Straight Back Into It
I worked for only four night shifts before we hit the road again. The original plan was to hike from Onion Valley to Mount Whitney, summiting the highest peak in the contiguous United States with our mates Vanessa & Kyle. Unfortunately that wasn’t happening due to the fires covering the state, but we’d already organized our days off so we were obligated to go on some sort of adventure!
We started off with an afternoon sail on the Bay to get me back to normal waking hours and what a brilliant sail it was! Perfect conditions, planes flying overhead to land at the nearby Oakland airport, we were generating quite a wake!
The next day, Thursday, we both had a bit of a sleep in before Dan got into brewing some beer. It was his first time doing a wheat ale and so he dominated the kitchen for a good few hours. While he did that, I slowly packed for the unknown. We knew we’d be starting at Lake Tahoe, so that meant climbing gear and I threw in everything we needed for overnight hiking too. We decided to leave the bikes behind and just focus on climbing since we’d be hanging out with friends.
With the brew complete, we were almost ready to hit the road. While Dan was packing his clothes, I sat and opened our Bay Area climbing book to see if there were any crags we could hit on our way up to the big lake. I discovered a perfect spot and so that dictated our route northeast. With the wheat beer safely stowed in the cupboard for fermentation, we left “home”, fully stocked.
There wasn’t many camp pickings heading out past Stockton and Camanche Reservoir so I had to get creative. It was fully dark by the time we approached Pardee Reservoir but we managed. We checked out an equestrian trailhead that would have sufficed, but further along we pulled into a viewpoint sitting high on a hill over the Reservoir. Though we couldn’t see the water, we could see the lights of the dam below. Camp!
Having had a late lunch, we didn’t need dinner and so we crashed for the night.
Cosumnes River Gorge
We woke to rain droplets on our cheeks, falling through the open fan vent that we’d had open all night. It was nice to lay in bed snoozing, listening to the rain that would hopefully help with all these fires. The dam was a beautiful sight to wake up to, with multiple fishing boats out early to make their catch for the day. I made Dan a coffee and we stood watching the clouds make art over our heads with Jesus rays of sun coming down over the water.
Not wanting to push our luck with the camp, we made off to have breakfast elsewhere, thinking we’d find a spot on the way to the climbing crag. Not so, we ended up having a peanut butter sandwich and some fruit at the parking area. Considering the short approach to Cosumnes River Gorge (I have no idea how you’re supposed to pronounce that), we didn’t bother making lunch.
After seeing a couple other climbing parties head down a path, we followed, keeping an eye out for anchor bolts. We carried on down the path until we were at the base of a short cliff that wrapped around for a hundred meters or so. There was a pair of climbers that we greeted before wrapping around the cliff to the far side where there was a selection of easy climbs.
Another two climbers here warned us of yellow jackets (an aggressive type of bee or hornet) at the base of one climb and so we went far to the right and lay down our gear. The Cosumnes River Gorge was below us with fast running water flowing through a gray channel of rock. With the cloud cover it was too cold for a swim now, but we hoped, maybe later.
Across the Gorge was a huge sloping slab where some climbers were venturing up on a multi-pitch – they were good entertainment to watch as they slowly made their way between dispersed bolts and lack of gear.
We got climbing, doing a bunch of easy trad routes with some variations to get us back into the groove.
We did a top rope 5.8+ after that since the wide crack was too large for my gear and while we got away with that climb, I got bitten by a yellow jacket when setting up for the one next to it. We had been warned.
Moving over to the left side of the wall, we chatted with a pair of local climbers as I went up a 5.7, having to build a trad anchor since the bolted option was way far up on a slab that I wasn’t willing to get to. Once I’d cleaned that and walked down, we had about five climbs under our belt and the sun was fully out – time for a swim!
We packed up our gear while talking to a group of older climbers that were all using self-ascenders to climb their routes, drinking beers whenever they were on the ground.
Down at the gorge, we discovered very cold and clear water. After getting Cleo in for a dip, we stripped down to our undies and jumped in. It was numbing but refreshing.
I explored around the corner and found a waterfall leading into a pool inside a cave. I demanded that Dan come join me and so he got back into the water to see what I could see. Dan laughed at me as my underwear came off climbing up and over the small waterfall to get to the calm pool on the other side. It was beautiful! He climbed up as well but we didn’t go any further fearing not being able to get back out.
