River Views

by Malcolm Macdonald, December 24, 2013

I spent several days in mid-December in the Sierra. Most of the time was occupied with backpacking from the Donner Summit area north by northwest to the Peter Grubb Hut. It was constructed in the late 1930s as a memorial to Galileo High School graduate and outdoor enthusiast Peter Grubb. Peter died, at 18, while on a bicycle tour of Europe.

The hut has undergone extensive repairs this fall. Many of the Sierra Clubbers who performed various difficult labors at the hut in November were along for the December trek through more snow than you might imagine given the lack of precipitation this autumn.

The night before setting out for Peter Grubb was spent in the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge. Built in the mid-1930s by Sierra Club volunteers, the lodge was then only a couple of hundred feet north of the Lincoln Highway, the main east-west thoroughfare of the time. The Southern Pacific Railroad had a stop another hundred feet below. Though prices for an overnight stay at Clair Tappaan have risen to the level of moderate motels, the charge includes a dinner that surpasses most roadside eateries by a landslide. The lodge will also supply hikers with material for a sack lunch, but you have to be up and at ‘em early for the best sandwich fixin’s.

One of the nicest spots at Clair Tappaan Lodge is a secluded library, complete with its own small wood stove, tables, couches, and an antique desk. I bee-lined to the old registers from the various Sierra Club huts. Finding one that encompassed all the 1960s entries penned and penciled in by skiers, snowshoers, and hikers who’d made it to Peter Grubb I settled in to see if there were any reactions to JFK’s assassination. Finding none, I thumbed through harrowing accounts of parties stranded in the dark winter woods above the Grubb hut (it is off the beaten path even in summer). Fortunately all that I read were penned by survivors.

Today, the journey to Peter Grubb begins with a parking pass near the Boreal Inn exit off Interstate 80, where it intersects the Pacific Crest Trail. The early 1960s register entries tell of starting directly from Clair Tappaan Lodge then crossing the construction site for the “new” highway.

Of course, if you write in a hut register and sign your name, you put yourself at risk of being discovered decades later. The Peter Grubb register included a note from a long time Mendocino Coaster, then a student at Santa Rosa Junior College and a member of that institution’s hiking club. Here’s his January, 1963 entry in the Peter Grubb Hut register:

NOTICE: The SRJC Hiking Club is hereby responsible for any snow that may have occurred during their stay in the Sierras. We expect due credit from those who follow in our snowshoe tracks for our noble effort in bringing at least one foot of snow to this devastated and sunstruck region.

To Rodunga, the Rock — God of the SRJCHC, we send gifts of our usual iniquity for his noble gift of the first snow since XMAS.

10% of profits from those who use Sierra ski slopes on our snow are payable to the SRJCHC, Santa Rosa, Calif.

X Stu Tregoning DHS, President, SRJCHC INC.

    NOTICE: The SRJC Hiking Club is hereby responsible for any snow that may have occurred during their stay in the Sierras. We expect due credit from those who follow in our snowshoe tracks for our noble effort in bringing at least one foot of snow to this devastated and sunstruck region.After chuckling at the Tregoning note, which included scores of various “Hearts” card games played over three days and nights, I dispensed with the hut registers and moved on to old Sierra Club Bulletins from the 1920s, with accounts of John Muir by people who had actually known and hiked with him. Something about this library room must make people of all ages feel like they are a part of times long gone by or might become a part of history in decades still to come. Inside a book which I will not identify for reasons that should be clear in another paragraph or so, I found a crinkled, lone note page, not as large as a 3x5 card.

“Hello, my name is Laura Neef. I just thought it would be cool to leave a note for anyone who happens to find it here in the library. Today is November 16, 2013. This place is really old, so I am hoping that someone will find this a long time from now and it will be an antique or something. If you find this only like a month after I wrote it, please just put it back where you found it. Anyway, I love it up here. It is nice to be away from all of the crazynesses of life, if only for 2 days. I had to bring my homework here, but I like doing it at the old wooden desk by the fire. We just got back from Donner Party Museum, which is small but nice and very eerie. They did a pretty good job considering that it is very hard to portray the absolute terror those people were going through. It’s really sad how people can have such good intentions, but poor planning can turn anything into a disaster. Anyway, I have to start homework, but flip to the back of this paper for things that are going on right now.”

On the backside Laura included the following:

“President: Barack Obama

Popular artists: 1 Direction, Imagine Dragons, 1 Republic, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus. (there are a lot more but I don’t want 2 take up an entire page)

Latest Inventions: filter straw, electric cars

Latest news: Phillipeans hurricain (I am pretty sure I spelled that wrong)

U.S. House trying to shoot down Obamacare

Latest fashions: I’m not really good with fashion, but I have heard teal was the “in” color.

There are also a lot of crop-tops, combat boots, and wrap-around scarves.”

It was almost exactly a month later that your note was discovered, Laura. But in keeping with your wishes and the spirit of the holiday season, it has been secreted inside that same book on the shelves of the Clair Tappaan Library.

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