The Donner Pass Summit Tunnels x The Consequence of Progress

If you’ve been the the Sierra Stake Out you may have noticed the train and snow sheds that line the ridge above camp. What you may not have realized is you can ride your motorcycle up to Donner Bridge, park, and hike up to these tunnels and go inside the ones that have been abandoned. Legend has it these tunnels are extremely haunted by the Chinese immigrants who blasted the rock walls to create the railway by hand. Visitors beware….

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A bit of history for those who dig that sort of thing…

A key part of this route lies at Donner Pass, where the first wagon train made its way into California. A series of now-abandoned tunnels were completed in August 1867, and the first train passed through it in 1868. Unfortunately Judah did not live to see this happen; he died in 1863 during an eastbound voyage in connection with his dream project.

The tunnels at Donner Pass were constructed by Chinese laborers and took more than 15 months of hard work to finish. The dozen tunnels were some of the most treacherous parts of the transcontinental railroad, linking the rail networks of Omaha, Nebraska, to the West Coast at  Oakland. They were constructed through the use of hand drilling, black powder, and nitroglycerin (leading to an untold number of worker deaths).

The tunnels were used by trains for 125 years, until 1993 when the line was rerouted through a new tunnel running through Mount Judah, named after the railroad pioneer. The Donner Pass and the tunnels are named after the Donner Party, a group of explorers en route to California who became stranded in the Sierra Nevada region due to heavy snow and resorted to cannibalism to survive.

The tunnel and snow sheds now sit abandoned and, despite being on private property, are a popular place for those willing to lug their asses up the hill. Tunnel #6, which took tens of thousands of hours to complete, is the most famous of the tunnels. Tunnels #7 and #8, along with the China Wall, which was built to hold up the trains as they transitioned between two tunnels, are the other parts of the system that are commonly visited. A walk through the dark tunnels, with light pouring in only at points where the wall has openings, can be an eerie experience. Ancient petroglyphs can also be found nearby and are marked with a plaque.

Know before you go

This is a popular place to explore but Union Pacific Railroad still owns the property. Although they have been fairly hands-off about enforcement, "no trespassing" signs are said to be up in certain parts of the tunnel. Explorers should be aware that they may be asked to leave or may be be ticketed. If you do explore, please be respectful of the tunnels and their history. Snow sheds and tunnels start near the Donner Ski Ranch. The longer tunnels start at the China Wall, just east of the Donner Summit Bridge.

Sierra Stake Out



Sierra Stake Out Proudly Welcomes Musician Shelby Cobra to the SSO2 Read About His Family Ties to the Donner Party, It Doesn't Get Much Tragic Than This...

It's not often you get a direct descendant from the Donner Party playing a show right in the location of where the ill fated journey ran into an act of God so severe, it made history that would jolt the new world and for generations to come. This year we have quite the surprise as Shelby Cobra from Shelby Cobra and the Mustangs will take the stage to open up Saturday night. It doesn't get anymore outlaw or solid country gold than Shelby Cobra

The Story

As we know approximately half of the Donner Party starved or were killed by cold in a stormy winter. The documentary of this event has produced a human saga of the ultimate in suffering, despair, and courage exceeding the extraordinary. Shelby's uncle was kind enough to give us some more of the story of their relative, William H Eddy, who saw what true hell was like and met the devil himself right here in these woods. Reader discretion is advised. 

William H. Eddy was identified by George R. Stewart in his book, Ordeal by Hunger, as a carriage maker from Illinois.  He was about 28 years of age in 1846 when he joined a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois bound for the Sacramento valley in California, the infamous Donner Party. Eddy was chronicled as a hero who demonstrated honesty in dealing with others, unselfishness in the face of inhuman callousness, courage beyond limit, and endurance greater than any man should ever be expected to demonstrate.  Stewart wrote, "He was... rough-and-ready, no man to be trifled with in a quarrel and for the same reason a man to be counted on in a pinch.  He was enterprising, straightforward, and much liked in the company.  Among them all he seems to have been the best hunter and the most skilled in the arts of the frontiersmen." 

