Donner Tunnel Walk

Sponsored by the Tahoe Trail Trekkers, the Donner Summit Tunnel walk started just outside Tunnel #6,
where at one time Summit City sat as a complete community with a 24 hr telegraph office, wooden stalls for 12 locomotives and a tunrtable. One of the the Tahoe Trail Trekkers was a docent on the walk and provided outstanding background information on the structures and history of the area. In the 1800's, the Central Pacific railroad had to dig a series of tunnels to get tracks over the mountains and connected them with snowsheds to keep the tracks clear in the winter. The tunnels were abandoned and tracks pulled up in 1993. The walk passed under a tall highway underpass and entered Tunnel #6, which is 1,659' long. The constuction progress on this tunnel was too slow, so a center shaft was bored near the middle of the to allow two headings going outward and two coming inward - and they all met within 2 inches of planned alignment. The center shaft is stll visible, but is covered on top to prevent people from going down it. Outside Tunnel #6, the remains of the first road bed could be seen coming uphill. The original wagon train route crossed the track bed at this area, and people were stationed here to open wooden doors to let them through the snowsheds that were here. The second tunnel had its roof replaced with concrete because the granite became too unstable. Grafetti was evident on all the walls (art?). Highway 37 passed under the railbed through the first railroad underpass in California, built in 1914. This road had many names through the years - the Emigrant Gap State Highway, Highway 37, the Lincoln Highway and others. Prior to the underpass, it ran over the grade. It was replaced by Highway 40, then I-80 . We followed the road bed under the rails, down an impressive grade, past a "billboard" painted on the rocks to a series of petroglphs left by native indians. Fom there we could also look up and see the 75' "Chinese Wall", a gravity wall built by hand by the Chinese workers from the rubble of Tunnel #7 to fill a ravine and and which reportedly blocked the final gap used by emigrants to reach the Summit. The walk continued through a series of 5 huge tunnels/snowsheds which made me feel like I was wandering through the Mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings. Vent slits of various sizes allowed steam, smoke and fumes to exit the tunnels. After leaving the tunnels, the walk followed the old rail bed down to the active Tunnel, #41, built in 1925 and 10,000' long.

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