Work and Play at Clair Tappaan Lodge, Tahoe National Forest, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13286A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Rehabilitate the forest, restore streams, or maintain nature trails around Clair Tappaan Lodge
  • Hike, swim, climb, or relax during free time
  • Stay in an iconic Sierra Club lodge


  • All lodging and meals
  • Leader-led hikes and outings during off time
  • Learn new environmental management skills and apply them in a meaningful service project 


DatesAug 11–17, 2013
StaffRick Ramos

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The first steps toward stewardship are awareness, appreciation, and the selfish desire to have the things around for our kids to see. Presumably the unselfish motives will follow as we wise up. - Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder, 2002

The primary purpose of this long-term project is to improve the health of the forest surrounding the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan and Hutchinson lodges. Since the Civil War, the forests in the Tahoe Basin have been extensively logged -- their wood used for railroad construction and buildings. Since Clair Tappaan Lodge's construction 75 years ago, the acres of forest around it have remained mostly untouched, except for nature trails built on the hill behind the lodge. A forester's inspection tour in 2003 gave rise to a few forest management projects -- in particular, a plan to restore the woods to their pre-1860s state, before the coming of the railroad. 

The Project

This trip is a continuation of a project that began in 2003 when we managed to make two acres of forest more fire-safe. This year our work agenda will be determined after we consult with the Clair Tappaan staff to find out what the greatest priorities are to improve forest health and the lodge's fire safety. We will likely be involved in cutting the dead and low-hanging branches -- a major fire hazard -- from both the pines and firs. There are more areas of the forest that need replanting, so we may plant additional seedlings and experiment with methods to prevent them from being eaten by deer and other critters. There are also plans to make additional extensions of the lodge's trail system. No matter what our projects are, we will learn about forest ecology and help create a healthier ecosystem.


Day 1: Arrival Day. The outing begins at 4:00 p.m. with an introduction/orientation meeting and a tour of the lodge. After our 6:00 p.m. dinner we'll watch a short video documenting the history of the lodge. For the rest of the evening you will be free to visit with your fellow participants, read, play games, or turn in early.

Day 2: Work Day. Each day the "pack-your-lunch" bell rings at 7:30 a.m., followed by the breakfast bell at 8:00 a.m. Our work days will begin at 9:00 a.m., or as soon as we finish our kitchen chores, and we'll eat lunch near our work area. We'll stop frequently for water and rest breaks. Every evening the dinner bell rings at 6:00 p.m. After dinner, and after chores are completed, we'll take a short hike to enjoy a stunning sunset view of Van Norden Meadow and the mountain peaks.

Day 3: Play Day. All Play Days will offer an organized activity. This activity is optional. If you prefer to do other things on your own you're welcome to do so. Your leaders and lodge staff will be happy to suggest activities you might enjoy.

Our organized activity today is to hike to a splendid alpine lake on the summit. It's a well-maintained trail, with a moderately rolling profile. After the hike we'll have a picnic on the beach surrounded by granite and pines, and swim in the lake’s invigorating waters. This evening we'll enjoy a fascinating video documentary about the Donner Party's epic struggle for survival that took place very close to where the lodge stands today.

Day 4: Work & Play Day. We'll continue with our projects around the lodge in the morning. After lunch we'll visit Donner Lake State Park's historical museum, then go to the beach for a swim. This evening will feature a guest speaker presentation on a conservation topic of special interest that pertains to Tahoe National Forest.

Day 5: Work Day. Our goal today is to finish our projects. This evening will be free to enjoy as you please.

Day 6: Play Day. Our final day of play is your opportunity to "bag" two Sierra peaks. In the morning we'll hike the 4.5-mile Judah Loop Trail over Donner Peak (elevation 8,019 feet) and the summit of Mt. Judah (elevation 8,254 feet). It's not a long hike but it is challenging. The Forest Service classifies this as a "moderate" hike; however it begins with a steep climb up a granite headwall. The trail surface on this climb is granite scree and rubble. At the top of the headwall the surface changes to hard packed dirt and the trail flattens to follow the contours of the mountain, climbing moderately. After completing the hike we'll return to the lodge to begin packing up. Tonight's dinner will feature a cook-out served in the front yard. After dinner we'll have our farewell meeting, including a campfire and s'mores.

Day 7: Departure Day. The trip ends after breakfast today. You can pack a bag lunch to take on your trip home. Travel safely.

All hikes and programs are subject to change depending on a variety of factors, including trail conditions, permits, weather, and availability of speakers. Please understand that your leader will try very hard to meet this itinerary. However, please come with an open mind and a flexible attitude.



Getting There

The lodge is located on Old US 40, 2.4 miles south of Interstate 80. It's about 45 miles west of Reno, NV., or 98 miles east of Sacramento, CA. Reno and Sacramento both have large airports with a variety of arrivals and departures. Carpooling is encouraged. The leader will send out the participant roster, so you can coordinate sharing a rental car or your own car with other participants. The driving instructions will be sent as the start date approaches, but getting to the lodge is the responsibility of each participant. We will be able to walk to our work project, but we will need to have cars for getting to Play Day activities.

The leader will send detailed directions closer to the trip dates. 

Accommodations and Food

In 1934, Sierra Club volunteers built Clair Tappaan Lodge as a rustic retreat for hikers, skiers, and mountain climbers. Located near Donner Summit, the area receives the highest average snowfall of the entire Sierra Nevada Range, making it a favorite of winter sports enthusiasts. In summer, a network of nearby trails offers miles of hiking and bicycling, and provides access to fishing streams, remote meadows and peaks, and good swimming lakes.