Thoroughly cooled off, we returned to Cleo and walked back up to our van, talking again with the older gang about our sailing antics before heading out.
As we turned onto Highway 50 heading to South Lake Tahoe, we passed a few signs signaling that the highway was closed very close to Tahoe. We didn’t have to backtrack, but it meant taking an alternative route. We continued on the 50 until Kyburz, then turned south on Silver Fork Road. It suited us, because that road cut through National Forest so we knew we’d be on for a camp. More issues here because the Forest was closed to all camping and the use of any gas stoves. They obviously weren’t taking any chances with the fires anymore. Faced with a bunch of closure/no camping signs at the forest entrance, we found a spot just outside the forest that may have been illegal but there was no one around to ask. We were out of sight of the road so it would have to do.
We faffed around for a long, long time trying to get the van level, placing rocks in different positions and digging holes in the dry ground with our tyres, eventually settling on a spot slightly closer to the road.
I made us some muffins in the oven, then not wanting to do the exposed flame thing, we had a cold rice salad for dinner before passing out.
In the morning I surprised myself by sleeping fully until 10am. When I looked at my watch I was incredulous! Blame it on coming off night shift?
Finally out of the van, we noticed a white/grey rock jutting out of the mountain side on the north side of highway 50 and discovered it was Sugarloaf, a popular climbing area I’d heard about. Maybe we’d hit it on the way back?
Ready to go, Cleo presented herself with a dirty nose. She’d obviously been conducting important anti-lizard work in the nearby fire pit.
We drove south through the forest, along with more than normal traffic who were taking the detour same as us. Coming out on highway 88, we turned east towards Tahoe. When we came to the 89, instead of turning north to the lake we carried on east to Woodfords Canyon. It was recommended to us by one of the climbers we’d met yesterday and since we weren’t in any rush to get to Tahoe, we figured we’d check it out.
Based on the recommendation, we were looking for “The Tiers”. With the help of Mountain Project, we found the pull out and parked it level so I could make lunch. Despite it being lunch time, we weren’t allowed to eat until we had at least one climb under our belt and so we hiked off towards the cliffs.
We tried very hard to follow the approach instructions, with me doing some bush bashing looking for the first tier, but without any luck. In the end, we decided to just blindly follow the most obvious path and that lead us to glory.
The first tier was a gorgeous little partly shaded area with a handful of climbs. We dropped our gear here then carried on uphill following the sound of rushing water so that Cleo could have a drink. While we’d managed to fill our water bottles, the van’s water tank was empty so we didn’t have much to spare for her.
We passed the second and third tier cliffs then found a beautiful flowing creek running downhill under a nest of trees. Cleo got her drink on and cooled off before we head back to the crag.
As I was racking up for the first climb, Dan noticed more yellow jackets flying around. Not to worry, we thought, then we saw that their nest was right by us underneath the broken rocks. As we debated whether to stick around, Cleo got stung on her front left foot and squealed in pain. Decision made. Dan lead Cleo out while I got our stuff and we bailed to the second tier. Little buggers.
Dan licked her paw constantly as we started climbing. Halfway up our first 5.9 route, a fellow climber appeared warning us that the anchor at the top of the route was poor and shouldn’t be trusted. Heeding his warning, I moved to the right to finish on a better set of bolts. I took my gear out coming down so that Dan could do the better route from start to finish and he enjoyed it. I did it a second time then set up a top rope on a 5.10a route called “Orange Wedge” that followed a crack and a bit of a roof. That was a fun route too, but probably not a real 5.10a.
With that, it was nearly 4pm and our friends had invited us to party with them at North Lake so we left the crag. Two whole climbs! We ended up saving our lunch since we’d had such a late breakfast, cracked a couple beers, then drove up highway 89 towards Truckee.
We filled up with water on the way, then drove through the suburbs of Truckee to find Vanessa & Kyle at their AirBnB. I took Cleo for a short walk before putting her to bed and joining the others in the cabin-style house. We met V&K’s friends, swapped stories, enjoyed a great dinner, played card games, then a couple competitive rounds of “Salad Bowl” in a girl vs. boys battle where the girls were triumphant.
It was past midnight when we said goodbye and head to our local camp at Martis Creek, our first time back there since getting snowed in at the end of the last snow season.
We drove over to Truckee’s disc golf course and made breakfast in the carpark, cooking up a bunch of steak for lunch meat while we were at it. When I say “we”, I took first shift putting coffee on while Dan and Cleo guarded the bed.
