In 1956 when the IOC – International Olympic Committee, announced that Squaw Valley had been chosen to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, the ski resort had one chair lift, two rope tows, a fifty-room lodge, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president; it was also the height of the Cold War. Because the event was going to be held in America, and because there was so much tension in the world over ideology, Communism versus everyone else, some feared that athletes from Communist countries wouldn’t be allowed to enter the U.S. to participate in the games.
IOC president, Avery Brundage, put a quick stop to that mind-set. He flat out stated that if any country which the IOC recognized was not permitted to participate in the Winter Olympic Games, Squaw Valley would forfeit the right to host the games.
The cost to host the games was $80 million, spread between the federal government, the state of California, and private investors who had a stake in Squaw Valley. Television was not new to the games, but the 1960 Winter Games was the first time that exclusive rights to televise the games were sold. At the time, it wasn’t recognized how valuable these rights would become. The exclusive privilege to televise the venues went to CBS for $50,000; the 1960 Summer Olympics television rights also went to CBS, but this time, they ponied up $550,000. For the 1960 Winter Olympics, the Soviets dominated the medal count, winning a total of twenty-one medals, while the U.S. only garnered ten.
It was getting dark and I had to quickly find a place to establish a camp. I was still on a steep slope, and even if I bedded down on the trail, the chances of rolling down the slope during the night were great. Ahead, I could see a very small grove of trees just off the side of the trail. Once in the grove, I looked around for anything that resembled the notion of flat, and found nothing. Desperate, I selected a site on the uphill side of a very large dead tree, and begin to construct a flat place just wide enough to hold my air mattress and sleeping bag. I used my shoe to dig into the dirt and to move it from uphill to downhill. When I was finished, I had a reasonable three-by-six approximation of a flat spot, with the dead tree serving as my downhill anchor.
It was dark when I lay out my sleeping gear, but not so dark that I have no trouble spotting the large, black ants crawling over my sleeping bag. As long as I was awake, I could feel them crawling across my chest and down my legs. I nailed several of them, but ants rule the world; they were like the participants in the game Whack-A-Mole; you eliminate one and two more pop up. Lying on my bed, I could see directly above me several very large dead tree limbs. If one dropped during the night, it could result in some serious damage. I paid them no heed, however; I was too tired to worry about such things as I was more concerned about the ants.
The moon was still high in the sky when I left camp this morning; the ants enjoyed their time exploring my sleeping bag, and the dead tree served me well in holding me fixed to the hillside. I was excited about today, for this was the day I would make it to old Highway 40, the highway that originally crossed over Donner Summit before the new Interstate I-80 was built. And it was at the summit that my wife, Jodie, and friends, Ken and Lois Cutler, would meet me and whisk me off for a couple of zero days in Truckee. At 4:00 a.m., I was on the move.
The traverse was as long as I thought it would be, and it was a long way before I left the contours of the steep slope and entered forested lands that again offered the potential for a camping site. I was scheduled to meet my friends at the designated road no later than 5:00 p.m., which was twenty-three miles distance. Accordingly, I was a man with a mission, and I wasted no time in moving up the trail.
I encounter the usual forested lands, steep hillside climbs, downhill descents, uphill switchbacks, ridge walking, patches of winter ice and snow, stream crossings, and soggy meadows with mosquitoes and rocky trails. Every turn in the trail brought a new Kodak moment, and I stopped often to capture the moment with my Canon digital camera. After passing Squaw Valley and the aerial trams that connected the valley with the ski runs that started at the top of the rim, I passed Granite Chief Peak, Tinker Knob, Anderson Peak, and Sugar Bowl Ski Resort on my descent to Donner Summit. It is the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort that one can see on the south side of the freeway crossing over Donner Summit.
Several miles before reaching Highway 40, at a bend in the trail, I came upon an historical trail marker, which consisted of two lengths of steel railroad rails welded in the shape of the letter “T.” The marker designated the path in front of me as being part of the original Donner Party Trail. It instructed the visitor to walk a short distance to the edge of a cliff known as Roller Pass which, according to the marker, was where members of the Donner Party had to haul their wagons up the face of the cliff using ropes, chains, oxen, and human power.
I set my pack down in the trail and took the time to investigate the site. Peering over the edge of the cliff, I contemplate the sacrifice and toil those emigrant pioneers had to give to achieve their goals. I stepped back from the precipice and sat down on a rock to reflect on what I knew about the Donner Party, and the choices they made that brought them to the base of this cliff.