“Perilous Pass”: Donner Lake View

Donner pass, winter, view, mcglashan point, cannabalism, california, famous

“Perilous Pass”: Donner lake View from McGlashan Point is offered for sale for the month of December 2020.

Key information:

  • Size: 16.75 x 23.88″
  • Matted? No
  • Border: Yes, .5″ white
  • Paper: Archival Luster
  • Printer: Calicolor, Sacramento (regional fine art printer that uses an Epson SureColor P20000 Inkjet Printer with archival inks)
  • Date of Image: April 8, 2020
  • Settings: ISO 200, f/11, 85mm, 1/800, Nikon 750D
  • Limited Edition? Yes, 1 of 50
  • Signed: Yes, on back
  • Certificate of Authenticity? Yes
  • Price: $100 (Contact me for pricing on smaller sizes) 10% of net profit a donation to RED, the sub-saharan organization fighting AIDS.
  • Shipping and handling: $7.95 for mail tube, $14.95 for flat in the U.S. Contact me for international shipping. Will deliver free locally up to 30 miles radius.

The Story of “Perilous Pass,” Donner Lake

Despite it officially being springtime, it was a cold and blustery day when I made this photo. I had headed out to the Sierras for a few hours of cross-country skiing in the area, and it was clear and beautiful day. Iʻve made several images from this location, but did not have a winter scene that made me happy.

I set up my tripod at the McGlashan viewpoint, bundled up in several layers. Even though it was the beginning of April, the wind was biting. Even when it seems calm, the point is pretty exposed and it always seems windy up there. It must have been something, since I set the shutter at 1/800, really fast for a landscape image. I canʻt remember if I used a polarizing lens or not. If I donʻt remember to overexpose to keep the snow white, then I have to adjust it in post-processing.

Even though technically I did not need the tripod with such a fast shutter speed, I recommend them for most landscape shooting. I appreciate being able to compose the shot and have the tripod keep it the composition intact. It allows me to pay attention to the light and shadow (bracketing as needed), the ISO, shutter etc, and take many different exposures. It also allows for the sharpest possible image at a slower shutter speed. I also use the self-timer mode to prevent any inadvertent shutter button movement.

The Donner Party

Like so many others, I have always been fascinated by the history of Donner Pass and of course, the ill-fated Donner Party and the winter of 1846-1847. It took the survivors ten months to reach California, and they travelled 2,500 miles by wagon train to do it. Their story is considered one of the greatest tragedies in the history of westward migration. Sacramento premiered a surprisingly upbeat musical version of their story a few years ago, and I highly recommend it if you can find it.

The infamous fall into cannibalism notwithstanding, the group was like so many of the other pioneers during this period of Manifest Destiny. The hardships are very hard for me to imagine, and death by starvation seems unbearably grisly. Honestly, I donʻt know how I would have behaved in a similar situation. Do any of us? A few adjectives that come to mind for this gold-rush era group: adventurous, courageous, foolish, passionate, desperate, and very, very human.

C.F. McGlashan

The vista point is named after C.F. McGlashan. McGlashan was a journalist of note from Truckee, California who spent two years investigating the Donner Party. His work culminated in the book “History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra,” which is still in print. The plaque at the viewpoint reads:

McGlashan Point

Dedicated August 10, 1986 in honor of Charles Fayette McGlashan 1847-1931

Truckee’s patriarch, historian, author, editor, attorney, legislator, inventor, entomologist and astronomer. His last public address was given in 1926 at the Donner Summit Bridge dedication.

This site is named in his memory by the people of Truckee.

Sadly, a big black mark about McGlashan was his attempt to drive Chinese out of the Truckee area: He formed the Truckee Anti-Chinese Boycotting Committee which adopted the following resolution: “We recognize the Chinese as an unmitigated curse to the Pacific Coast and a direct threat to the bread and butter of the working class.” They refused to sell any material to Chinese immigrants for two months. (Wikipedia, from a Historical Archeology article)

Itʻs a great view!

Regardless, if youʻve never had a chance to see this amazing vista, itʻs not too late! To get to the point, you exit I-80 E at the Soda Springs exit. Drive through town, past the turn offs for the various ski resorts. Youʻll start to descend down the mountain pass road before going over a bridge. The parking lot is directly to the left after crossing the bridge. Itʻs one of the regionʻs most scenic views. Hiking trails and petroglyphs are also in the area. Enjoy!

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