Overview: Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe climbing is vast and spread out, and incredibly beautiful! Most of the climbing found in the basin is on granite, but the rock changes drastically from area to area. Sometimes you will find golden patina crimps and grainy slopers reminiscent of Bishop’s Buttermilks, and other times you’ll swear you were climbing in Yosemite on fine grain solid, slick white and grey rock full of crisp edges on beautiful clean rock faces. Most of the climbing areas sit above 6,000 ft, providing a climbable environment throughout the summer even though temperatures are most pristine in the spring and fall. It tends to be dry and sunny more often than not, and even in the heart of the winter you can squeeze in bouldering sessions on some of the exposed hillsides. Roadside blocks and crags are in abundance as well as alpine adventure zones requiring up to 5 or 6 miles of hiking or biking to access. There is an endless amount of climbing to be experienced and explored. Whether you’re into traditional climbing, bouldering or sport climbing, there are plenty of amazing areas to visit! It may not be the haven for the 5.15 and V14 climber yet, but with so much development to still be had, those climbs will exist there soon enough!
Specific description of climbing style
There are crags and boulders offering all types of climbing on all sides of the lake! Bouldering seems to be the most plentiful discipline of the three, but the high quality granite crags offer some beautiful and historic climbs that are not to be missed! Lover’s Leap can attract crowds for its large quantity of amazing easy to challenging trad climbs. Donner summit is the best place for the all-around climber; powerful and delicate bouldering stands next to techy and super steep granite cliffs, all surrounded by large domes. Anywhere in Tahoe will have at least a few world-class gems of your preferred style.
Spring and fall are best, but due to the arid desert of Doyle and high alpine granite of the basin you can climb here year-round. Often times it is quite prime well into November!
Climbing grade range
Tahoe offers the visiting climber every grade up to V13 and 5.14, although most of the climbing falls in to the V1 – V9 and the 5.8 – 5.12 range.
Best local spot
Tahoe is quite the tourist destination so plenty of restaurants and bars can be found. If you’re on the north shore near Donner Summit, check out Tacos Jalisco, Drunken Monkey Sushi, or New Moon, which has makes delicious and healthy sandwiches. If you’re in or near South Lake, Divided Sky is a not to be missed local bar with good organic food choices. And if climbing at Lover’s Leap, you are lucky enough to have a bar and restaurant in Strawberry Lodge, directly below the campground. If in Truckee, a delicious beer and burger from Burger Me is the absolute best way to end your day.
Top climbs the Lake Tahoe area
- Panic in Detroit (5.12b) – An amazing and old school trad climb up varied terrain and with tricky gear placements on the front side of the Snowshed Wall on Donner Summit.
- Bear’s Reach (5.7, 3 pitches) – Three pitches of sustained climbing with extremely easy access and surrounded by loads of incredible quality climbing (Lover’s Leap).
- Hospital Corner (5.10a, 2 pitches) – Steep hand jams with excellent stemming technique required (Lover’s Leap).
- Cannibals (5.12d) – Amazing, technical, bolt protected granite face climbing. Superb!
- Totally Chawsome (5.12a) – A bouldery cave offering great gymnastic movement.
- Short Subject (5.11b) – It’s short, but this beautiful lichen covered wall is an amazing roadside sport climb on positive edges … people boulder (solo) it when there is a big snow landing in the spring!
- Cajun Hell (5.13b) – Mayhem Cove sits perched above Emerald Bay on the west shore of Lake Tahoe and is home to this endurance test piece. Climbs out a wild blocky roof to the first anchor (.12b) before continuing up a beautiful crack feature through the towering head wall. The view from this crag is breathtaking!
- Warp Factor (5.13a) – One of the prize gems of sport climbing in the Donner Summit area, with steep climbing in a beautiful setting.
- Crown Jewel (V11) – This may be the most beautiful boulder in California, if not the US! It sits in a stunning setting above the Phantom Spires along the hwy 50 Corridor at an area called ‘The Ghosts.’ Climb the perfect crack-looking feature up the steep, gigantic, lichen covered face to an easier than it looks top out to the crown of the mountain! (Check out Dave Hatchett’s Tahoe Bouldering Guidebooks for detailed info and directions to all the amazing bouldering.)
- Midnight Train (V7) – The Saddle Boulder is one of the coolest boulders in the world. Steep intricate moves on perfect Tahoe granite.
- Fresh Tips (V8) – Perfect crimps on an awesome very steep prow. A must do.
- Tears of Tammy Fay Baker (V9) – Interesting moves while following a rad pinch to crimpy gastons.
- Big Monster (V11) – A test piece of Tahoe that varies from powerful overhung climbing to delicate and cryptic climbing above.
Best kept secret
Information on the five star lines on private property and many of the area’s climbs have recently been released in two huge new bouldering guidebooks that cover most of the latest development in the region (Bouldering Lake Tahoe North/West Edition and Bouldering Lake Tahoe South/East Edition). The guidebook covering other outlying areas will be released in the summer of 2015. However, with entirely new areas popping up in what seems like every other month, there are always secrets to be discovered through exploring.
How stiff is the grading?
Seems to be fair, although you’ll surely find both extremes in all disciplines. The rock (in granite areas) takes time to learn, like with most cryptic granite. Many of the boulders are newly developed and the grades lack a consensus … best to just not focus on the grade when it comes to bouldering anyway!
Where to stay?
Free camping exists all over the place on forest service roads around the lake. Lodges and cabins are spread out throughout Tahoe as well. Tread lightly, leave no trace, and obey any property line posted signs!
The new bouldering guidebook shares over 5,000 problems on just the North/West shore with another for the South/East shore and outlying areas coming very soon.
Here are some more not to be missed areas to check out:
- Sugar Pine: amazing rock and adventure climbing areas on the west shore.
- Cold Stream Canyon: remote area with plenty of routes and boulders to keep you busy on amazing granite. High clearance, 4-wheel-drive required to get to the area or you can hike a mile or two if you don’t have access to that!
- Bliss State Park: golden patina rock and lots of boulders right next to the road!
- Lovers Leap: the GOOD rock! This area offers amazing moderate, multi pitch trad climbing and hosts a few fine boulders as well!
- Big Chief: steep unique sport climbing on basalt cliffs in a spectacular setting atop a mountain.
Now to you
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Additional contributions have been made to this article by: Joe Maier
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