It is an uphill walk from the parking lot to the lodge, but you can drive to the back entrance, drop off your gear, and return your car to the lot below. All luggage has to be carried or pulled by cart from the unloading zone to the entrance. There is no parking close to the lodge, and there are no valets. The road from the loading area to the entrance is not smooth, making rolling suitcases difficult to manage. Keeping your belongings to a minimum makes it easier.

The lodge has a special rustic charm, although it is not a luxury lodge. It has a spacious living room, enormous fireplace, cozy library, and outdoor fire ring. A small, friendly staff cares for the Lodge. In keeping with the cooperative spirit of the Lodge, each guest pitches in by doing a simple chore that requires about a half-hour each day. Chores involve housekeeping such as preparing and serving meals, setting tables, sweeping/mopping floors, bussing tables, dishwashing, and taking out trash/recycling.

Prior to breakfast, guests prepare their own bag lunches from plentiful and varied ingredients. A hearty breakfast and dinner are prepared by the professional kitchen staff and served in the lodge's large communal dining room. A vegetarian meal option is always available. Participants with other dietary restrictions can usually be accommodated, provided that their trip leader is informed in advance.

Coffee, tea, and water are served with meals. For those wishing hot drinks before or after mealtimes, please bring change for the donation box. A soft drink coin machine is available in the lodge.

Sleeping accommodations vary in size from very small (approximately 50 sq. ft.) two-person cubicles to larger family rooms and separate dorms for men and women. The dorm rooms are large, but contain many sets of bunk beds, so your personal space will be small. All rooms are furnished with bunk beds with mattresses, pillows, and pillow cases. Trip participants provide their own sleeping bags or sheets, towels, soap and toiletries. The walls are thin and you will hear your neighbors, so bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper. The Lodge Manager -- not your trip leader -- assigns all accommodations in advance.

Doors do not lock; but there are lockers, and you can bring your own padlock. Restroom and shower facilities are shared, with two men's and two women's bathrooms (bring your own towel). The lodge also has a hot tub, so be sure to bring your bathing suit. A washer, dryer, and refrigerator are available.

Reservations for extended stays before or after your outing may be made by calling the lodge directly at 530-426-3632 or 1-800-679-6775.

Trip Difficulty

The work days will be moderately strenuous, largely because we'll be working at 7,000 feet. Hydration and working at a slow pace are the key to fending off altitude sickness, which can happen to anyone regardless of physical conditioning. You are advised to bring at least three one-liter water containers.

You may be asked to cut and stack brush, use a shovel or hoe to improve a trail, or to lift and move rocks. Safety is the primary concern on all of our service trips. No one will be asked to work beyond his or her capacity. The Lodge has many less demanding tasks if you're unable to do heavier work. If you're asked to something you're not comfortable with, we encourage you to tell us you'd rather do something else.

The play days are also moderately strenuous. They include hikes ranging in length between five and seven miles and reaching altitudes of nearly 8,500 feet. Some trails have significant elevation changes and steep sections. Trail surfaces range from packed dirt, to granite rubble, to sandy soil. The views are magnificent. If you plan to swim in alpine lakes you should be comfortable swimming in large, deep lakes that have cold water temperatures. That water feels wonderful on a warm Sierra afternoon.

For your comfort and safety it is necessary that you have an above average fitness level as demonstrated by your other outdoor activities and/or personal fitness and exercise routine. You must be able to hike at an average rate of two miles per hour over a five- to seven-mile hike that includes grades of up to 15%. 

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will send a detailed equipment list to all registered participants.



  • Muir, John, My First Summer in the Sierra.
  • Farquhar, Francis, History of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Sorer, Tracy I., Sierra Nevada Natural History.
  • Gilligan, David, The Secret Sierra.
  • McGlashan, C.F. History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra.

The Sierra Club publishes numerous books about California. Find them at



If you're interested in learning more about the area, pick up a copy of the USGS topographic map for Donner Pass, available at many sporting goods stores and at the lodge. 


In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught. - Baba Dioum, Senegalese ecologist, Speech 1968

Your leaders are volunteers. We have a long-term dedication to the Sierra Club, conservation, and enjoyment of the outdoors. While on the trip, please don't hesitate to ask your leaders about any conservation concerns that you may have. We look forward to having you share conservation challenges and successes from your home.

On this trip, we will learn about the preservation and management of the forest. Good forest practices keep the woods healthy and allow for recreation -- hiking, nature walks, and cross-country skiing -- that doesn't disturb the flora and fauna. Good forest management also helps prevent out-of-control forest fires, which often lead to the degradation of surrounding water bodies. The connection may not be obvious, but when fire destroys soil-holding vegetation, subsequent rains cause topsoil to flow off the hillsides, clogging waterways and changing the ecology of the area's rivers and lakes.

If you bring a cell phone, music player, or other electronic gear on your trip please leave it in the lodge. Please do NOT bring these items to our work day projects or on our play day activities. Your leader will have a cell phone at all times, but only for emergency use.

We will practice Leave No Trace principles on our outings and hikes. We will follow good environmental practices by bringing our own reusable lunch containers and sacks. Please don't bring bottled water. Drinking bottled water products is not environmentally responsible because of the plastic waste it generates. Please bring refillable water bottles so that you can carry three liters of water.

Since any traveling leaves a carbon footprint, check out the information that the Sierra Club offers about carbon offsets at:



Rick Ramos, a native Californian, has been a Sierra Club member over 20 years and has been a hike leader at Group, Chapter and National levels the entire time. Rick has been active in the outdoors from childhood and is more comfortable outside than inside. His adventures have taken him from Baja to Alaska and West Coast to East Coast. He has skied and climbed Mt. Shasta in California; backpacked in Denali, Alaska; kayaked in Canada and Baja; and scrambled the canyons of Utah. His love of the outdoors is evidenced by his knowledge of the natural world which he loves to share on national outings.

Assistant Leader:

Vivian Wolfe

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