William H. Eddy

William H. Eddy

Margaret Eddy

Margaret Eddy

After he and his family were trapped for some time, dying of starvation, Eddy, half dead as he was went looking for help. After days of wandering he came across Indians that helped him get to Ritter house at Johnson's Ranch in the Sacramento Valley.  His trail of blood in the snow was used by rescue parties to retrace his journey.  But Eddy wouldn't rest, he had to get back to save his wife and two children. Before he could recover he organized relief party attempting a rescue for his family and the other unfortunate settlers.  It must have been a bitter defeat upon arriving at the campsite to learn that his baby daughter had died of starvation, followed by his wife, and next his son who was neglected with no one left to care for him.  Even more devastating must have been the confession of one of the camp survivors, named Lewis Keseberg, that he had eaten the body of the young boy James P. Eddy.  Considerable evidence existed from hearsay that he might have killed the child first.  Other survivors accused him of killing and eating another child of the same age named Georgie Foster. Eddy was was a hero in a lost cause. He served his traveling companions with all he had, but received a most inhumanly callous reward in return.  

Eddy shown here in a painting was depicted as a hero by often bringing back meat and other sources of food for the camp in efforts to save everyone, not just his own family. 

Eddy shown here in a painting was depicted as a hero by often bringing back meat and other sources of food for the camp in efforts to save everyone, not just his own family. 

Legend has it that the ghost of evil that is Keseberg, roams this area to this day, luring children out of their tents at night to never be seen or heard from again.

Legend has it that the ghost of evil that is Keseberg, roams this area to this day, luring children out of their tents at night to never be seen or heard from again.

It was later claimed that Keseberg was the first member of the party to resort to cannibalism. Some people believed he was involved in the deaths of other children including George Foster and Tamsen Donner. After he was rescued Keseberg sued for slander but was only granted $1 and forced to pay the costs of the court. He was cursed for the rest of his life suffering countless tragedies until old age. Kenseberg died penniless and alone in Sacramento in 1895. 

In 1848 Eddy married again in Gilroy, California. The marriage was not a success and following a divorce he married for a third time in 1856. William Eddy died on 24th December, 1859 at the age of 43. 

As for the rest of the party, forty-two emigrants and two Indian guides had died. However, the remaining forty-seven travellers survived. 

After the thaw, the camp where the Donner Party was trapped claimed to have had 22 ft of snow. The tops of these trees would have been the ground, where they chopped wood for warmth. 

After the thaw, the camp where the Donner Party was trapped claimed to have had 22 ft of snow. The tops of these trees would have been the ground, where they chopped wood for warmth. 

Washoe Indians | The People Who Lived Here 5,000 Years Ago

It is estimated that over five thousand years ago, people have crossed the Sierra Nevadas right where you'll be sleeping during the Sierra Stake Out. Long before the "discovery" of this area by Euro Americans, this pass was a travel corridor for Native Americans such as the Washoe Indians. The name of their tribe derives from the Washoe word, waashiw (wa·šiw), meaning "people from here."

The Washoe tribe were skilled basket makers and wove the baskets so closely that they could contain the smallest of seeds and hold water. Neighboring Native Indian tribes of the Washoe were the Ute, Koso, Paiute, Panamint, Pueblo, Walapi and the Shoshone tribes. They were long-time enemies of the Northern Paiute who drove them from their tribal lands in Nevada to California.

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The ability to continue to survive in their home territory was put to a severe test, especially during the mining booms of the nineteenth century that centered around the California gold rush and the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. The mining boom brought in large numbers of miners and settlers, displacing Washoe from access to traditional resources. Washoe people took jobs working as ranch hands and domestic servants, finding a new economic niche. This adaptation was not without cost: the Washoe suffered severe population loss from poverty and disease and lived under prejudicial treatment by Euro-Americans, evidenced by threats to Washoe language, religion, and culture.

Washoe have withstood the test of time and continue to live near or on their aboriginal lands. By 2007, tribal membership was approximately 1,500. Although never awarded large-acreage reservations, many Washoe inhabit small tribal acreage sites known as “colonies” to this day. 

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