Tahoe wrap up…

Phantom Spires

After another lost day (to rain) we headed out to the Phantom Spires. According to the guidebook they were called the Phantom Spires as before a massive forest fire they were completely hidden by huge trees. However, as the next picture shows, now they are very open and impressive looking rock spires high on a ridge above the highway. After an alpine style zig-zag drive almost all the way up, a dirt track (for brave off-road car drivers, or not-so-brave 4×4 drivers) took us to within 15 minutes walk of the spires. Unfortunately the path from the parking to the spires is hard to locate and follow – we got stuck in to an hour’s bush whacking before we finally reached the Upper Spire…

Middle and Upper Phantom Spires from the start of the dirt track approach
Pete starting Jugs Revisited, a steep route, but with with amazing large 'blob' holds almost all the way. One of the best single pitches (45m) we climbed.
Laetitia on the One Bolt Arete route of the Shark's Tooth
the Upper Phantom Spire is behind.
Moments after this picture Laetitia bailed and let Boris complete the scary section of the pitch...
Pete, Boris, and Laetitia on top of the Shark's Tooth

Lovers’ Leap Main Wall

Paul and I wanted to climb the famous (made so by being included in Roper and Steck’s now out of print Fifty classic climbs of North America) Traveller’s Buttress on the Main Wall of Lovers’ Leap. So early the next day we headed up to the Main Wall of the Leap while Laetitia and Boris scrambled up the much sunnier Hogsback opposite to take a few pictures, and then later enjoy a long walk to take a peek at the cascades coming down from Pyramid Peak that we’d seen every day driving down the highway from South Lake Tahoe.

Paul & Pete getting ready at the base of Traveller's Buttress' scary first pitch in the cold early morning shadow of the Leap's Main Wall

Meanwhile Boris and Laetitia headed off for a walk in to Desolation Wilderness to visit the impressive water cascades just visible from the highway.

Laetitia & Boris head off in to Desolation Wilderness...

The first pitch was steep, hard, and scary, much more so than we’d expected! And so, after looking at the infamous off-width second pitch of Travellers’s Buttress at close quarters, we decided that the proposition of climbing it without any large cams was silly. Twenty to 30 metres of unprotect-able 5.9 off-width climbing was something neither of us fancied. Make sure to bring several massive cams (Friend 5 and bigger) to protect the pitch. Or take our option and scamper off in to Corrugation Corner

Pete & Paul on the first pitch of Traveller's Buttress.
The start of the horrendous off-width second pitch is just visible at the top left of the picture, and you can see how wide the crack is - wider than a body and impossible to protect without monster cams!

One has to wonder how such an unbalanced route as Traveller’s Buttress with one hard thrutching 5.9 off-width pitch above a steep scary pitch and two more 5.7 dyke pulling pitches above can warrant it’s status? Whereas Corrugation Corner is balanced, pleasant, exciting, and brilliant the whole way!

Paul on the second pitch of Corrugation Corner
Paul at the top of Lovers' Leap Main Wall
Paul, Pete, and Boris enjoying a celebratory beer at Strawberry Lodge before leaving the Lovers' Leap area

Donner Summit

The next day we packed up and left South Lake Tahoe for a couple of final days at Donner Summit before embarking on the long haul back to the UK.

The view over Emerald Bay and beyond in to the main body of a misty Lake Tahoe

Almost all the campgrounds around Tahoe had closed at the end of September, and those that were open were closing on Sunday 16th October. Meaning we had to hunt around a fair bit to find a place to camp, and in the end the solution only came by visiting the Truckee Ranger Station where they provided fantastic service and pointed us at lots of options despite the late season. Although none had any better facilities than pit-toilets and a single cold water (not recommended for drinking) tap.

Camping near Truckee, we had the entire area to ourselves!
The morning mist from the lake at our campsite near Truckee

The main climbing at Donner Summit is spread out over a quite compact area on dozens of small buttresses. This, combined with being armed with likely the worst guidebook in the world, made locating some of the climbing a little tricky. The guidebook, a new full colour photographic guide, looks good at first glance. But take a second look (and you don’t have to look hard!) and there are hundreds of crucial spelling mistakes (e.g. projection instead of protection) and some of the most terrible published climbing action photos I’ve ever seen. OK, I admit any guidebook is better than no guidebook, so in that sense it’s a great book that allowed us to sample an area we wouldn’t have been able to without it. But beyond that it really highlights just how spoiled we are in the UK – our guidebooks really are amongst the best in the world!

