Rock climbing locations around Lake Tahoe for all skill levels |

Rock climbing locations around Lake Tahoe for all skill levels

J.P. Kelsey
Chris McNamara takes on one of the more challenging routes at Castle Rock. The area has places to climb for most all abilities.
Courtesy / Chris McNamara |

Of all the outdoor activities that are home to Lake Tahoe, rock climbing may be your best bet for getting outside and avoiding the snow. Although there is a little powder left at some spots, local rock climbers say many routes have been minimally impacted by the weather.

“I’d say in about two weeks, 80 percent of the areas will be snow free,” said Chris McNamara, founder of Outdoor Gear Lab and avid Lake Tahoe climber. “Right now, they’re about 50 percent clear. You can still climb just about anywhere, but some of the approaches will have a little more snow than is convenient and occasionally there will be water running down.”

McNamara has been climbing around the Lake Tahoe basin since the ‘90s and has authored books on bouldering and route climbing in the region. According to him, there are plenty of places to go for beginners and seasoned climbers.

“One of the best spots for beginners is Castle Rock,” said McNamara. “They have routes of varying skill-level there.”

Castle Rock is located in the area of Kingsbury Grade and Andria Drive. This is good for beginners because the need for a lot of rope and gear is minimal. According to McNamara and climbers who frequent the spot, the erosion at Castle Rock is so that there are a lot of handholds and footholds that make navigating up and down less strenuous that more advanced climbs.

The climbs at Pie Shop, according to McNamara, are shaping up to be free and clear to climb. Located off of Sawmill Road past the Y, the location has a lot of routes for everyone.

“That is one of the more popular spots around for beginning and intermediate climbs,” said McNamara. “It’s very snow free.”

Another spot that would be good for someone learning is 90-Foot Wall. This climb is located by Emerald Bay and can be reached from the Eagle Lake trailhead. “It’s a really great spot for beginners because you can set up top ropes and the climbs are short and moderate,” said Gianna Leavers, co-founder of South Shore’s Blue Granite Climbing Gym. “It does get pretty crowded during the summer, but it is a good spot for a beginner to learn.” Climbing with a top rope in place usually involves one top anchor at the top of the ascent and a partner belaying.

Once at 90-Foot Wall, you can go a little further with your approach and find a more intermediate to advanced climb at Eagle Lake Cliff. With a lot of nice cracks to grab and resting spots between rope sections, climbers suggest this as the next step for someone who has some novice routes under their belt.

Located a little farther south of the lake in Strawberry, intermediate climbers can enjoy numerous high-quality routes at Lovers Leap. “As far as quality, there’s a lot of nice granite there,” said Leavers. “It’s multi-pitched so it’s a little more advanced than just putting up a top rope. There are a lot of really great moderate routes and there are more advances routes too if you want to climb harder.”

If you don’t have all of your gear just yet, there’s always the option of going bouldering. Bouldering typically involves shorter ascents without the use of ropes and hardware. Other than shoes and a chalk bag, a crash pad would be all you need for a day of bouldering.

According to McNamara, bouldering has become something people travel to the area to specifically do.

“We released the first Tahoe bouldering guidebook in 2006,” said McNamara. “Then [Lake Tahoe] wasn’t really known as a bouldering destination. Now people come just to do that.”

McNamara said the high number of boulders scattered around the lake gives plenty of options for climbers looking to boulder.

McNamara went on to explain that climbing in general around the basin has more appeal than other areas due to the multiple skill-levels and types of rock.

“What makes Tahoe special from, say, Yosemite is that Yosemite has really great long, hard climbs like El Capitan and Half Dome,” he said. “But they have relatively poor moderate and intro-level climbs. In Tahoe the rocks are featured and we have so much rock of all different kind of angles. It’s just a really great place to learn to climb.”

Expert climbers say one of the best things to do if you are learning is to use a person or business that offers a guiding service. This can also significantly reduce the learning curve that is involved with being a new climber.

“We specialize in technical rock climbing here in Lake Tahoe and take a lot of beginners out,” said Sean Kristl, director of sales and marketing at Alpenglow Expeditions. “I would recommend taking an intro to rock climbing class. What that will teach you to do is move efficiently on rock.”

Kristl said hiring a guide service or going to a climbing gym would be ideal for learning basics. Alpenglow Expeditions is a guide service located in Olympic Valley north of Tahoe City that offers outdoor-guided climbs for beginners and beyond.

McNamara said that although he has been climbing in the area for many years, there are always areas to develop and climb.

“There will probably be 100 new routes put up this summer,” he said. “There’s always stuff to be discovered.”

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