Lake Tahoe Climbing Guide:
Rock climbing around Lake Tahoe
September 11, 2020
Home to some of that California granite you’re always dreaming about as well as a variety of volcanic rock types, the Lake Tahoe area has plenty to offer both sport climbers and Trad climbers alike. While spring summer and fall offer the best conditions for rock climbing here, you can get some sunshine mid-winter that allows for some year round climbing. Granite cracks can be found throughout the region at places like Donner Summit, Lover’s Leap, Woodfords Canyon and Eagle Lake. Clipping bolts is also very accessible here and you’ll want to check out Big Chief, Star Wall + Space Wall on Donner Summit, and the Emeralds. Many of the crags have relatively short approaches but there is still some adventure to be had. Muti-pitch areas include place such as Black Wall on donner summit and many routes in Lover’s Leap.
Fall is possibly the best time to climb but like spring, a freak snowstorm is definitely possible. Summer can be a great time to climb but you’ll want to start early or chase shade to beat the heat. There are plenty of gear shops located all around the lake and Truckee so you won’t have a hard time finding the tools you need for the job.
Locals are friendly and happy to hand out beta as needed – This is California after all. Guidebooks can be found for the entire North Shore and South Lake Tahoe, with other online resources such as Whympr being a great place to source beta.
We’re going to outline some tops spots in the Tahoe Basin and some must do routes. Have fun, climb hard, and be safe!
Plentiful high quality, granite crack and sport climbing in Truckee. This area, while different in some ways to Yosemite style cracks, will still help you hone in those skills needed for a trip to the Valley. Beautiful crack climbing exists all over the summit but a couple of crags that really shine are Snowshed Wall and Black Wall. These areas are dense in quality climbing and Black Wall offers multi-pitch routes up to 4 pitches long. The other thing climbers love about this area other than the amazing alpine views above Donner Lake, are the casual roadside approaches at most crags.
For sport climbing you can find great granite face climbing at Snowshed, Space Wall and Star Wall with plenty of other gems spread out on the summit. With over 400 routes in this area alone you’ll have plenty to come back for time and time again.
Here are a few highlights not to miss.
“Rated X” – 5.7: This route climbs large and long flake that feels more like a face climb than a crack climb for the most part. It protects with a mixture of cams and bolts and you have to option to continue on for a second pitch, or set up a top rope for other routes nearby. Located at Black Wall.
“Black September” – 5.9: One of the best handcracks on donner summit at the grade, this route protects well with cams and will have you smiling from ear to ear. Make sure you bring a 70m rope for this one as a 60m will not reach the ground. Looking for multi-pitch 5.9? Walk five minutes and jump on “One hand clapping” for a stellar outing. Located at Black Wall
“Bottomless Topless” – 5.10: A Bombay chimney and a finger crack in the back takes you up the first 30 feet of this route. Take an airy step out onto the face as you exit the Chimney and head of a mixture of face features and hand jams. Classic. Located at Snowshed Wall
“Farewell to Arms” – 5.10b: Another classic at Snowshed Wall, this one packs a finger locking punch at the top. Don’t worry, you’ve got bomber gear so just go for it!
“Made in Japan” – 5.11a: Possibly the best 11a sport route on the summit, you’ll be pulling airy face moves on a steep arete for close to 100 feet. If you’re looking for harder, quality face climbing there are plenty of options here on Space Wall.
This might be the most well-known area in the Tahoe Basin and for good reason. Home to an abundance of multi-pitch routes on high quality granite, Lover’s Leap is a must-do when in South Lake Tahoe. Popular for many reasons, Lover’s leap has plenty of options for the budding trad leader as well as the seasoned hardman. Most routes you find here will be protected but nuts and cams but don’t always expect full on crack climbing as you will encounter face climbing, roofs, stem corners and much more. A full bag of tricks will be valuable when climbing at Lover’s leap.
Here are a few routes not to be forgotten when at “the Leap” – as locals say.
“Corrugation Corner” – 5.7: Accessible, popular and great for new trad leaders this route will introduce you to the style at Lover’s leap in 3-4 high quality pitches. A mixture of dikes and corner systems will come into play as you work your way up high above the ground with an amazing position.
“The Line” – 5.9: Another classic example of multi-pitch greatness at the leap, you’ll follow broken cracks straight up for 400ft. A tricky start will lead you to roof systems, crack climbing and face holds galore! Enjoy!
“Hospital Corner” – 5.10a: Some call this the best 5.10 in Lover’s Leap and we have to agree. Steep, beautiful corner crack climbing will lead you through 2 beautiful pitches. If you’re breaking into the grade this could be a great route for you as it protects well throughout the entire climb.
“Surrealistic Pillar Direct” – 5.10b: This is an alternate start to “Surrealistic Pillar” (5.7) and much more interesting if you’re looking to step up the grade. Steep hand jams lead to a fun, small roof where you will encounter the crux. Keep pulling it’s all there!
“Power Lust” – 5.11a: All over Lover’s Leap you’ll find horizontal dikes and this routes highlights them well. Steep dike climbing and mantles with keep you pulling hard until the end. This route is bolt protected and is a great challenge for any climber.
A few other areas not to miss in Lake Tahoe.
West Shore: With Plenty of crags scattered about as your work your way down the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, Eagle Lake Buttress is a must for granite crack climbers. Offering a range of routes from 5.8 to 5.12, these are some of the cleanest cracks in the Tahoe area and you’re sure to be pumped after a few pitches of well-protected climbing. The epic views of Eagle lake below will also give you a boost of energy needed to finish your project!
Truckee River Canyon: Looking for some great, varied sport climbing in the area? Big Chief will scratch that itch for anyone looking to clip bolts. A mix of moderate and hard sport climbs line this Volcanic rock outcropping and can be great on colder days as it sees a lot of sun.
If you’re heading to Lake Tahoe for a climbing trip you can expect high quality and plenty of variety for all levels of climbers. The great thing about Tahoe is that when you’re too worn out for another pitch, you’ve got a magical alpine lake waiting for you to take a dip at all times!