Shades of ” The Donner Party”

As I sat in the Raleigh’s Grocery store parking lot waiting for President Bill in Auburn I have to admit I was a bit surprised when he pulled into the lot driving his 4×4 Dodge 2500 diesel. Bill’s first words to me were, “well Murray’s bringing his truck, Cort’s bringing his
truck and so is DD” We headed east on hwy 80 in heavy rain. It started snowing at 4,000 ft. We weren’t ten minutes into the snow zone when a 1 ton truck flew past us at about 65 mph and still excellerating. Suddenly the truck spun to the left, hit the raised curb and went air borne flipping twice befor hitting a large tree and breaking the tree in half before the truck rolled violently down the steep snow covered embankment. Making a long story short I’ll say that Bill and I immediately pulled over.
We had no doubt that the occupants of the truck were either dead of seriously injured. To our complete shock we then witnessed a young, rather confused man climbing up the steep snow covered embankment and asking if he could use our cell phone. As Bill was putting road flares out vehicles driving way to fast for the conditions came flying around the blind turn in the roadway and ran right over the flares putting them out.

Recue vehicles and CHP showed up and both occuppantes of the wrecked truck were taken to the hospital via ambulance and extremely luck to be alive. After spending at least one hour standing out in the snow we hopped in our rigs and continued to drive east and up Donner Pass.
THIS IS HOW OUR DAY STARTED—As we finally arrived at the trail head of Meadow Lakes Road it was still snowing with about 12-18 inches of snow on the ground.
Observing that several Sheriff’s Search and Rescue vehicles, trailers etc, were parked off to the side, President Bill commented that they must be training……. ” NOT !”It was a relatively easy drive for the first four miles and then life as we knew it changed. I’ve driven in a lot of different snow conditions. This snow had the consistency of snot and our tires started slipping. I forgot to mention that about 2 miles into the trail we passed the Sheriff driving a large snow cat. They also had two Deputy’s on snow mobiles and one of the snowmobiles had gone off the road ” you couldn’t even tell where the road was” and was stuck in a deep ditch. President Wild Bill spoke briefly with the Snow Cat operator and learned that they were en-route to White Lake to rescue deer hunters. Additionally there were campers stranded at Meadow Lake and the now at the lake was already 3 feet deep. The Deputy said he could tell that we knew what we were doing but he recommended that we not continue due to the severe weather conditions. Well…….. our Mothers didn’t raise two fools so we decided the Deputy was right and it was at this point we decided to turn around. The Deputy driving the very large snow cat needed us to pull off the trail so he could pass us. As I pulled off the side of the trail in deep powder snow I got stuck, then Bill got stuck. Bill didn’t have a winch on his Dodge truck so my winch was getting quite a work out. At one point I had a tow strap hooked to the rear bumber of our fearless President’s truck and was pulling him backwards down the trail as there was absolutely no way he was going to be able to turn around in the deep snow. Due to fate, lack of communications or just pure bad luck, Bill ended up off the side of the road in a deep ditch. In white out conditions we strapped the rear of my jeep to a big tree and hooked up to Bill’s front truck bumper. Giving the winch a complete work out with the engine reving about 2,000 rpm the truck would not budge and then it happened !!!

My Warn 9500 I winch froze up solid. No matter what we did it would not budge. There we were in a real pickle. The tow strap was pulled tight and the winch cable was so tight the tires on my Jeep were partially off the ground. The winch clutch would not release and finally it happened. Bill gave the clutch lever a good smack and my truck boomeranged about 8 ‘ backwards.
Suddenly I realized I had no winch, President Bill was stuck and we were in the middle of a freak Sierra blizzard with no communications.
A meeting of the minds determined that I would drive out towards Truckee and contact a rescue party. The drive down the trail to Forest Service Road 7 took about 90 minutes and then due to heavy snow and ice it was another 90 minutes until I was close enough to Truckee for my cell phone to work. As I drove past the hwy 89 location of the Donner Party’s historic camp I made a firm decision that no matter what happened I wasn’t going to eat Bill.