We had a while to wait before V&K would be joining us so we basked in the morning sun, watching the trains go by and the senior tennis that was happening on the courts next to us.
With more time to kill, we went to a local climbing shop to buy a guide for the Tahoe area. We talked to a guy at the shop for a while about the area we’d just been exploring south of the lake and while he couldn’t offer us a guide for that region, we walked out with a Tahoe guide for $40. Well worth the dollars, I was poring through the pages within minutes, excited for the climbing to come.
Back at the river, we sorted out an issue with our water system while we waited for V&K. Originally thinking the water pump was busted, we figured out we must have just had an airlock in the system. Through pulling hoses on and off, we fixed the issue but were a bit puzzled as to how we ended up with it.
V&K arrived just as we’d finished plumbing everything back up. We got our discs out and off we went on the disc golf course that Dan had learned to play on. It was a full 18 holes and while I started out strong making pars and birdies, my performance soon waned and Dan’s picked up. I ended up third with Kyle and Dan in front of me. The sport is quite new to Vanessa so she didn’t quite have the technique yet. We walked out of the course with all the discs we walked in with so that was a win.
The sun had warmed up so we were keen to chill out by the Truckee River and we did so. We ate the sandwiches we hadn’t eaten yesterday and snacked on some fruit, cheese and crackers sitting by the water. Cleo and I were the only ones to dunk ourselves in the cold river, the others being content to just dip their toes in.
We were meeting Kyle’s brother in Reno for his birthday dinner that night so we left the river around 4pm to go scout camps while it was still light. V&K stayed behind so that Vanessa could get some work done on her laptop, sitting in the shade of a tree.
Heading over the hill towards Reno, Dan and I were in our element. There were multiple forest closures to deal with thanks to fire but we would not be beaten! First we found a spot at the end of a long bumpy road at the top of a hill – it was still National Forest, but this was a different one so didn’t have the no camping/no stove rule. We even found some gym equipment and a completely burnt out jeep that had been painted. It definitely had character!
Moving closer to Reno, we sussed out another spot that was a collection of dirt roads leading up a hill right out of a fancy suburb. We didn’t like our chances, but a sign at the entrance declared it legal and so we romped up a few dozen meters and found a choice spot overlooking the city. This would definitely be camp; we were excited for the view of city lights when it got dark. During our scout, I got out to take a pee by the car and was caught red-handed by a trail runner descending the road. Dan protected me by standing nearby, but I’d been had. Ha ha, whoops!
We drove back down into the city to a Korean BBQ place where V&K rolled up at the same time. Inside we met Jason and his boyfriend John and got to catching up and eating some delicious food. It was an all-you-can-eat affair with a grill in the center of the table for you to cook the raw meat brought out to you. Despite the ice cream brought out after an hour or so, the boys carried on eating meat past that, delving into prawns, all different types of beef, pork, chicken and even octopus – the heads of which they had to cut off themselves. Eeewww!!!
With our bellies full, we said our goodbyes to Jason and John and to V&K for the night since they were heading to a hotel – needing some WiFi for Vanessa to finish out her work.
Our camp was just as beautiful as we imagined. While it was a little too cold to sit outside and enjoy the view, we parked the car so that we could sit in the front seats and admire the twinkling lights of the city, dotted with casinos and planes landing.
In the morning, I consulted our new guidebook to decide where we should take our first climb around Tahoe. I messaged V&K with instructions on how to get there, explaining that we’d suss out the only two campgrounds in the area that were open. No dispersed camping in Tahoe National Forest so we were out of our comfort zone because that’s all we ever do!
Not wanting to push our luck with the residents of the rich neighbourhood below, we left camp and had breakfast down at the Truckee River on a dirt road right near the major train line. I was just about done cooking up some eggs when an Amtrak passenger train came through with more than one passenger waving to us!
We drove back towards Lake Tahoe and had a long chat with the camphost at Granite Flat campground. Yes they were open, but propane stoves were not allowed unless they were inside your vehicle. The place was empty so we wouldn’t need a reservation and they had about 100 spots. At the next spot – Silver Fork Campground, it was smaller (and $2 cheaper!) but with the same no-propane rules. We figured our stove was “in” our car despite having to pull it out the back to use it.
Our chores done for the day, we carried on down the 89 (almost to Lake Tahoe), turning off at Twin Crags. It was a short dirt road with cabins either side, most of them boarded up. We parked at the end and followed the approach instructions from the guidebook, we crossed a field of “talus” (a field of big volcanic boulders) and up the hill towards the crag.
