Tahoe Donner snowshoe hike to Hawk’s Peak

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This was not the first time I’ve snowshoed up to Hawk’s Peak, at the Tahoe Donner Cross-Country Ski Area (see here for another post).  However, it was the first time I went all the way up, and part way down, using the new network of snowshoe-only trails.  I thought I would write a short post to highlight this new trail network.

Hawk’s Peak is, at 7729 feet elevation, the highest point within Tahoe Donner.  For those who enjoy a view, it’s a nice reward at the end of a nearly 1100-foot climb.  Here is a sample of the view from high above the Alder Creek Adventure Center at the base of the ski area.

photo of view of the Carson Range

View of the Carson Range

The GPS track shows my route, beginning at the orange dot which denotes the Adventure Center.  I had decided in advance that I would go as directly as possible up to Hawk’s Peak and then come down by a more circuitous route, depending on which of the other snowshoe trails I could find.  (My previous snowshoe hikes have been along the groomed trail system; this was my first time trying a trek on snowshoe-only trails.)

GPS track

GPS track

For the uphill trek I started out from the Adventure Center on Tim’s Trek, which begins next to the parking area and traverses to intersection 3, Moondance Hut.  From Moondance, Snowshow basically goes straight uphill toward Hawk’s Peak, crossing some 7 groomed cross-country ski trails along the way.  Below 7000 feet elevation (the 4th trail crossing on Snowshow) the grade is noticeable but reasonable, at 7%.  Above this elevation Snowshow gets much steeper and averages over 23% grade the rest of the way up to the top.  At elevation, that’s a pretty good workout!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Regarding wayfinding, I found that it was easy to find and follow both Tim’s Trek and Snowshow.  Although not nearly as well-defined – or wide – as the ski trails, the snowshoe trails seem to have been marked by some kind of small groomer.  In areas where the trails wind among trees, there are discreet signs that mark the way.

photo of signage along a snowshoe-only trail

Signage along a snowshoe-only trail

The signage along the gloomed ski trails is a bit different.  On the previous day I had cross-country skied and noticed that many of the signposts were buried in snow almost up to the signs themselves.  This was on the closing weekend of what had been a well above average snow season.

photo of sign, nearly buried in snow, marking a groomed cross-country ski trail

Sign, nearly buried in snow, marking a groomed cross-country ski trail

Snowshow is mostly on open slopes and, as noted, was easy to follow.   Although a little hard to see in the picture, on the left are swooping tracks left by a skier descending off-piste between two of the many groomed trail crossings.

photo of Snowshow heading up to Hawk’s Peak

Snowshow heading up to Hawk’s Peak

I have noted previously that sometimes the shortest hiking distance between two points is not a straight line, but rather the trail.  In the case of Snowshow, these two paths were actually the same.  Of course, relatively few hiking trails are built with a 23% grade, because there are usually gentler options.  This hike demonstrated that, when the snow is in good condition, showshoeing up such a steep grade is not as difficult as I thought it would be!

Snowshow tees at a relatively new groomed ski trail that goes right up to the rocks that mark the top of Hawk’s Peak.  So the last hundred yards or so was easier going.

The views from Hawk’s Peak are always impressive.  Perhaps my favorite is what I consider to be one of the iconic views of the Pacific Crest, featuring Tinker Knob at the center of the picture.

photo of Pacific Crest view from Hawk’s Peak

Pacific Crest view from Hawk’s Peak

On this occasion I did not linger at Hawk’s Peak, though I usually stop for a snack while enjoying the marvelous views.  It was quite windy up top, and I was kind of flirting with a wind advisory, so I felt it was prudent to begin descending fairly promptly to lower elevations.

Instead of following Snowshow straight back down the hill I had decided to follow Crazy Horse and Dogs in Space, both groomed ski trails, to another viewpoint.  In order to get there I followed the new groomed trail, I think Drifter, past the top of Snowshow and across Andromeda to intersection 11.  From the intersection I followed the lower part of Crazy Horse to Dogs in Space.  Along the way I noticed some pretty pine boughs, like this one, here and there along the edge of the groomed ski trail, each bough in its own small depression in the snow.

photo of pine bough in the snow

Pine bough in the snow

The viewpoint on Dogs in Space is quite nice.  There was much less wind than at the top of Hawk’s Peak, so I spent some time enjoying the view of the Carson Range to the east.  The “banner picture” for this post is a panorama stitched together from 4 separate photos taken here.

I should also note that there is now a network of the lower-elevation cross-country ski trails where dogs are allowed.  This viewpoint is the highest point of the dog trails, though on this visit I had the views to myself.  There is even a picnic table under the trees.

A bit farther along I noticed several young pine trees with an unusual characteristic: in addition to the usual needles (long ones, in groups of three) along and at the tips of branches there was an array of needles around the trunk, almost like a tutu.  I don’t remember ever seeing that before.  I presume that the tree is either a Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) or a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) , more likely a Jeffrey pine due to the elevation.  In addition, I was on my way to a place where I hoped to find the Jeffrey Pine snowshoe trail.  I wonder if the “tutu” phenomenon only occurs on young trees.

photo of young pine tree with a tutu of needles

Young pine tree with a tutu of needles

After leaving the viewpoint on Dogs in Space I continued downhill to intersection 6, where I found Jeffrey Pine, another snowshoe trail.  It had quite a bit of the helpful yellow signage as it wound among the trees on the lower part of the hill that eventually goes up to Hawk’s Peak.

The trails in the Cross-Country Ski Area cross several creeks, some named and some not.  As the snow melts there will be ample water flowing in these streams throughout the spring.  I actually took this picture the previous day while cross-country skiing in the Euer Valley; I believe it’s Coyote Creek, since it’s near a location called Coyote Crossing and the Coyote Hut.  In any case, it seems to be a subsidiary of Independence Creek, which winds its picturesque way along the valley floor.  This was the prettiest of the creek crossings I encountered in my two days at the Tahoe Donner Cross-Country Ski Area.

photo of Coyote Creek, in Euer Valley

Coyote Creek, in Euer Valley

After following Jeffrey Pine for most of its length I left the snowshoe trail and finished my trek on the Rough Rider, Practice Hill, and Night Hawk ski trails.  Most of the route for this hike was on trails I had not been on previously, and I was glad to have had the opportunity to explore several of the relatively new snowshoe-only trails.

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One Response to Tahoe Donner snowshoe hike to Hawk’s Peak

  1. Mike Hohmann says:

    Beautiful snowshoe hike! Alas, I didn’t even get my snowshoes on this past winter… not enough snow, even in central Minnesota! Now have my hiking boots and backpack out! 😉

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