Phantom Spires | Getting high on chickenheads

Fall is decidedly the best climbing season, especially in Tahoe. The weather is cool, the rock and rubber grip well and the crowds are gone. Hopefully, we’ve honed our skills throughout the spring and summer months and it’s time to focus on goals and projects, time to explore new places.

On a perfect fall day, I found myself driving south toward Phantom Spires. The spires are located between the towns of Strawberry and Kyburz, hanging like an airy garden on a ridge high above State Route 50.

There are climbs on all faces and the Phantom Spires can be climbed almost year-round. But, this is a great time of year to visit because the temps have cooled down and you can follow the sun. Although the spires were named because they once appeared as ghostly apparitions in a thick, mountain forest, they now stand prominently and unobstructed on the ridge after a fire changed the landscape in the 1980s. In the fall, these pillars of rough and textured granite are now offset with splashes of bright, fall colors — and the view is quite breathtaking.

Having never heard of the area, I was lured to climb here by friends Stephanie Hynds and Jared Moore with the promise of slinging chickenheads, or knob-tie-offs, which I had done previously and couldn’t wait to do again.

“These pillars of rough and textured granite are now offset with splashes of bright, fall colors — and the view is quite breathtaking.”

The routes are varied up thin faces, knobby features and crack systems using both bolts and traditional protection. But, all the climbing is easily accessed and within a 15-minute hike. I think the chickenheads to most climbers are one of the more amazing and let’s face it, weird things, you can climb on, which gives them an extra fun rating in my book.


We arrived in the late afternoon, setting up camp and heading up to Twin Owls, the closest feature, to get in a quick pitch or two. And since the car camping is conveniently located at the base of the trailhead, quick forays are easy. The slabby 5.8 and 5.8 TR here are great warm-ups to get on your feet before you hike up to the goods.

There are a few classic climbs that are worth doing if you only have one day. Everyone else may have the same idea — still, it’s worth it. We only saw a handful of climbers the entire day.

Our first stop in the morning was Over Easy, a four-star 5.7 that slings chickenheads up a huge face. Candass, a four-star 5.10d and the neighboring five-star 5.10c Candyland should be on your hit list as well.

That’s only just the beginning. Have fun. | or