It was beautiful rock, about 50 feet tall composed of columns kind of like Devil’s Postpile and if there wasn’t smoke in the air, we would have had great views of Tahoe. We knew we’d be the only ones there since there were no other cars parked so we had over 50 routes all to ourselves.
We moved to the far right end of the wall and found a beautiful cave to make camp in, complete with a seat. It was a great shaded shelter from the wall which was in full sun. We started out on a 5.8 route through a corner. Trad leading again, I felt like I was getting into a groove having not done it in so long. Just as Dan was finishing the climb, V&K showed up at about 2pm. I was glad to hear they’d found their way easy enough with my instructions. Vanessa was stoked for the cave and Kyle was in his harness quick smart, keen to get on the wall. I moved the rope over to a 5.7 for him and V to start while Dan belayed me on a 5.9.
After putting in my first couple pieces of gear, I was incredibly excited to find a cam nested in the wall. It looked brand new and didn’t look like it had been there all that long. I used it for protection as I climbed up, hoping I’d be able to nab it on the way down. Whenever you find gear in the wall, it usually means it is stuck in there, too hard to get out. It was a big-ish cam too so the owner wouldn’t have left it behind easily.
After finishing the route, I came down and Dan held me at the cam so I could try and work it out. When I first pulled down on the lever, it moved – that was a good sign! I used patience and barely any force, working it around in the crack, eventually moving it about 6 inches down the crack until I found a gap just large enough to get it out. I screamed out in elation! Free stuff!! It made my day. The others laughed at how excited I was, but they didn’t understand that a cam like this costs around $100 and I just got it for nothing! It was way fancier than my other cams too. What a steal!
After Kyle climbed the 5.9, he helped me to set up a top-rope anchor on the 5.10a next door and that’s what we ended on. With a really cool roof move, it was as fun as it looked. It took me a while to figure it out, but I got there, happy to be on top rope. Dan followed me up, using his voice to get over the roof and Kyle gave it two solid attempts but didn’t quite have the reach.
With both Dan and I being a few inches taller than Kyle, it was hard for him to use our beta and this was his first time climbing in months. Still, he had fun, we all did. And did I mention I got a free cam!?!?
Kyle, V and Dan took the long way back to the cars through the field of black rocks. I almost followed them down the hard way, but retreated back to find the trail and had an easy time of it compared to them. I placed a bunch of rock stacks along the route to make good use of my time, still getting back to the cars well before them.
We were all ready for camp by the time we got down and so we drove ten minutes back up the road to Silver Fork. The place was as empty as it had been in the morning and so we picked our spot – campsite #16 which was as close to the river as we could get.
While V&K set up their tent, we walked down to the river for a look. There were walk-down campsites near the river and a set of fancy mansions with green grassy banks opposing them on the opposite side of the river. Cleo was happy to have a walk after spending the day at the crag and she was soon asleep in the van after her dinner.
V&K got an introduction to our van kitchen as I cooked us some chicken curry with rice and garlic naan. We almost had four cooks in the kitchen as Kyle made us wraps for lunch tomorrow. We ate standing around the kitchen, the warm meal helping to combat the cold closing in around us.
As soon as the dishes were done, we retreated to our tents/vans to get warm.
When we saw V&K emerge from their tent, we emerged from the van and got some coffee going. Once the tent was down, it was Kyle’s turn in the kitchen, making us some scrambled eggs with sautéed veggies. We got out of camp around 10am and drove along the north side of the Lake to Crystal Bay. Thanks again to the guidebook, I’d found a crag called Trippy Rock which had a few easy routes so that Vanessa could get more of a climb on.
We parked at the base of the gated dirt road and made the quarter mile approach to the rock. There were another couple of cars parked, but they turned out to be mountain bikers. Once again, we had the place to ourselves.
Kyle got straight into setting up a hammock while I walked up the back of the rock to set up top-ropes on a 5.5 and 5.7 so we could get a good warm-up going. The sky was a lot clearer today so we had great views of Lake Tahoe from the top of the crag. The graffiti that littered the top of the rock was unfortunate but someone had left scrubbing brushes and a bottle of graffiti removal spray so I gave that a go, getting rid of one spot of blue paint.
Dan “helped” me set up the anchors, bringing the second rope up and admiring my handiwork.