Head Eagle Scott and DD were contacted and told to handle the rescue party…… As I drove “once again” past the historic Donner Party camp site I had thoughts of what I would have done in their situation.
Knowing that President Bill was stranded in freezing temperature I had second thought about returning to his location… After all, I’ve only known him for about 6 years and he was driving a Dodge truck. If I got stuck with no winch I would be in a bad situation just like President Bill. I gave the matter serious consideration and then I realized that Bill was most likely waiting for me at the Meadow Lake trailhead since the Sheriff, no doubt would have returned from their rescue and pulled Bill’s Dodge truck out. Obviously they wouldn’t leave him there to freeze to death… Ok, that would be fine so I started the drive back to the Meadow Lake trail head, once again passing the historic Donner Party encampment. About one hour later I arrived at the Meadow Lake trail head and to me shock…….. no Sheriff rescue trucks or trailers and no President Bill. I aired DOWN “again” and started the trouble some drive to save Bill all the time knowing that should I get stuck in the deep snow that we would both be up a creek with no paddles. The four mile drive took about 45 minutes and when I made the turn to where Bill’s truck had been stuck all I saw was the truck, no Bill.
As I drove next to his truck I saw that he was sitting in a chair directly in front of his radiator. He had a blank, glazed stare in his eyes and was wearing only his underpants and a pair of boots that were to small for his feet. His clothes were draped on the hood of his Dodge and he approached me walking with robotic precision. As I exited my Jeep Bill approached and spouted, ” Scoty, where is Spock.” President Bill looked me directly in the eyes and told me he needed full power in six minutes and that I should beam him to a warm motel in Truckee. I questioned Bill as to why the Sheriff hadn’t extracted him with their huge snow cat. Bill explained that he was sitting in his chair drying his clothes on the hood of his Dodge when the snow cat arrived from their rescue. He verified that he was only wearing underpants and recieved questionable looks from the Deputy’s as they stopped approximately 100 feet from his location. Bill explained that the biggest of the Deputies exited the giant snow cat and ask if he was ok to which Bill replied that he was just fine. ( DUH ? )
Being the type of upstanding Madhatter that I am I guided President Bill towards the passenger seat of my Jeep and attempted to persuade him to sit down. With great vigor and frozen drool on his chin he barked that he needed his faser gun.

I allowed him to retrieve his faser, wet clothes and a large bag of peanut M&M’s and we headed back down the trail in the rapidly approaching darkness. The entire time President Bill kept mumbling something about the fact that Merble said he was bringing his truck. At the intersection of Meadow Lakes Road and Forest Service Road #7 we had to make a choice… camp in two feet of wet snow or continue past the historic Donner Party camp into Truckee. As we drove past the Donner Party encampment I couldn’t help but look at President Bill , the thought of eating him for dinner repulsed me, but we had lucked out and were safe for the night. A warm hotel bed welcomed us and we promptly feel asleep. At 4 am I was awaken by President Bill who stated that he feared somebody would set his Dodge truck aflame with one of the road flares he left on the front seat from the earliers truck roll over we had witnessed.

We had a couple quick cups of coffee and then pointed north on hwy 89, past the Donner Party encampment and turned onto Forest Service Road #7. Upon attempting to turn onto Meadow Lakes road we hit solid ice, aired down once again and headed up the road. Supreme Eagle Scott had told me the rescue party would arrive about 9am. We reached President Bills truck and placed our chairs in the middle of the road where we enjoyed the noises of snow falling from the heavily laiden trees.
9am, 10am, 11am, No rescue party. At 11:30 we heard a vehicle coming up the road towards our location. Suddenly ( it was a beautiful sight ) we saw Supreme Eagle Scott’s Jeep driving towards our roadside camp. Scott explained that Danny Jone’s Jeep truck broke in Truckee and Dave Jones would be about 45 minutes behind him.

Dave and Danny arrived in Dave’s Jeep and everyone went to work on the extraction of President Bill’s Dodge truck with all season sissy tires and no winch. ( Danny’s truck was still broke down in Truckee)

It would have been impressive to a Rookie, but since all of us are professionals it was pretty much a piece of cake as Bill used calculas and geometry to plot the position of the winch and tow straps for the extraction. After about one hour we were successfull and Bill’s truck was free of the deep hole in the snow. Come to find out it was right where a big metal colvert went under the road where Bill had become trapped.

We backed Bill down the trail until he was able to turn around and headed down to Foresthill where we enjoyed a couple cold beers and a blazing campfire.

In all seriousness I must simply say that both Bill and I were totally prepared. If need be we could have camped in the deep snow and would have been warm and comfortable. For those that choose to criticize I simply will say that we were there, stepping up to the plate in an all out effort to set a camp up for the Madhatters 4×4 Club Of Northern California. In closing I also say, Thank you Scott, Dave and Danny for going way out to help friends in deep need.

About El Presidante

Past Madhatter President (9 years), Retired Police Officer. A mild stroke in 2011 slowed my wheeling down a bit but I'm still working on getting back in the game. I now am TOTALLY retired. Sue and I are approaching 42 years of marriage and our 2 kids and 7 Grandkids keep me busy. At the top of my priority list is getting all those Grandkids up in the mountains on camping and fishing trips. My bucket list is getting shorter but I've still got a lot of projects in the works.
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