Bouldering at D.L. Bliss

Fun times at Kids Crag.

I was looking for something fun to do with my 16-month-old daughter Penelope on a sunny morning in May; I thought we might go play on some rocks by the Lake. On our way to the West Shore from Truckee, we stopped at Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City to pick up a couple helpful pieces of equipment.

Penelope snacks happily away in the sunshine while I mess around on some of the low balls. Up on the distant hills, I can see lingering snow shining in the sunlight.

We bought a Metolius Session Crash Pad for $149 and “Bouldering Lake Tahoe” guidebook by Dave Hatchett for $42.50. This comprehensive series by a local guide is split into three editions: North/West, South/East and Outlying Areas. That’s more than 1,600 pages of small type font and color photographs to cover the majority of known bouldering sites in the region — more are being discovered every day.

When ancient glaciers receded from the Sierra Nevada between 11,000 and 2.6 million years ago, they stripped and dragged massive amounts of raw granite from the mountaintops leaving erratic boulders scattered about the many hillsides and canyons of the greater Tahoe Basin.

Penelope enjoys a pretzel roll at the bottom of the Hindenburg boulder.

According to Hatchett, there are more than 5,000 known boulder problems in the area. The North/West guidebook covers approximately one-third of that total in a zone ranging from Cisco Grove over Donner Summit and up the Truckee River Canyon to Lake Tahoe’s West Shore, which is dotted with pristine stones from end to end, remnants of Desolation Wilderness pulled down to the waterline by age-old ice and debris.

After checking out with consummate outdoorsman and animated Alpenglow owner Brendan Madigan, we hop back in the 2000 Frontier and head south for D.L. Bliss State Park. For less than $200, we’re all in for what we need for endless hours of adventure.

Worries of the day melt away as we cruise down the West Shore past ever-smaller villages until reaching the wilderness south of Meeks Bay. We park at the main entrance to D. L. Bliss State Park. After having a quick snack on the tailgate, we wander down to the first area to explore: Grim Reality, a boulder with a perfect dihedral capped with a hand crack in a roof.

I know what you’re thinking: He’s wandering with his baby daughter down to a boulder called Grim Reality, which features a hand crack in a roof — is this activity really safe for kids? Trust me. I know what I’m doing and I just want to check it out.

We set up the pad at the bottom of the beautiful formation. Penelope soon begins exploring the rocks, pinecones and dirt in the area. She’s just now learning to walk and these interesting objects give her lots to hold on to.

I spend a few minutes exploring the cracks and crannies of Grim Reality in my approach shoes while keeping one eye on her. It’s really a beautiful aspect, but the problem is way too hard and overhung to try alone without a partner to spot me. So, after clambering around the area for a few more minutes, we pack up and head back across the parking lot to explore the hill of boulders just behind the visitors’ center.

The author samples an unnamed V1 while his daughter looks on from below.

Our next stop is Hindenburg, an oblong boulder shaped like the unfortunate blimp. I set up the pad in a flat sandy area and get out Penelope’s lunch. She snacks happily away in the sunshine while I mess around on some of the low balls. Up on the distant hills, I can see lingering snow shining in the sunlight. It’s hard to tell if it’s the last day of winter or the first day of spring.

From here, we journey over to Kids Crag, a 20-foot feature with several V1s (those are the easiest) and a perfect natural sandbox at the bottom. Penelope challenges herself to walk along an almost vertical 3-foot granite wall by the edge of the sand. I jump on a prominent low-angle crack and run a few laps up and down just to get my blood flowing.

For the rest the afternoon, I hang out with my daughter, letting her choose her own adventure amongst this natural playground. When it comes down to it, we’re just playing outside on a beautiful Tahoe day.

On our way back to the car, I pull my hardest move of the day: bending over to pick up Penelope’s pacifier while carrying her, the diaper bag and the bouldering pad. I think I might’ve tweaked an oblique muscle doing it, but it was worth it. Next time, we’ll bring more friends and go for the day. | parks.ca.gov