We tried to stay in the sun as much as possible thanks to the cold breeze that was cutting through us. Despite the rock face being in the shade, we managed to find some choice sunny belay spots.
We each climbed the easy routes a few times, trying different variations to entertain ourselves.
Done with the simple stuff, we moved around to the south side of the rock where there was a 5.9 on the corner that I could sport lead. Just as I was sussing out the climb, I let out an elated yell of joy. More climbing bounty! There was a shiny new quickdraw hanging off the second bolt. No way!! I couldn’t get on the climb fast enough!
Vanessa had a nap in the hammock while Kyle, Dan and I climbed the route. When Dan lowered me off after climbing, he didn’t stop at the fancy quick draw to let me have it, he collected it on his way up. It still ended up on my rack though. Winning!
With that route done, it was time for my challenge of the day – a 5.10b sport lead that went over a couple of slightly overhung roofs. While Kyle offered to belay me, I asked Dan to do the honors since it would be my toughest lead in a while. I took my sweet ass time before each of the cruxes, testing out the holds and choosing my route. It paid off. I made it through both cruxes ok, only yelling out a tiny bit. Once I got over the second one, I was excited to get to the anchor. I found another climber up there setting up on the easy routes we’d done earlier. He congratulated me on my ascent.
It was Dan’s turn next. He used my strategy, trying out multiple different body positions below the crux before making his moves. It worked for him – he made it through. Kyle next, frustrated again with his reach, after a couple of attempts at the second crux, he landed the heel hook and pulled himself up and over. He was thrilled. This one was too hard for Vanessa, but she was happy just watching.
As we took our gear down, we got chatting to a local couple, the male half of which had lived in the area for over thirty years. Dan and the wife swapped stories of knee injuries since she was wearing a knee brace, we talked climbing and how good it must be to live in Crystal Bay. The husband also gave us some good tips of his favourite spots around the lake.
Having exhausted all the climbs on the crag within our range of capability, we packed up and, being only 4pm, decided to hit the lake. We were all feeling pretty dirty and in need of a swim.
We drove past the madness of Kings Beach to find North Lake Tahoe public beach where we parked and changed into our swimmers. The sun was out, but the wind off the water was cold. If we were getting wet, the only way would be to sprint into the water. Dan and I dropped our towels at a picnic table, then chose a sandy spot to make our entrance. We started running in and as the water splashed around my shins, I cried out. Still I ran, but the water was deepening slowly so it was a long run. When I was finally far enough in to dunk my body, I looked behind to see Dan still standing on the beach. What a chicken! He was doing jumping jacks trying to warm up. My whole body tensed as I went under the water, but as I stayed in, I adjusted and got to enjoy the show of Dan finally running into the water, feet up to get over the waves and screaming like a girl. Just before he dove into the water, he screamed, “FOR WHAT?!?!??!!” (a Kimi Raikkonen reference) much to my amusement.
Surprisingly, we were able to stay shoulder deep in the water for a while, giving our bodies a bit of a scrub to get somewhat clean. By the time we got out, we got to enjoy the V&K version of the show. We were back in our hoodies quick smart to enjoy a few beers, biccies and cheese on the beach before retreating to camp.
Site #16 was taken this time so we settled for #21. It required a bit of van leveling with some rocks at the back and meant the kitchen was super high but Vanessa didn’t let that phase her as she whipped up some mac and cheese for dinner. It was a delicious feast and with some warm muffins in our bellies for desert, we were sent straight to bed – it was another cold night.
Since V was keen to get a few more easy climbs in, we ventured out to Donner Summit to a place that is popular on the weekends, but I suspected wouldn’t be busy on this lazy Wednesday. Thanks to the construction on the south side of the road, we detoured around on highway 80 to approach the PCT trailhead from the north. After waiting at a lollipop girl’s stop sign for over ten minutes, we snagged the last couple of parks at the peak and geared up for the day.
It was only a short walk along the PCT but it was a pretty one, with views of Donner Lake below and a nice collection of greenery at the base of our crag.
With only multi-pitches on offer, I started us off on “Kindergarten Crack”, a two-pitch 5.6 that I hoped would suit Vanessa. After I placed my gear and took my time making an anchor at the top of the first pitch, I brought Dan up so he could clean the gear, then we rappelled down one-by-one to join V&K at the base.
