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Hawley Hike

November 15, 2014

Got a little gift of a hike today. Didn’t expect it, so it was extra appreciated. We are four: Carrie, Gail, Julie and me at a cabin near South Lake Tahoe.  I am along for the ride, a fourth wheel on a tricycle, willing to do whatever these guys do when they come up here, it’s all good. I brought hiking stuff in case, and so it was. Only Julie and I were interested though.

We drove just a little bit down the Upper Truckee Road, across 50, down the road a bit more and to a trail head. Up a trail about maybe a mile, maybe a mile and a quarter. Easy grade, but nice views. We turned around when we reached 50, at just about Echo Summit. Perfect morning hike. Here are some pics.

Along the road:

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At the trailhead:

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At a good view spot. That’s Julie in front, Tahoe in back:

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A tiny bit of snow:

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Leafless aspens:

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Postscript: I am now back from the weekend trip, and after a little googling, found out a little more about this Hawley Grade. First of all, it was about two miles from the trailhead up to Echo Summit, and it was something between about 750 and 900 feet of elevation gain (found lots of different opinions on this). So…longer and slightly more rigorous than it felt that morning, probably because we talked like fiends the whole way.

Secondly, this is a place of historic significance.  Here’s what I found out: 

“Along Hawley Grade you relive a bit of California’s history by ascending the first wagon road to be built across the central Sierra. Hawley’s Grade was a short-lived but key link in a trans-Sierra route to Hangtown and Sacramento. By 1850, Hangtown–today’s Placerville–had become the unofficial capital of northern California’s gold-mining region, and two years later a route of sorts was built from it to Johnson Pass–1/4 mile north of today’s Echo Summit–from where it dropped into Lake Valley. Drop it did, so steeply in fact that block and tackle had to be used to haul westbound wagons up it. An alternative grade had to be found. 

A route over Luther Pass, to the southeast, was surveyed in the winter of 1854 for the purpose of providing a wagon road to Sacramento and Hangtown that would be better than Johnson Pass and also shorter and easier than the primitive Carson Pass route. That spring, Asa Hawley established a trading post in upper Lake Valley near a part of the Upper Truckee canyon’s wall that quickly became known as Hawley’s Hill. Construction soon began on a grade that would be gentle enough to safely accommodate wagons. Financed by private interests, this route–Hawley’s Grade–was completed in 1857, making it the first conventional wagon road to cross the central Sierra. Combined with a recently constructed Luther pass segment, this grade fast became the route to take. In 1858, El Dorado and Sacramento counties improved western segments of this largely-one-lane toll road, making it far superior to the higher, longer, snowbound Carson Pass route  to the south. 

Timing couldn’t have been better, for in 1859, sliver was discovered in the Comstock Lode at Virginia Town, today’s Virginia City. Traffic was reversed on the road as a flood of miners from California’s gold fields scrambled east over this toll road to try their luck at or near Virginia Town. Alas, even as Hawley’s Grade was constructed to channel westbound miners and pioneers into California’s Mother Load country faster than was possible along the Carson Grade, so too were plans made to convey miners and others east to the Comstock by a faster route. By the summer of 1860, a wagon-and-stage roll road–abandoned today–had been constructed down Meyer’s Grade, then east to climb over Daggett Pass, situated above Tahoe’s southeast shore. Hawley’s Grade, briefly a shortcut that siphoned traffic from the Carson Pass route, now became the longer, unprofitable toll road.”

Cool, huh?

2 Responses to “Hawley Hike”

  1. aquasoul Says:

    Lovely pics as usual Kari. Is it okay if I use your photo of the aspens? To do a painting maybe. I’ve done them before and it might be time to do another.


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