Sierra Crest 30k/50k Run Preview - Johnson Canyon to Summit Lake

If you can’t make it out for a preview run, here’s your virtual preview! If you can, go for it! Here’s what to expect if you’re not familiar with the course. This section is the same whether you’re racing 30 or 50k.

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever to get out on the Sierra Crest 30k course.

I made an attempt a couple of weeks back on a snowy day to run, in reverse, Drifter Hut (in between the 1st and 2nd aid stations on the 30k and in between the 2nd and 3rd aid stations for the 50k) to Johnson Canyon (2nd aid station for the 30k and 3rd aid station for the 50k) section but got turned back about halfway up by rock hard and slopey snow banks.

This past weekend, Garrett and I started in Johnson Canyon again and went up the other side, towards Summit Lake. It’s completely clear all the way to Summit Lake Road, which is a couple miles in, and only a little bit of snow from there until about a ¼ of a mile before Summit Lake (our turnaround point).

For me, the first section is definitely a tougher one. Right out of the Johnson Canyon parking lot, it climbs steeply on a dirt road up and out of the canyon. Much of the first mile out of the aid station falls into the hiking category for me. While this section was part of the race last year, we only did it for so hill climbing practice since the race course go changed up a bit for 2017 and the initial steep part is no longer included. Luckily there is usually wildlife (mostly deer) to keep me occupied during my early morning sessions.

Going up on the road and wondering how it is 90 degrees out when just 2 weeks prior it was snowing in this same canyon. Photo: Garrett McCullough

Next, the road intersects with the Donner Lake Rim Trail (for the first time) and you hit the Sierra Crest 30/50k course. This is where the 2nd aid station on the 30k will be (3rd aid station on the 50k). Once on the Donner Lake Rim Trail, it’s still uphill for quite a while, but the grade eases. I could somewhat catch my breath before it steepens again before reaching the canyon rim.

There are 3 bridges on the Donner Lake Rim Trail section. After these, the trail steepens and becomes more challenging until you hit the rim. Photo: Garrett McCullough
Still going up and the views keep getting better! Photo: Garrett McCullough
Once at the rim and on Summit Lake Road, it’s an easy flat and downhill for a while, even if it does have some snow, mud and puddles! Photo: Garrett McCullough

And then, the climb begins again. It is really not that long and winds up through a gorgeous field of mule’s ear (not blooming yet!). But it is sunny and exposed and warmer than one might prefer. I had my plan though and knew I’d be hiking part of it.

This section was one of the more memorable parts of the course last year. It was one of the only sections that far into the course where I saw a bunch of other runners and talked to them. I happened to be the only one who had previewed that section. So, I knew it was short and that there was easier terrain ahead. The hill seems never-ending, so runners were happy to hear it was almost over and that there weren’t really any significant hills after it.

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Here is the final big hill on Summit Lake Road. We turned around right at the top, before hitting Summit Lake, so I’m on my way back down here. Photo: Garrett McCullough

The rest of the photos are all reversing the course on the way back down to the parking lot.

And then down some more, speeding past some lovely flowers that were abuzz with flower-loving insects and bees! Photo: Garrett McCullough
Garrett, going so fast around the corner that it’s a banked turn! Photo: Rachel McCullough
Ahh, the views! And the solitude! We only saw 3 other runners on the course. Photo: Garrett McCullough
If you’re going to preview Johnson Canyon, why not stop for a dip at Donner Lake afterwards? Photo: Rachel McCullough

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Rachel McCullough is an avid runner, hiker, mountain biker, rock climber, yogi, skier and photographer living in Truckee, CA. Follow @rachelmcphotos on Instagram for stunning images of beautiful Sierra scenery. When Rachel isn’t enjoying her free time in the outdoors, she’s leading Tahoe Silicon Mountain events for entrepreneurs, teaching skiing at Northstar California or building impeccably designed websites for her clients at McCullough Web Services.

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