V’s turn now and she did NOT enjoy the crack. It was hard for a 5.6 which had crossed my mind as I climbed up it and it was now clear. She came down but while Kyle was getting his shoes on, she got her eyes on the right hand side crack and livened up to give that a go. We flicked the rope over and she got going, doing much better this time, enjoying the “good rock”. She crested over the positive wall to where we couldn’t see her and the rope gently ebbed through my belay device suggesting she was making good progress up the rock. Her yell at the anchor signaled a successful accent and someone who was thoroughly enjoying the view. Back at base, she was a happy climber.
Kyle was chomping at the bit by now having not climbed since we arrived so I scaled up the route one more time then belayed him up from the anchor. V was off for a short hike while Dan stayed at the base to look after Cleo – Kyle and I were going to do the full multi-pitch and walk down.
Kyle made quick work of the first pitch, meeting me at the anchor and safetying in. We flipped the rope and I made sure we were clear on the next steps, including a rope-tugging communication system since it was likely going to be too windy for us to hear each other.
Off I went up the route and the climbing was easy and wandering so I didn’t place too much gear. Despite that, I still had a proper amount of rope drag by the time I got to a suitable anchoring spot. We could just hear each other yelling at the tops of our voices so we didn’t have to resort to rope tugging and thankfully I built my anchor pretty quickly this time. Kyle spent more of his time taking out gear than climbing but he seemed to enjoy it. He topped out and enjoyed the view while I cleaned the anchor and coiled the rope.
It was an easy walk down with a sweet view and even a rope swing!
Dan and Cleo were waiting faithfully for us at the base where a teacher/student pair had started up the route we’d just finished. We picked up all our shit and packed up camp, contemplating our next move. The climbing teacher gave us some snob when he asked, “Hey gang! Is this your Modello Especiale can?” Oh sure it was – Dan had been enjoying some day drinking and we’d missed the can. Dan immediately went over to retrieve it and the teacher proclaimed, “Thanks for caring,” in a sarcastic tone. No worries mate! He was probably a “local”.
V was still enjoying her hike and us three still had some climbing in us so we walked back towards the car to Baboon Crag. I chatted to some locals here and found out the Donner area routes are typically rated much easier than they actually are, which explains why V struggled on a 5.5 when yesterday she’d been perfectly accomplished on a 5.7.
We climbed a 5.8 here called “Banana Town” and it was perfectly enjoyable. I floated the idea of maybe leaving the trad gear in so that Dan and/or Kyle could have a lead, but it was much too intimidating for a first try for them so they just enjoyed the top rope. Vanessa joined us as Kyle was finishing up the climb and by the time Dan finished, our day was done.
Much too cold tonight for any lake swimming, we retreated back to camp where our #16 site was available again. I got straight in making pizza dough and the “Ticket to Ride” boardgame came out, though we didn’t play much – we were too busy telling life stories and making pizza. I’d been wanting to do this in Dan’s oven since we’d installed it and it worked pretty well though the oven temperature plummeted by about 30 degrees whenever I opened the door.
Twin Crags (Again)
Having floated a few options for climbing the next day with V happy to do her own thing chilling by the lake, Kyle was keen to really get our climb on. Yesterday had essentially been a rest day and with a scuba dive scheduled in for tomorrow, this would be Kyle’s last chance to climb. Knowing that, we head back to Twin Crags which has dozens of routes close together so we could pick and choose.
Vanessa dropped Kyle off, then the three of us and Cleo navigated the talus field (with my newly installed cairns helping) to the crag. We had the place to ourselves AGAIN. As soon as the approach trail hit the rock, we unloaded our packs, quickly proceeding to spread our gear out all over the place. It had been a cold morning but we quickly shed the multiple layers we were wearing after reaching the crag.
I racked up and we got started on a 5.9 called “Made in Silk”. It was a nice corner crack climb with plenty of protection so I enjoyed it. Easy anchor too. Kyle got onto it next, cleaning as he went, then Dan.
We kept that same order for the next 5.9, simple called “Arête”. On this one the boys gave me some great beta for my feet when my body was jammed blindly into a corner. That got me out onto the arête and moving upwards.
The guys enjoyed the move as much as I did, though we each did it in our unique ways.
That was our warm-up done – time to move on to a pair of 5.10a climbs. While I’d sport lead a 5.10b the other day, this would be my first trad lead at this grade in a long time. After greeting another pair of climbers heading over to the right side of the wall, I started up “Earth Girls Are Easy” with Dan faithfully watching me with his hands prepared for a catch. I struggled at the start on the polished crack, sitting on my gear a couple of times before placing a bomber nut that gave me the guts to get higher. Further towards the top I did a fair bit of fear yelling with every move and with encouragement from the boys, I was over the top.
