Upon arriving to the Lost Trail Lodge, the first person to greet you isn’t a person at all, but a Great Pyranees named Opie. The giant yet gentle dog’s immediate friendship is a hearty welcome within the wilderness setting and creates an easy, relaxed tone for one of snow season’s most unique getaways.
The 4,000 square-foot chalet rests in a forested saddle beneath Anderson Peak, a rugged, wind-swept point above Coldstream Canyon south of Donner Lake. Coldstream’s imposing geography receives some of the deepest snowfall in the country. Wide-open bowls hang like saddlebags along the Sierra Crest punctuated by rock outcroppings and steep chutes. Carved below this arc of expert-to-intermediate backcountry terrain are gentle slopes near the canyon’s floor, elevation 6,250 feet.
Four miles up Coldstream Canyon from the Donner Lake I-80 interchange near Truckee, come winter the only way in is by snowmobile, snowshoe or ski. Freeheel adventurers challenge themselves by carving tracks down untouched snow in the steep angled drainage from Sugar Bowl, but most guests are content with a well marked cross country traverse that travels along Cold Creek through scattered stands of lodgepole and picturesque topography. The route eventually crosses Sierra Pacific railroad tracks and bends south to the remote lodge. The journey includes several creek crossings, but overall it’s an easy trip, less than two hours for even entry-level enthusiasts and only 300 feet in vertical gain. Guests, however, must pack in all their food and beverages. As a result, some enthusiasts tow sleds with all their goods.
“Every time I snowshoe to Lost Trail I find the hike more beautiful than I remember. Although it’s a good stretch of the legs I never get winded. I guess the scenery overcomes the exercise,” says Kym Fabel, a Donner Lake resident who frequents the lodge.” The lack of heavy traffic is definitely a plus. You come across a few lone tourers and snowshoers with their dogs, but for the most part it’s all yours out there.”
High beamed and flavorfully rustic, Lost Trail offers accommodations for 20. There is a dorm-style loft and a one separate cabin, but it’s the lodge’s six private bedrooms that border on luxurious. Their otherworldly upscale for the backcountry. Three of the six rooms have Jacuzzis. All include separate entrance, lofts, Thompson stoves, mini-refrigerators, bath and comfortable furnishings. The central family room contains a massive hearth and stonework that reaches the ceiling. Cozy leather couches and chairs are surrounded by Native American motif on wood paneled walls. A communal kitchen, clean and pleasing, offers a six-burner Wolfe range, oven and two-foot square grill, two refrigerators, two dishwashers and polished granite countertops. Laundry service is also provided.
“I’m 56. I love the backcountry, but I don’t want to sleep in a snow cave anymore,” says Robertson, a former Nordic jumper, who grew up next to the Gatekeeper’s Cabin in Tahoe City. “What’s wrong with a little bit of comfort and warm bed at the end of the day?”
Robertson discovered the property 28 years ago on a backcountry trip; fell in love with the area and in 1998 was finally able to purchase 2 and one-half acres from Walt Harvey, a Sacramento businessman whom in the 1980s planned to develop a ski resort in Coldstream Canyon.
Robertson built the large dwelling himself, hauling in sand, gravel and cement to mix by hand. Fallen lodgepole provided the structure and all the stone was quarried from nearby creeks. Creative and visionary, Robertson, former owner of a water company on Tahoe’s West Shore, devised his own power and water. He built a small hydroelectric dam, septic system, dug two wells, installed solar panels, propane and a huge generator. He opened his lodge in 2004.
“Our water is the best around. It has no contaminants,” says Robertson who can tell a story about every stick, stone and ornament in his lodge.
After settling into its warmth life slows down. Stress vanishes. The lodge provides no Internet access, TV or phone. Big decisions are what to eat and drink and how to spend the day. The lodge is a launch pad for short excursions up the South fork of Cold Creek to Mount Anderson and Tinker’s Knob, touring the north fork up to Schallenberger Ridge or exploring by snowshoe the surrounding snowy forest at your own pace. Nearby cliffs often excellent ice climbing.
“It’s a ripping ski in from the ridge between Sugar Bowl and Mount Anderson,” says Chris Fellows, director of the North American Ski Training Center (NASTC), a local adventure seeking company based in Truckee. Fellows leads occassional private overnight backcountry adventures to Lost Trail. “The first day we’ll ride Sugar Bowl’s Mount Lincoln chair to the ridge then freeheel a traverse to the top of the Coldstream drainage. From there all sorts of skiable terrain opens up. The Lost Trail Lodge is perfect for day trips up the drainage. We’re able to ski back to the lodge for an afternoon Jacuzzi.”
Others might hunker down by the fireplace to enjoy a book then venture outdoors to build a snowman. Dogs are welcome at Lost Trail and are permitted in the rooms. Although a wonderfully romantic setting, Robertson also allows children on the premises.
“I think it’s our obligation to teach kids about the wonders of nature and the great outdoors,” says the innkeeper who also runs the lodge.
Guests are encouraged to meet each other. Visitors bring in their own food and libations. Most folks preparing their own meals end up pot lucking dinner with new found friends. And the food is far from camp-style noodles. Chris and Jennifer, restaurant workers in Truckee, brought in a fine dining feast complemented by champagne in honor of Chris’s birthday. Michelle Sharron, a chef with Kings Beach-based Twin Peaks Catering had been preparing food over the weekend for “Babes in The Backcountry,” another wilderness guide company that frequents the lodge for overnight stays.
“I’ve prepared everything from chicken picatta to portabella mushroom Napoleon to French Toast for breakfast,” explained Michelle. “The kitchen is spacious and contains everything you need to prepare gourmet meals.”
As guests tidy up after dining, drain the last sips of wine and congregate by the fire, Robertson and friends break out guitars and jam into the night. There’s a stash of instruments scattered about, even an upright piano, and guests are welcome to join in.
“I’ve created a peaceful environment for my guests that allow them to put aside their everyday challenges, enjoy the outdoors and relax in comfort away from it all,” says Robertson strumming his upright bass. “I’ve made incredible friendships out here. I tell guests when making their reservations that one night is not enough.”
Robertson never closes his lodge, keeping rooms available to guests year-round.
“Springtime is spectacular out here,” he mentions. ” The creeks are roaring, there’s an abundance of wildflowers and the fishing’s great. During summer and fall there is plenty of hiking and fishing as well as mountain biking on the logging and access roads. No matter when you stay Lost Trail offers plenty to do, or nothing to do but kick back and relax.”
Robert Frohlich was the President of Snowtribe Productions, a cancer patient, and founder and producer of North Lake Tahoe’s annual charitable event, “In the Mood.”