Lover's Leap and Vicinity, CA
May 21 - June 12, 2004
Lover's Leap is a great place! It has everything the typical crag-rat likes: great climbing on amazing rock, short approach, easy walk-offs, and free camping. What more could you ask for?
The climbing is mostly easy to moderate with tons of great multi-pitch climbs in the 5.7 to 5.9 range. There are several more-or-less distinct climbing areas: The main cliff is somewhat arbitrarily divided into four sections (from left to right): the East, Central, Main and West Walls. The Lower Buttress is a distinct, smaller cliff below the right hand side of the West Wall. Just above and to the right of it, along the approach trail to the West Wall is a much smaller cliff with a selection of single-pitch cracks: Dear John Buttress. Finally, another, much more rounded formation lies on the other side of the canyon (below the feet of the photographer in the picture above). The north end of that dome is called the Hogsback and has a selection of easier, low angle routes. A group of climbs (mostly single pitch) at the southwest end of the same formation is referred to as the Hogwild. All are within 5 to 20 minutes approach from the campground. Finally, The Box, an area of much steeper and harder climbs (5.11 to 5.12) sits high and to the right of the main cliff.
Note: the Central Wall is usually closed for peregrine nesting from sometime around Memorial Day and through a large part of the summer; check the notices at the campground and trailheads or call the forest service for details. We did not expect this, and the very day we went up to climb Eagle Buttress on that wall, we found closure signs on the trails...
Nearby climbing areas:
Aside from The Leap, there are several worthwhile climbing areas nearby and around Lake Tahoe, including Sugarloaf, Phantom Spires, Eagle Lake and Calaveras Dome. We spent a few days exploring some of these areas as well.
We had read an article about Calaveras Dome in one of the climbing magazines a few years back and had been impressed with the pictures of sweeping, clean corners. On one of our rest days, we drove there to take a look.
It's a pretty long drive from the Leap to Calaveras Dome. We finally got there and got our first look at the dome: it is huge and intimidating. The granite looks great, but the way it flaked off makes for few direct lines to the top. Most lines we scoped out look OK for the first few pitches then end up wandering left or right following near-horizontal cracks or overlaps. The day we were there, it was way too hot to climb. The main dome is in the sun most of the day; it faces north but the sun is just too high this time of the year. Perhaps we'll come back in the fall some day.
"Wall of the Worlds" looks good for at least the first 7 pitches. After that it wanders up the face in a decent line but on runout terrain… our guide shows 5.9+R climbing on pitch 8.
The heat was really getting to us that day, so we went to the reservoir to take a swim! What a treat! We're not very aquatic people, and haven't been in the water for a long time, but this felt great! Lucie even ended up joining me after whining about the cold water.
We then drove the curvy mountain roads through beautiful rolling hills with huge forests then more open pastures closer to Placerville. Cute old town, although it is - as usual in the US - converted into a Disneyland-style open-air antique mall… There's a great little coffee shop in an amazing old building with a 150ft mine shaft in the back! That mine shaft was reportedly used to store ice blocks back in the days... The coffee shop now has a few tables in there! So cool. They give yoga classes and the like as well.
We spent a day climbing at Eagle Lake Cliff, a very scenic cliff just above a high altitude lake on the west side of Lake Tahoe. The approach is a steep but pleasant hike and takes about about 40 minutes from the road. The area is known for its steep single pitch crack climbs; more reminiscent of Yosemite than anything at the Leap.
Eric warmed up on a steep and sustained tight hand crack: "Space Truckin" (10a). A bad choice for a warm up really - too sustained and a bit pumpy. We then top-roped "Quest for Glory", a 5.10d lieback from the same anchors. It was hard to get used to pure crack technique again. Very different from Red Rocks and the Leap! Eric then led "Cracula", a 5.10a corner, less sustained than "Space Truckin", but with some fun moves, particularly in the first 20 ft. We also climbed "Buster Brown", a burly 5.10b crack that ends with an overhanging hand and fist fest! We finished off the day on a short 5.10b crack/lieback, "Master of Disaster": more technical, good fun. I'd recommend any of these climbs.
On our way down, we took a look at 90-Foot Wall, a popular top-rope and leading area on strange but appealing rock: all kinds of steep (vertical) face and crack climbs on plentiful, small but sharp features. Looks quite fun. Maybe we'll be back some day...
On a day too cool to climb at The Leap, we went to Sugarloaf, a dome-like granite formation about 20 miles from Strawberry. It sits at much lower altitude and makes a good alternative to the Leap in colder weather.
Eric warmed up on "Farley", a classic 5.9 lieback. Easier 5.9 than most at the Leap - quite polished though. We then climbed "Blue Velvet", a bolted, slabby 5.10c. The first pitch is very sustained and mostly friction and small edging with the occasional knob. Quite different and a bit of a shock from the climbing at Lover's Leap or Eagle Wall! Thin slab climbing is so mental! The first pitch is well bolted. The second pitch climbs up a runout arete (5.8R), then traverses slightly left to a bolted belay (10c/d, well bolted). The last pitch is a bit runout again and intimidating - it goes up to an arete (reachy clip) then up a steep slab (sustained 10c). The crux moves here tend to be well above bolts with slightly scary positions above ledges or ramps… be careful.
We then walked around the dome to check out other climbs - not too impressed with anything really. "Bolee Gold" looks good - but is not really a natural line: it just follows the rounded south arete of the formation. Probably not worth another trip. "Pony Express" looks OK but not extraordinary. The rest did not look too good to us.
On the way down, we also checked out Sugarbum, a much smaller dome closer to the road. To be honest, we found it rather pathetic, although the 5.10b finger crack ("Fingerlock") looks pretty cool.
|Views of Lake Tahoe from near Echo Summit.|
|Our camping spot on National Forest land (along "42-Track Road", just west of Strawberry).|
|Climbers socializing on the huge belay ledge at the end of the first pitch of "East Wall".|
|The Strawberry lodge, with Lover's Leap in the background..|
|Pretty spring flowers at the Leap.|
|Beer time at the Strawberry Lodge.|
|The NW face of the Hogsback, seen from the top.|
|Strange-looking mushrooms at our camping spot (this one is about 8" across).|
|Watch your step on these trails! (Rattlesnake).|
|Corrugation Corner, one of the best 5.7's anywhere.|
|Website overdose! Lucie after a 12-hour website update marathon, on a rainy day at the Leap.|
|Calaveras Dome, a remote and lesser-known granite dome about 40 miles SW of the Leap.|
|Chilling off at Salt Springs Reservoir, by Calaveras Dome.|
|Eric leading "Cracula" (10a), one of many good crack climbs at Eagle Lake Cliff.|
|Eagle Lake as seen from the approach. Eagle Lake Cliff is obvious at the center of the picture.|
|Eric on "Master of Disaster" (10b), Eagle Lake Cliff.|
|Eagle Lake, as seen from the top of the crag.|
|Lucie following "Farley", a great 5.9 at Sugarloaf.|
|Eric at the belay on the second pitch of "Blue Velvet" (5.10c), also at Sugarloaf.|