Though the climb was over, it was still a few body lengths to the anchor and so I scrambled up, excited to use my brand new cam for protection in the process! I was happy to come down from the anchor and give the wall up to Kyle and Dan to have a go. It was thoroughly lunch time though so we went around the corner to find some shade to eat our wraps.
Kyle’s turn! He had a couple falls in the first half of the climbs, but he worked through it, using the necessary lie back move before the halfway mark. Despite being only a few inches shorter than us, it meant we struggled to give beta, but he found a way over the top of the route in his own way – it was a pleasure to watch.
Dan took a great approach to the climb, taking rests when he could to figure out the moves, taking a couple of harness rests in the process. It was really hotting up now with the sun in the mid-afternoon so the rock was toasty.
Needing lengthen the anchor for our next 5.10a, I climbed up again, enjoying the moves a little more while not on lead. I lengthened the anchor and changed its position so that it was hanging over “Pony Climb”. I’d chosen the left climb to lead because this crack looked more polished and with less gear and boy was I right in my decision.
Kyle got barely a couple of body lengths before starting to struggle. The rock was slippery and the one crack that was chalked up opened wide behind your fingers so didn’t offer much grip. Before burning out, he came down to give me a go. I hung in the harness a fair few times in the same spot before muscling up to the next crux, only to find more unhelpful holds further up. I did a bunch of yelling, but the climb was done when I jammed my hand up into a sharp under cling and disturbed a bunch of wasps. Kyle hastily warned of the pissed off creatures but I was still tensed up going for the next one. Nah, I was done. Dan brought me down quite quickly and we called it a day.
I walked to the top of the rock to retrieve the anchor, thoroughly enjoying the view while I was up there. It was a different look from the weekend version of Tahoe – instead of speedboats towing around wakeboards and tubers, there was a single sailboat, its white sheets shining against the blue of the lake.
Back at base, we collected our gear and head down to the cars, paying attention this time so we kept to the trail.
We were dirty enough and it was just warm enough to justify another wash/swim so we made our way down to the lake in search of a beach where we would meet Vanessa. After finding a no-dog rule at the first spot, we carried on down the road a bit to Carnelian West Beach where dogs were definitely allowed and there was a beautiful patches of grass, sand or pebbles for you to take your pick of.
We were in our swimmers quick smart and got Cleo into the water before we dunked in ourselves. Kyle didn’t partake, he was coordinating with Vanessa to get picked up and drive over to the dive shop for their pre-dive meeting. Vanessa rolled in and swooped Kyle up and we made a loose plan to meet up for dinner somewhere in South Lake.
We hung around a little more, taking Cleo for a little walk, but it was cooling off quick and we were out of beer so we started slowly heading for the south side of the lake. At a 7-Eleven, Dan stocked up and kindly got me a Sprite in an attempt to settle my slightly upset stomach. I stared at him wide eyed when I splashed lemonade all over the car upon opening the bottle. I had thrown a beer down on the ground a couple days earlier in jest and it had resulted in him losing half the beer – I assumed this way payback. He threw back his head and laughed but confessed he had made no such plan – it must have been the guy in the 7-Eleven. I was almost disappointed that he hadn’t planned it!
He drove us down the Nevada side of the lake while I clambered into the back to change my lemonade-sprayed clothes.
At South Lake, we parked the car, told Cleo we’d be back and started wandering the streets, hoping for a thrift store we could poke our heads into. Not to be, every piece of clothing hanging on a rack in the street was upwards of $200. Of course, this was flashy tourist territory.
Our mouths dry and knowing V&K were wrapping up their dive stuff, we wandered over to Cali Burger to get ourselves a table. The host informed us that if our whole party wasn’t present, we couldn’t be seated. Dan questioned them, “we’re here, and we want to spend money!” but they weren’t having it. After standing back on the sidewalk and watching a party of six get seated at an outdoor table right on that same sidewalk, Dan wasn’t having it. It was too cold to sit outside, there was a fire ban so no outdoor gas heaters were on, everyone was in masks and we’d basically be sitting on the street after sitting on the street waiting for V&K. Fuck it. I tried calling V&K, then messaged them to let them know we were bailing. We knew there was a decent camp less than half an hour away and we’d much rather be there than in this place.
