I’m gonna type the SHIT outta this!! (Please spend some quality time watching GNAR <here> to better understand that outburst and likely other allusions throughout this post.) Did we really just pass Squaw Valley? Whoa. It was one of those moments when our location seemed wild, surprising… unbelievable? Squaw and Tahoe, especially growing up as a consumer of all things Snowboarding, seems as much of a mythical place as Valdez did upon our first climb through Thompson Pass. We have entered a highly anticipated leg of the trip, which will take us south, down the Eastern Sierra via Truckee, Tahoe, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite and Bishop before cutting into Nevada on our way to Salt Lake. Through our combine travels we have very little or no experience with the Sierra, and honestly without the aid of our atlas I couldn’t tell you the closest town to our south, where the border with Nevada is or how Arizona fits into the picture.
Rolling into Truckee our minds shifted to a place to camp for the night. Climbing the scenic highway 40 to the top of historic Donner Pass we found our spot for the next few days under a lift line of the Donner Ski Ranch. In every direction deserted ski lifts stretched to summits dotted with north facing snowdrifts. Heading to town the first morning we came back with a spankin’ new guidebook titled Rockclimbs of North Tahoe and set out for granite climbing 101.
In a nutshell Donner summit scared the living shit out of me on all but 2 climbs. Robyn and I are primarily sport climbers that frequent well-protected face climbs up featured rock. Our experience on granite is limited to only a few climbs at the City of Rocks in Idaho, and our crack climbing skills are nil. Donner’s ethic is still one of “the leader must not fall” and bolts are used only sparingly on un-protectable slab and fissure-less faces. Even though there are bolts, however, I felt they were more focused on keeping me from rolling down Donner Pass, and only mildly interested in keeping me from meeting the ground.
The majority of our time at Donner was spent at Space Wall, a lesser-visited granite buttress hanging above highway 40 and overlooking the town of Truckee and Donner Lake to our East. The rock at Space Wall as with the other areas at Donner was stunningly beautiful. Solid, and well featured, the routes followed spaced bolts up an orange, white and black streaked wall. Robyn took to the granite quite well and after toproping Moonshadow 5.10d she sent it clean on her second lead attempt – Robyn’s hardest redpoint of the trip! Before continuing south to Lake Tahoe we decided to check out one more crag in the area to get some more familiar sport climbing clip-up’s in. Big Chief is a sport crag located just outside Truckee along the rim of Truckee River Canyon. After Donner’s long runouts and insecure technical granite, Big Chief was a nice change of pace. Blobby looking turrets of volcanic rock protruded out of the ridgeline soaking in the afternoon sun and well traveled routes provided decent climbing and a good excuse to hang out in the peaceful forest for a couple days.
Back down from Big Chief we washed off Vincent, refilled our water and headed south to Lake Tahoe, another iconic destination of the west and I can see why. Mild temps, bountiful sunshine, green grass and large stands of trees surround the deep blue lake. We were fortunate to stumble upon some climbing near Emerald Cove and spent a relaxing two days exploring the water falls, and forest strewn with large granite blocks. One evening after a great day of climbing we brought a couple Sierra Nevada’s down to a perch beside Eagle Falls and sat soaking in the low angle sun as it cast orange light across the lake. With unending sunshine and cool temps we seem to have hit Tahoe during one of its most spectacular seasons.
Unfortunately the opportunities to enjoy the lake are hampered by the string of private property and infrequent public beach access points (for a fee of course). The popularity of this area seems to create a local need to protect what’s theirs with ever bigger fences, locked gates and larger and LARGER “NO TRESPASSING” signs. This poses a problem for Vincent as well. He only wants to find a nice grassy pullout to rest his wheels, but even the National Forest land is dotted with private property and gates, no parking and no trespassing signs. Even when we finally did find a place to park for the night, a disgruntled camp host (out of his jurisdiction I might add) grumpily shooed us away. Here are my late night ramblings after that event:
In the book The Giver by Lois Lowry there are certain infractions of the rules of the community that are more serious than others. For instance, teaching a “seven” (seven year old) to ride a bike before the community gives him/her one at the age of nine is almost expected. Even in this dictatorship of a community, which leaves no flexibility to express ones individuality, petty rules such as this are almost planted there to bent. Now Robyn and I are by no means habitual rule breakers but we are “dogs must be on leash at all times” rule benders. Even so, in most cases a rule bender is actually the one to ask for a literal interpretation of the law being bent. Such was my urge when a power tripping campground host knocked on our door at 9:30PM telling us we couldn’t camp where we were and by the number of times he mentioned it, calling the Sherriff would be his pleasure. The words “dispersal camping” along with the simple facts that we were out of his campground, in forest service land, and nowhere was there posted a “no camping” ban for this area seemed to fall on deaf ears. I feel that I have been around long enough now to know that a person’s demeanor is in large part due to his surrounding and upbringing. Lets just hope this camp host is from Alabama and doesn’t taint my impression of Tahoe natives.
As it turns out, although he couldn’t give us a reason why, he was correct in telling us we couldn’t camp there. Apparently the entire Tahoe Basin is closed to camping, National Forest or not. Of course a minor setback such as this one simply allowed us to explore a little further down the road, and sit this morning along a beautiful creek in a grassy meadow. The sun beaming through the open sliding door as I sipped my coffee and laughed at Robyn prancing about trying to dry off after a brisk (probably an understatement) bathing session in the stream. Blips like the disgruntled camp host are just that – blips. It reminds me to keep the big picture in mind, and appreciate the enormity of the adventure we are on.
This afternoon we are meeting with an old friend I met through YMCA camp in New Jersey. Way back when (2004) I hitched along with Mary for a summer working at a camp called Fairview Lake. I was a co-counselor with Charlie that summer and haven’t seen him since. Through the wonders of Facebook we will be getting the grand tour over the next couple days. Charlie lives in Reno but grew up in Truckee and promised to show us some bouldering and hidden beaches on the lake. What a treat! Speaking of treats, it’s my turn for a dip. So here’s to big adventures, lasting friendships and sharing both with the people you love.