Laetitia climbing on the School Slabs with Rainbow Bridge and Donner Lake beyond
A cheeky chipmunk watching me climb past

While sitting belaying at the top of one of the routes I spotted a car calmly drive in to a railway tunnel on the opposite side of the valley. Half expecting the next thing I saw to be a train smashing out through the entrance with a mangled car stuck to its front I wondered if it might be worth a peek myself…

Apparently this disused tunnel and snow-sheltered railway goes nearly twenty miles back to Truckee! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ But only having a car we were warned from going the whole way as there are some steep sections where water has eroded the route, a washed out river crossing, and a 360° spiral within the mountain to gain/lose height. We did see a few 4x4s piloted by adventurous locals head off into the mountain, and I wanted to follow, but the more sensible members of the team demanded that I stop…

Crazy adventures driving through the old railway tunnels near Donner Summit!
Interesting graffiti in the railway tunnels!


Finally we headed home via Chicago airport. We’ve been via Chicago before on the way to Canada and I remembered an awesome tunnel under one of the runways that was illuminated by an incredible lighting system with ‘waves’ of coloured lights pulsing across the ceiling accompanied by calming futuristic music. It’s still there (it would be would’t it) and this time I took a picture with a one second exposure to try and capture the memory…

The amazing tunnel under one of the runways at Chicago airport

And finally…

Altogether I’d have to recommend coming to the Tahoe area before the end of September … better to avoid the chance of snow and to have more camping options that include niceties like showers! We lost three days to the weather ( 2 snow ๐Ÿ˜ฎ and 1 rain ๐Ÿ™ ) so not an awful result and a whole lot better than work (which we all know sucks). The rest of the time, out of the very chilly shade and in the sun, it was lovely. Having worn shorts and t-shirts on those days I have the suntan to prove it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

One final point, the evenings are cold at this time of year, sometimes below freezing! Bring a warm sleeping bag if camping at the Lovers Leap campground…

Echo Lake & Lovers’ Leap East Wall

Echo Lake

Assuming two things – 1) that enough of the snow would have melted higher up to allow us to access the climbs, and 2) that a weekend day would provide a better chance of using the unique taxi-boat access for the climbs at Echo Lake despite it being (very) late season – we agreed to visit Gangsta Wall at Echo Lake on Saturday. Unluckily the second assumption was wrong and the taxi-boats were not running, so the promised 5 minute approach (and boating adventure) turned in to a lovely 50 minute snowy walk… Happily the first assumption was correct and the venue was very sunny, warm, and snow free. Well the routes were snow free! :mrgreen:

The view from the car park at Echo Lake
The beautiful snowy hike to the climbing at the far end of Echo Lake - Gangsta Wall
Paul belaying Boris, and Laettia following Pete up 2 of America's Most Wanted
Paul on the continuation second pitch of Drive By, a desperately thin 5.9 pitch!
Boris chilling out in the sun
Pete on The Chronic

Lovers’ Leap

Sunday saw us at the famous Lovers’ Leap again for another day of amazing climbing on the East Wall.

The start of the day was incredibly cold though (approx. 6°C) until the sun came round on to the wall at about 1.30pm. Bliss! ๐Ÿ˜›

We’d chosen The Line and Paul and Boris chose Scimitar, two classic 5.9 routes on the East Wall. It was great to climb some rock with actual holds after the previous three days of desperate slab climbing. I don’t think my toes (or nerves) could have coped with yet another day of smearing on non-existent features.

Laetitia following the second pitch of The Line on the East Wall of The Lowers' Leap
All smiles now, the sun has come round and started to warm us up.
From the top pitch of our route we got a view across to Paul and Boris on Scimitar...
Laetitia finishes the moves through the "wild" roof at the end of The Line's third pitch

Hooray, it’s sunny again!

Thankfully it has stopped snowing and the sun has come out to play! Although it is still quite cold, just 7°C in the shade, so we chose a super sunny venue, Sugar Loaf, to get back on the rock and enjoy the solar radiation…

Paul eyeing up the climbing options on the approach to the Sugar Loaf
We ended up at the West Buttress area where we all tested our ability to smear on non-holds for our feet while pulling on imaginary holds for our hands!
Boris high stepping on The Left Cheek
Laetitia leading the The Left Cheek
Pete & Laetitia on the route we all agreed was the best of the day, Scratchin' It

On the way back from the Sugar Loaf we stopped at Strawberry Lodge for an ice cream (a holiday essential now that the sun has returned). Also Boris took the opportunity to indulge his hippy tendencies and bought a tie-die t-shirt! ๐Ÿ˜‰

It's the one Boris is wearing that he bought, not the "Clint Eastwood stylee poncho for girls" that was considered the most psychedelic!

