah is pretty easy to take from the lifts, and even with the fresh snow from two days ago, the top was all iced out. Once past the ice, I rode powder all the way off the mountain. After I got off Mount Judah back onto the ridge, the incline was mild except for a few sections. I mostly followed my tracks up, and fifteen or twenty minutes later I was back at the Pacific Crest Trail near the beginning of my hike.
Not wanting to put skins back on, I huffed it up the trail toward the highpoint between the Academy and the Sugar Bowl turnoff. From here I was able to ski and push my way back down to the road. I got back to my car around noon, then headed back into town.