After a perfect night at our discrete snowpark camp near Echo Lake summit, we enjoyed coffee in the sun before heading out to climb at Berkley Camp. The real Berkley Camp is a camp for kids run by the city of Berkley during the summer months before the road closes for snow. The approach brings you past the main office, along some cabins and a basketball court before descending a steep hill to the base of the crag. A small selection of climbs offer varied routes up nice granite walls. A morning of climbing led us to a break in the shade at the base of the cliff for lunch. Munching quietly on our wraps we heard a jingle from above and looked up to see another climber threading his rope on the anchors next to ours. When he arrived at the base we made the usual small talk – Where are you from? Names? Etc. This time however, after revealing that we were moving down from Alaska a huge smile crossed our new friends face. “Hey!” he said, “I am Chris Caylor’s friend!” all of the sudden a name leapt from my mouth and connected immediately to a face. “PHU! No way!” Phu is an old friend from Moscow and we have many mutual friends. The last summer we spent in Moscow Phu attended our weekly Moscow Dinner Train gatherings and we figured it had been over 5 years since we had seen each other. Phu was immediately a ball of energy wanting to show us around to his favorite climbs in the area. Before we knew it we were making plans to pack up for an evening session just 20 minutes down the road at Phantom Spires. “Heidi lives in the area you know? Let’s text her and see if she wants to climb with us!” In the years after Moscow it has been hard work to keep track of where all our friends ended up. Heidi was on the Vandal Snowboarding Team with me at U of I and was another friend I hadn’t seen since graduation in 2007.
Now this may not seem all that unlikely of an event but the obscurity of this little crag in the woods made it seem pretty damn improbable. This crag may get 4 visits a week, and our paths just happened to overlap. As we packed up we heard another party approach the top of the cliff and they started making small talk with Phu. Not too strange that they should know each other I thought, climbing communities are usually pretty tight knit. Then I heard Phu from the top of the crag, “You aren’t going to believe who is at the base of the cliff!” Astonished, I watched as Heidi came strolling up to the crag. Hugs all around. “You got Phu’s text!?” I asked. “What? Noooo…” “Wait. You mean you were coming to go climbing here before you heard from Phu?!” “Yeah!”
So to unimaginable odds, Robyn and I ran into 2 friends from Idaho in less than an hour whom we hadn’t seen in 5 years. This was no coincidence. We were supposed to all meet up, so to make the most of it we planned to meet after Phantom Spires for beers and a BBQ at Heidi’s house. We finished packing and followed Phu to his car as he excitedly described his favorite climb at Phantom, “Possibly the best 5.10 in Tahoe” he said.
Not 20 minutes later and the spires came into view on a steep hillside. Large blocks and spires projected from the ridge like scales in all directions. As we approached, the rock revealed itself in the evening sun. Well featured immaculate granite, but something was different. A closer look had our jaws dropping. We had never seen rock like this before. Blank slates of granite held the expected vertical crack systems, but also included basketball sized rocks (xenoliths as we learned from the Smith Guide) spaced perfectly up the pillars. Only a picture can really show their size, but halfway up our first route Candyland 5.10c Robyn was able to turn and sit down on one of the features amidst an otherwise tabletop smooth face.
Inspired by the climbing on Candyland I set my sights on Candyass 5.10d, a nice sport route using similar features along the left side of the wall before reaching an airy topout traverse to the Candyland anchors. My lead was not only fun but rewarding as someone had left two draws near the top of the climb where it runs out to the summit ledge of the spire. Back in S. Lake Tahoe a BBQ and a lot of catching up were in order. We stopped to grab some food and beer at a market in Meyers and headed to Heidi’s house for some great food, beers and stories. Thanks for having us!
The following morning Heidi, Phu, Robyn and I set out for Lover’s Leap. Considered one of the premiere multi-pitch trad crags in the country, The Leap was a must stop and another step up in our mental and technical trad skills. Phu had climbed several of the lines there and was a great guide to have for the day. In his mind there was only one way the day could go for first timers at The Leap – Surrealistic Pillar to Corrugation Corner. the Leap is separated into roughly three sections, the east, main, and lower walls. Surrealistic Pillar 5.7 ascends three-hundred feet up two long pitches to the summit of the lower buttress. Unreal granite stone crisscrossed with dikes (see picture for an idea) led to a nice stance below a crack. The second pitch is where it really gets wild. After 30 feet, an ill-protected traverse has you pulling around a corner and onto a runout 5.5 face which Phu calls the “dike hiking” section. It’s a good thing it’s a hike though since the last 100 feet is protected at the midway point by a girth-hitched horn.
From the summit of the lower buttress the day was really just getting underway. A short hike to the base of the main wall and we were treated with our first view of Corrugation Corner. I could describe the route but the guidebook does such a good job I will paraphrase.
“Corrugation Corner is one of the steepest granite 5.7’s anywhere. Instead of climbing the main corner the route often follows a horrendously exposed arête. The cruxes are 5.7 but psychologically they often feel much harder.”
Stemming, jamming, and dike-hiking, this route has it all plus amazing exposure. The second pitch began with a 5.7 chimney to a hollow flake traverse to the base of a insanely exposed arête. The arête climbs past 3 ring bolts spaced at 20 foot intervals before crawling into an alcove for a belay. At the summit all four of us were all smiles as we took in the last few minutes of sunshine on a glorious sunny Sierra evening. Even the the walk off from the top was enjoyable, switchbacking through old growth and past rushing clear streams lined with granite boulders. Thanks to the hand of fate and some great friends, Lover’s Leap was certainly a highlight of our trip.