Bay Area climbers chase weather like a dog that just can’t catch his tail. In the Winter, Bishop and Jailhouse get plenty of sun and the cool, dry days mix with neurotic retentiveness to create perfect sending conditions. Fall and Spring bring the type 2 fun only the Valley can inspire. In Summer, the High Sierras, Tuolunme and Tahoe are perfect high altitude destinations for escaping the heat. My list of ‘must-do’ climbs and boulder problems has grown impossibly large.
I woke up Saturday next to a dirty buttress called Woodford’s in South Lake Tahoe where I was happy to join Jonathan, Casey and Ben for a weekend of adventurous climbing. Many of the routes in the area are trad lines established by Dan Osman and company in the late 80s but see relatively little traffic today. Ben and Casey spent half the day cleaning the second pitch of Power Surge, knocking off dust, pebbles and the occasional widow-maker. The reward for all the effort was a pristine upper pitch that is one of the wildest lines in the area. I caught some good shots of them working through the route. They were both making big strides and Ben had a quality attempt before river-cooled beer became the watermelon of our perception. Enjoy a few shots of the climb and a couple anecdotes from the weekend.
It was the first visit to the area for both Jonathan and I and we stayed a little closer to the ground sampling a bunch of phenomenal pitches.
On Sunday we visited One of These Days Buttress. Jonathan and I started on the namesake route, one of the best 5.10s in the area, an incredibly continuous 37 meter pitch. I brought a rack of doubles and ended up with two pieces left at the chains. At one point, I was 15 feet above my last piece when the block I stood on gave way, tumbling down the cliff and leaving me squeezing parallel seams for dear life, my feet dangled like bait while gravity nipped at my heels. Fortunately I managed to hold on.
The excitement got me warmed up for another rope-stretching route, an unknown 5.12 sport line. Again the just-past-vertical climb was excellent. A tough crux at 30 feet is followed by pumpy 5.11+ for 50 feet before a desperate 15-foot straight sideways fingers undercling traverse ends the difficulties. Too pumped to keep my feet high for good friction across the traverse, I had to drop down and trust a series of miserable smedges. Miraculously, I nabbed the onsight and then lunch was amazing. After 3 weeks in Europe I missed peanut butter like Michele Bachmann missed math class.
I enjoyed a carefree toprope tough guy ascent of Little Miss Manners (5.11d) before watching both Ben and Casey fiddle in little nuts and cams for a couple very impressive redpoints.
Casey and Ben are leaders of the Cal Climbing Team and not only give back to the climbing community by cleaning routes, but by mentoring up-and-coming climbers. Talking to them about their ideas and goals for the group made me reflect on how climbing is continuously changing. Let’s face it. Our little sport is exploding. The traditional way of learning to climb and ‘leave no trace’ ethics through mentorship is often giving way to 3-hour lead classes in the gym and $250 starter packs with a harness, rope, draws and a belay device. The barriers to entry are not what they used to be. As much as experienced climbers may complain about these relatively new developments, the reality is that if we don’t take the care and responsibility to mentor the next generation, more areas will get trashed, more accidents will result in preventable tragedies, access issues will grow and our obsession will suffer the consequences.
Though I’m not as willing as I used to be to teach the basics, the pieces accessed in the ‘Articles -> Learning the Ropes’ tab at the top of this page hopefully provide some useful techniques and information for beginners and advanced climbers alike. This article may also give some perspective for climbers looking to transition from the gym to the outdoors. Props to Ben and Casey for devoting the effort to make sure their crew does things safely and with an eye toward preservation and conservation.
One of the highlights of the trip was the naming of Jonathan’s new white Xterra. He challenged us to come up with the perfect name and we did our best, laughing the entire time. Among my favorites was “Choad Warrier,” along with numerous others that are inappropriate for the internet, but I’m not sure Jonathan was sold on any of them.
Woodford’s and Power Surge have officially been added to my list of places and routes to which I must return. Tahoe never fails to impress.
Thanks to Johathan, Casey and Ben for a great weekend and showing me an amazing new (old) place.