It’s Snowing!

As the forecast was for snow, we had already decided to pack up the tents while it was still dry and when we finished climbing on Monday we hauled our asses back over to South Lake Tahoe to cheap and cheerful, warm and dry motel.

Over-night it rained, a lot, and then it snowed. We were so relieved we were’t still in the tents.

Wednesday we awoke to the predicted snow!
What kind of a summer rock climbing holiday is this?

As we were’t going to get any climbing done on Wednesday, in fact we were’t going to get much exercise at all, we decided an all American breakfast was required. After all it was Paul’s birthday! Off we went to the Red Waffle Shop.

An all American Breakfast for Paul's birthday

After breakfast we did a little shop surfing – we found the Patagucci shop and managed to waste at least half an hour in there, not spending any money what-so-ever.

The snow was easing a little, so we went for a drive to Emerald Bay and Eagle Falls, but by the time we got there, the snow had started again and the temperature had dropped to zero. But that didn’t stop some of us taking a short walk along a marked trail.

Laetitia making the most of the weather, a snowy walk near Eagle Lake
The views around Eagle Lake were quite stunning with the snow cover, but it felt more like being in Canada on an ice climbing trip... ...except without the right clothing to stay warm.

…. But it was too cold to stay out for long, so we went back to the motel and watched TV!

After going stir-crazy in the afternoon, and establishing that…

  • The weather wean’t any better in Yosemite
  • It was too far to drive to Joshua Tree
  • The weather wasn’t that much better in Red Rocks and that was also too far to drive

… we decided we would stay near Lake Tahoe, but sod the camping, and the expense, we needed to find some superior accommodation with a kitchen.

After a bit of Googling we found a company not far from the motel where we could hopefully get a cabin for a week.

The guy at the rental company tried to sell us a luxury apartment with leather sofas and two (!) plasma TVs. I simply said “we don’t need features, we need cheap and warm!”, so for a very reasonable price we ended up with a three bedroom house in South Lake Tahoe. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Boris and Laetitia enjoy some comfort (inc. heating) in our heated rental home!
Introducing the fifth member of our team, Snowy!


The Journey
We knew our flights (via New York and Washington to San Francisco) were going to be hard to bear, but when our flight from New York was delayed by an hour making the onward connection impossible we knew it was gonna get worse, much worse… After some hasty negotiation with the United representatives at New York we were fixed up with connections via Denver and Los Angeles, and finally to San Francisco! There were three impacts to this:

  1. I kicked up a fuss, earned us each a $10 meal voucher.
  2. Our already marathon journey was extended by two hours.
  3. Boris, who had a different flight and was expecting to meet us in San Francisco at 9.45pm, was quite perplexed to instead get a text message from us saying “We are in Los Angeles.”, we arrived at 11.30pm.

We reached South Lake Tahoe the next day, after a night in a cheap motel.

At Lover's Leap campground with the Leap lit by evening sunlight on our arrival

Unfortunately the previous evening’s sun had been replaced by light grey clouds and a cool breeze, however, we headed out to the Lover’s Leap’s East Wall to ease ourselves in to Lake Tahoe granite climbing… Our first tick was the ultra-classic (5 star!) 5.7, Bear’s Reach.

Laetitia and Paul survey the lines on the East Wall of Lover's Leap
Our first route, the three pitch line of Bear's Reach, is the pale strip in the middle
Paul grabs a great shot of Boris in a patch of sunlight arriving at the belay at the top of Bear's Reach

After Bear’s Reach the weather hadn’t improved – it was cold! So another moderate route was called for, Laetitia and I chose Surrealistic Pillar while Paul and Boris chose the campsite and a cup of tea with a biscuit! I think this was probably a better choice – Surrealistic Pillar is pretty hard for the grade (especially in the cold), a little scary, and a lot run-out.

Laetitia and Pete on Surrealistic Pillar

Sunday night was bitterly cold. Paul even had frost on the inside of his tent on Monday morning! :freeze:

Paul, Laetitia, and Boris enjoying the warm Californian weather
Escaping the weather (and potential frostbite) with a trip to Starbucks!

After warming up in town with coffee and hoping the sun might have warmed the rock a little, we headed back to the Leap. It wasn’t sunny and it wasn’t warmer. In fact it was freezing. But we are tough! Two single pitch routes on the Hogwild buttress were despatched before light drizzly rain arrived…

Pete on No Gaynor (5.9) and Boris on Hogwild (5.7) at the Leap's Hogwild buttress

The Outlook…
Tomorrow it is forecast to snow, a lot!