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Oyler: Vacation allows family bonding, exploration of new places

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

My wife and I spent the first two weeks of August with our extended family in a large vacation home on Donner Lake, high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

The biggest thrill of the vacation was the opportunity it gave us to spend time with our children and grandchildren.

The house sits on the hillside south of the lake, with a dock at water's edge. The kids had a great time with the two kayaks and two stand-up paddle boards, exploring the entire lake. We had a marvelous view from the large deck on the fourth floor, adjoining our bedroom, a great location for octogenarian spectators.

One morning, the lake was full of swimmers and supporters in kayaks.

Several hundred swimmers of all ages competed in the annual Donner Lake Swim.

Donner Lake is a classic Alpine glacial lake, formed by the deposition of a moraine when the glacier receded. It is three thousand feet wide and about two and three quarter miles long – the perfect size for swimming and all manner of small boating. Steep ridges covered with towering evergreens line both shores.

The most prominent peak we could see is Castle Peak, about six miles to the northwest. From most directions it resembles ruins of a medieval castle; from our vantage point it is a perfect replica of Snoopy flat on his back asleep on top of his doghouse. It is no surprise we have dubbed it “Snoopy Rock.” The elevation of Castle Peak is 9,109 feet, which puts it about 2,900 feet above the lake.

There are a number of attractive hiking trails in the Donner Summit area. One day we took the grandchildren to School Cliff where they had a great time rock climbing with the help of a guide. School Cliff is a huge slab of mostly smooth granite inclined at about sixty degrees with the horizontal. The climbers wear a harness attached to a safety rope, but actually pick their way up the face of the rock taking advantage of tiny crevices and footholds.

Their parents were able to get to the top of the cliff by a circuitous, much easier route. They reported finding a trail there. When they came back down, they asked the guide where the trail goes.

“Depends which way you turn. To the left takes you to Mexico; to the right, Canada.” The trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Nearly three thousand miles long, it is not as well-known as the Appalachian Trail, but is four hundred miles longer and considerably more challenging.

In the valley leading to the Summit is a large flat slab of granite which contains many Indian petroglyphs. Today they are quite faint, but a nearby marker explaining them has a pictorial which makes it easy to find them.

Another gentleman who was photographing the petroglyphs told us that they were much easier to see 30 years ago and that they represented the Indians' story of the creation of the world.

According to the marker, the symbols were chiseled into the granite three or four thousand years ago.

In addition we were treated to music each evening. Rachael had brought along her violin, and Ian, his trumpet. Ian has joined the “jazz band” in his middle school as well as the conventional band. Rachael will be part of the community youth orchestra in Champaign, Illinois.

Spending quality time with our children and grandchildren is certainly one of the blessings for which my wife and I are most grateful. We relish every minute of it.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or

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