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Snowshoe by moonlight

The full moon rose slowly above the dark forest and reflective snowy meadow – a dream-like landscape created by shadow and lunar light. The night sky was swimming with stars.

“The moon was up and the place was glowing,” said Peter Lehmkuhl, experienced mountaineer and manager of Clair Tappaan Lodge. He recently led a group of 20 on a two-mile snowshoe hike illuminated by only the full moon.

The hike was the first in a series of monthly moonlight hikes the Sierra Club lodge has scheduled for the year. The next one will take place Tuesday, March 14. The hikes, along with other activities, are designed to attract a wider circle of visitors to the lodge.



Sierra Club volunteers built Clair Tappaan Lodge in 1934 as a rustic “cabin in the woods” for skiers. It is the only lodge of its type owned by the National Sierra Club (rather than by state and local chapters) and is coined the “Flagship Lodge.” Nestled in the Sierras at 7,000 feet, the lodge gets about 12,000 visitors a year. While winter weekends are typically booked, weekdays and summers see a dramatic drop in occupancy.

Last year Sierra Club board of directors gave the lodge an ultimatum – raise $100,000 or risk closing its doors for good. A successful fundraising effort kept the lodge open but an ongoing campaign to increase occupancy is still in place – meaning a whole new array of activities for the public.




Next month, interested moonlight snowshoers can meet at the lodge for a hearty dinner before departing into the open meadows behind the building. The entire moderate walk takes place on groomed trails and any beginner who can walk two miles is capable. Donner Pass Summit history and present day conservation issues will be discussed over steaming cups of hot cocoa midway through the hike.

Along the way ecological information such as nearby peaks, ridges and natural landmarks will be pointed out. On a clear full moon night Boreal Ridge and Signal Peak are silhouetted against the backdrop of a star-punched sky.

“To be outside on a full moon night with snow around is a special experience for people. It puts them in an environment that they are not used to but an environment that is truly beautiful and unique. It’s the newness of the experience that is the true attraction,” said Lehmkuhl.

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A moonlight snowshoe hike will be held on Tuesday, March 14 at Clair Tappaan Lodge. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. and the trek will start from the back door of the lodge at 7:15 p.m. The cost is $15 for adults and $8 for children. Snowshoes and poles are available for rent. Allow 45 minutes extra time to be outfitted for gear.

How to get there: From eastbound I-80 take Soda Springs/ Norden exit (old U.S. 40). Drive 2.4 miles east on Donner Pass Road. Look for the Clair Tappaan Lodge sign slightly up the hill on the left and the wide footpath that leads up to the lodge. Parking is available on either side of the road.

To make reservations contact Peter Lehmkuhl at 530-426-3632 or e-mail: ctl@sierraclub.org.

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A snowshoe ecology tour will be held the weekend of March 24-26. The weekend trip – led by experienced mountaineers – will follow the Pacific Crest Trail toward the Peter Grub Hut. Winter related flora and fauna will be discussed. The cost is $145 for Sierra Club members and $170 for non-Sierra Club members. The package includes tours on Saturday and Sunday, lodging and three meals a day.

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Beginning May 13 and continuing throughout the summer, a series of moonlight hikes organized by Clair Tappaan will take place. See Web site for full lineup http://www.sierraclub.org.

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Laura Brown lives in Nevada County and covers the outdoors for The Union. Her e-mail is laurab@theunion.com

Gear list for snowshoe hiking

1. Snowshoes

2. Water Proof hiking boots

3. Trekking poles (ski poles are fine)

4. Water

5. Snacks

6. Warm clothes

(Synthetics blends, such as fleece, polypropylene and wool are better at keeping a person warm in the outdoors than cotton or jean)

7. Gloves

8. Hat

9. Sunglasses

10. Sun screen

11. Lip balm

Safety tips for snowshoers

• Check with the local weather service before you head out. Conditions can sometimes change abruptly.

• Make sure someone knows where you will be snowshoeing and your expected time of return, even if you are not going alone.

• When snowshoeing with a group, make sure everyone is comfortable with the pace and demands of the trail. Count the number of people in your group before you leave and make sure everyone in the group knows this number. Stop every 30 minutes to allow everyone in the group to catch up.

• Know your limits and don’t surpass them!

Clothing tips for snowshoers

• On your body: Think in layers! The first layer of clothing should be lightweight and breathable. You should avoid cotton garments. The Second layer should be insulating. Lightweight fleece or wool is ideal. The outer layer should be waterproof.

• On your feet: Your number one objective is to keep your feet dry! Wear socks made from moisture wicking materials like wool, silk or polypropylene. Your boots should be stable and comfortable. Waterproof hiking boots are your best bet. Gaiters are essential for keeping snow out of your shoes.

Supply tips for snowshoers

• Essential supplies: Carry plenty of water. Plan for one quart per person, per hour. Take extra food or energy bars. Carry a compass and a trail map and know how to use them. Pack a first aid kit.

• Handy tools: Snowshoe poles will help to keep you stable and to propel you forward. If you are a serious adventurer or mountaineer, an ice axe is absolutely necessary when crossing steep and icy terrain.

Gear list for snowshoe hiking

1. Snowshoes

2. Water Proof hiking boots

3. Trekking poles (ski poles are fine)

4. Water

5. Snacks

6. Warm clothes

(Synthetics blends, such as fleece, polypropylene and wool are better at keeping a person warm in the outdoors than cotton or jean)

7. Gloves

8. Hat

9. Sunglasses

10. Sun screen

11. Lip balm

– Laura Brown


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