A climber’s tuff, granite paradise · Cragging Tahoe Style

I heard someone say recently that if you walk a few hundred yards in any direction in Tahoe, you’ll find a rock to climb on. And, if you take a look around, that’s a hard statement to deny. Tahoe is blessed with a bounty of rock set in picturesque landscapes with incredible views of mountains and lakes. A climber’s paradise.


Matt Pietras heads into the parallel cracks
on the first pitch
of One Hand Clapping.

I have spent the better part of my climbing life in Colorado seeking out limestone, welded tuff, cobbles, desert sandstone and even granite, but I haven’t put my time in on the granite, so exploring the climbing at Donner Summit has been on my to-do list.

My friend Matt Pietras has been talking about climbing One Hand Clapping with me, an amazing 5.9 line on Black Wall at Donner Summit. On a late summer evening after work (our second attempt after being rained out on the first) we found ourselves driving up Old 40 with just enough daylight, we hoped.


One Hand Clapping on the Black Wall at Donner Summit.


“Tahoe is blessed with a bounty of rock
set in picturesque landscapes with incredible views
of mountains and lakes. A climber’s paradise.”


This classic 5.9 follows a gently arching corner with parallel cracks on the first pitch. A quick, steep hike to the base of the wall and Pietras racks up and steps onto the rock. “Have fun,” I say, my usual send-off after all the safety formalities.


Pietras racks up at the base of the climb
with a not-so-shabby view of Donner Lake.

We had the wall all to ourselves, and the stillness was peaceful. Pietras climbed and I fed rope. He quietly jammed, plugged gear and eventually vanished over the sloping granite wall. “Alyssa, off belay!” My turn. This was to be my first multi-pitch climb in almost 10 years and, feeling just a tad bit rusty, I was anxious to climb.

The second pitch is much shorter and we can talk easily from the belays, which I always find adds entertaining commentary. Pietras leads up the slightly flaring crack onto the run-out face and into the steep corner. This corner alone is worth coming back to this climb for. It’s well-protected, the moves are solid and the exposure is airy. I may have just set a new goal for myself.


Pietras starting up the second pitch of One Hand Clapping.

Racing the daylight, we rappelled against a calm, pink sky reflecting on Donner Lake. We made it to the base of the climb with just enough dusk left to navigate the giant scree and boulders on the hike out.

Allow at least 2 hours for climbing and rapping this route, and as always, follow up with beer and pizza, in that order, for best results.

Donner Summit is located just west of Truckee off Old Highway 40 offering amazing granite climbing of both the traditional and sport varieties, although, as seems to be the trend in Tahoe, the sport routes are generally in the more difficult grades. Not only is Donner great for the quality of its granite and the variety of climbing, but also for the short approaches that are so convenient to fitting in a climbing adventure almost anytime.

The access is incredibly easy, with only short hikes from the parking areas.

Climb 5.5 to 5.11 at School Rock, offering the easiest multi-pitch climbs at Donner.

Snowshed wall has quality climbs and is quite popular. The 2-minute walk from the parking area can make this area slightly busy, but it’s worth it. Jellyroll Arch 5.8 on Grouse Slab is a beautiful 2-pitch climb sure to pique your interest with its gentle curves. Or, if you’re looking for something spicy and steep, try the fixed sport climbing at Star Wall.

Big Chief is the massive volcanic buttress high above Highway 89 in the Truckee River Canyon. It is the most popular sport climbing in the area. Located midway between Tahoe City and Truckee off Forest Road 06, the approach is longer than other area crags with an average hike time of 30 minutes. Climb vertical to steep faces ranging from 5.8 to 5.13.


The author warming up on the classic and fun Warpaint 5.9 at Big Chief

Almost any climb you get on here will be worthy. The guidebook, “Big Chief Area Climbs,” is littered with stars. So explore and as always, have fun.

Lover’s Leap, located in South Lake Tahoe, first hit my radar long before I lived in Tahoe with the appearance of local legend Dan Osman’s speed-solo of Bear’s Reach, a 400-foot 5.7 in the 1997 climbing movie “Masters of Stone IV.” The main feature at the Leap is a 600-foot tall granite buttress with easy and moderate multi-pitch climbs and varied styles of crack and face climbing using crack, face features, dikes, stemming and often long reaches.

Definitely check out Corrugation Corner 5.7 for a fun 3-pitch introduction to this style of climbing. If you’re up for something slightly more committing and equally as fun, try the Traveler Buttress 5.9. Get offwidth, airy and perfect hand cracks all in one.

For the pad people out there, Old County offers volcanic boulders and a scenic setting in the trees above Dollar Hill in North Lake Tahoe. Just be prepared, the rock is “wicked shahp” and will eat up your tips. Problems range from VB to V7, with the majority being in the lower grades. And, you won’t need to walk far to find great problems at Crawford Boulder and The Hen.

Located on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, D.L. Bliss offers some of the best bouldering in the Tahoe area. You’ll find quality, granite problems ranging from VB to V9. There are pullouts along Highway 89 at North, Middle, South and Ladder Boulder, again with short approach times.


The author climbing Grim Reaper with spotters Stephanie Hynds,
Matt Pietras and Jared Moore. | Seth Kovar

My first experience at D.L. Bliss was Grim Reaper V3 PG13, a 15-foot boulder problem. Intimidating and amazing, I was hooked on the style instantly. Just bring a few pads and spotters to be safe. Bliss is a great spot to find sun in the cooler months and grab a dip in the lake when it feels like you’re melting in the summer.

Guidebooks are available at local shops such as Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City, Sports Hub in Truckee and Sports Ltd. in South Lake Tahoe. And, of course, don’t forget mountainproject.com or supertopo.com.

A local shop is also a good spot to start if you need to find a climbing partner, have questions or need to pick up any gear.

Alyssa Ganong

Alyssa brings more than 20 years of design experience to Tahoe Weekly, with a degree from Rhode Island School of Design. Her work experience includes nine years in Colorado Tourism, where she lived for 15 years. She loves spending time outdoors and with her daughter, Anna, and tries to bring creativity into everything she does, whether it’s art, skiing, rock climbing or cooking … always looking forward to the next adventure. Alyssa moved to Lake Tahoe in 2009.