Theme song - "Hungry like the wolf", Duran Duran
It was a long, slow drive up into the mountains north of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe. In winter Lake Tahoe is popular ski resort, in summer it is popular with hikers and holidaymakers. We were in Tahoe to meet our friends from San Francisco, Jackie & Mark, and Naomi from Sydney. Shelly, Jackie and Naomi all worked together several years ago. Jackie had organised a cabin in the hills overlooking Tahoe township. We spent three nights, drinking, eating, and catching up, interspersed with trips around the surrounding area.
An hour or so to the north of Tahoe is Donner Lake, named after the infamous Donner party who were stranded here during a terrible winter in late 1846, early 1847. While many immigrants to California came by ship through San Francisco, there was also an overland route from the east. It was a long, hard route across the badlands of Utah and Nevada, followed by a grueling trek over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The wagon trains were also prey to bandits and Indians, who continued fighting their hopeless rearguard action against European encroachment of their lands.
In 1846 a wagon train of some 80 odd people with 500 wagons set out on the Oregon Trail. The party comprised several different family groups but became known by its nominal leaders, George Donner and his family and James Reed and his family. When the trail reached the Great Salt Lake of Utah, most travellers swung north and then joined the California Trail that struck south west through the mountains. The party however had recieved word from other travellers that there was an alternative route that went south around the lake and that could cut weeks of the trek. The discoverer of the new route, Lansing Hastings, who was already guiding another group along his path, had left behind vague instructions and a promise to return to guide the party. The Donner party decided to follow after Hastings, but soon ran into trouble. The route was much harder than they expected and their progress was extremely slow. As food began to run low and animals began to die, tempers flared and soon the party broke up into virtually separate groups. By the time they reached the mountains winter was truly upon them - and what a winter, the worst in 100 years. With snow drifts 12 feet high, the party got as far as Donner Lake before they were snowed in. A couple of hardy souls struggled though the snow but the rest attempted to stick it out. When their food ran out, they ate their animals, when their animals ran out, they ate each other. Only about half the settlers survived the ordeal.
Nowadays Donner Lake is a pleasant rural retreat with a small township, scattered holiday homes and an interesting museum.
A little further north is the town of Truckee, which has some well preserved gold rush era buildings. We stopped in at a couple of dive bars for refreshments.
It was a great couple of days spent with great friends. Our thanks again to Jackie and Mark for organising everything.