Ice Climbing Lake Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra
February 4, 2021
California might not be the epicenter of Ice climbing, but that doesn’t mean this sunny, coastal state doesn’t have a few frozen drips up its sleeve. Form Lake Tahoe, to the Eastern Sierra there are plenty of winter wonderlands to explore with frozen falls waiting to be climbed. We will share a few hidden gems that are worth the walk for some California ice!
Lake Tahoe Region
Cold Stream Canyon
This canyon is well known among Truckee Rock climbers in the summer with great steep granite. In the winter, Ice forms, but like most ice climbs around the Tahoe area you’ll need consistent cold temps to whip these routes into shape. With a variety of options from WI 3- WI4+ there can be plenty of options for the beginner and advanced alike. The approach can vary. Drive pretty far back during dry-ish winters or ski tour for about 5.5 miles if the road is blocked with snow. If you’ve got a snowmobile access become a lot faster!
Eagle Lake Ice
If you’re looking for top notch views to compliment an ice outing, look no further than Eagle Lake Ice. Located near Emerald Bay, you’ll get some of the best Tahoe views from the moment you park your car. The routes are a mix of ice curtains that range from WI3-WI4 and can have some mixed climbing depending on conditions. Generally thought of as a good place to bring beginners, this area is a great place to spend a day when the powder is all dried up.
Lee Vining/June Lake
One of the busier areas when seeking out Ice in California, this area has top rope access, allowing all levels of climbers to enjoy this cold climate sport. The majority of these routes fall between WI2-3 and the wall includes around 8 routes if the ice is formed well. If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging there are other ice walls nearby including the Main Wall and the Bard-Harrington Wall.
June Lake Loop
Another great area for beginners the June Lake Loop is known for Horsetail falls. While this area has easy climbing, you’ll still have to put in the effort of a 45 minutes approach. This area is a great way to spend a day if you’re skiing at Mammoth ski resort nearby. On weekends, this area can be busy with guided parties so mid-week might be your best bet.
There are two classic Eastern Sierra Couloirs on Mt. Mendel which rises, 13,710ft into the sky. Mendel Right is considered to be the true ice classic of the Sierra and is to be taken seriously. You’ll cover 1000 ft. of snow, ice and rock and there will be objective hazards including rockfall to be aware of. Mendel Left or “Ice Nine” is it’s more challenging neighbor route. The route length is similar to the right couloir but the terrain is much more technically challenging. You can expect ice up to WI5, mixed rock and snow and again rockfall can be a serious issue on these routes. If you’re looking for a big day out in serious mountain terrain, Mt. Mendel will fill your cup.
*Bonus* – Yosemite Valley
Ice climbing in Yosemite Valley? It’s true, there is ice to be had on these famed rock walls, but finicky can be an understatement for these flows. When it’s in, it is considered the longest continuous ice climb in the US and is truly classic. This is a demanding route that when formed, can cover the spectrum of great ice to thin and scary smears. You’ll want a mixed bag of gear including screws, cams and slings for this 1000ft + route. If you happen to check this one offd the list you can claim an ascent of one of the harder classics to conquer, in a setting that is hard to beat.
While most California’s seek out ice when the snow is lacking, there are still plenty of options throughout the winter. You won’t find the concentration of ice that Montana or Colorado have to offer but Sierra ice has something special to it, and many enjoyable days lie ahead for those willing to seek out these frozen falls.