I eventually got onto V as we were driving out and though she was disappointed, we mused at how good of a week we’d all had. They were booked into a hotel for the night so it was best they got to go and enjoy it while we ventured out to enjoy our camp.
While we still had service, I checked out some of the spots we’d seen on Highway 88 at the start of the trip and though the first one didn’t work out, thankfully we still had some sunlight to suss out our final spot – deserted and right next to the river. We were close to the highway, but behind enough trees to be out of sight. Honestly, we’d been paying $25 per night the last few nights to be even closer to the road so we weren’t complaining.
I’d hit a wall after the tough climbing so we heated up the left over pizza for dinner (which was BOMB) and whipped up some extra pasta to fill me up then we were in the back asleep – fighting over bed space with Cleo.
Caples Rest Day
We contemplated climbing somewhere in Woodfords Canyon but after a slow breakfast, we decided a rest day was on the cards. Dan cooked up some steak we had to use for lunch meat while I sipped on hot chocolate, gently warming up to the morning.
If we were going to rest, we were going to do it somewhere pretty. We drove fifteen minutes south on Highway 88 to Caples Lake. I’d stopped off here with a look with my parents when they were visiting and was stoked now to spend more time. After pulling into the recreation area and being disappointed both with the $5 use fee and carpark feel, we carried on around the lake, over the dam and parked just outside the lodge.
Our arms full of leisure goods, we strolled down to the water’s edge to pick out our spot.
It was a quiet place with only a few small parties dotted around the lake. We chose a spot high on the rocks with a couple of pines to shade us should we desire. The sun was out and it was a beautifully clear day but with the cold breeze, we would be shifting in and out of the shade as the day went on.
We explored our camp, ventured down to the water to dip out toes in (there would be no swimming today), then set ourselves up to relax. I propped myself up with a big rock and got out my laptop to blog while Dan was content to sit in one of our foldable chairs and enjoy the view. We chatted intermittently as I wrote, enjoying the breaks to look up and wander at the view.
Dan lay himself down for a nap on our Thai mat and was soon passed out. Despite his instruction against doing so, I took that opportunity to remove my shirt and bra to work on my tan. He was displeased when he woke and so my work was done.
My laptop was dead now and it was time for lunch so I wandered back to the car to fix us some grub and fetch cold beers! I set my laptop to charge and we had a wonderful spread, sitting in the shade of the pines while Cleo monitored a nearby bush for lizards.
I started reading my book then, amazed at how thoroughly I was enjoying the act of doing nothing. Dan commentated on the few paddleboarders out on the glimmering water and critiqued the Hobie Adventure Island that had launched and let out its sail.
By 3pm-ish, Dan was restless. He was becoming more of a devout F1 fan than me. We had a full Friday’s worth of action to watch and no service to watch it. We took another trip down to the water, throwing rocks at rocks in a game of power and skill (which I lost), still not quite tempted to swim.
Slowly, we packed up what had been a beautiful day camp and drove almost all the way into South Lake Tahoe (only a 30 minute drive), stocked up on petrol, a few groceries, then settled in at Paradise Park and turned the TV on. There we stayed, hooting and hollering at the F1 drama until the park’s gates closed at 7pm.
With just enough light left in the day, we trundled back to last night’s camp feeling utterly well rested.
After waking up and going down to the river for a refreshing face shower, Dan had pancakes and eggs well on the way. We had to fight the yellow jackets hard for them and their buzzing became more insistent as we did the dishes. We were desperate to get away from them by the time we left.
It was only five minutes to the crag and the empty parking lot suggested we’d be the only ones there. We could see Bandit Buttress from the road and it looked like quite a vertical hike to get up to it. The rock also looked fully exposed sun-wise so we packed a tarp to generate some shade for the belayer.
It took us twenty minutes to hike the 0.5 miles up the side of the mountain. It was hard going at times with slippery sand sending us two step backwards for every forward one we took. We all made our own paths in the end, following the boulders as much as we could for traction.
I arrived at the sole pine tree at the base of the crag the same time as Cleo, keen to put my bag down and sit in the shade, but the snake sitting at the bottom of the tree cancelled that plan. I yelled at Dan to call Cleo back to him as I backed away from the thin black snake with yellow sides. Thankfully he was facing away from us, seemingly just cooling off in the shade. Dan, my hero, ventured up to the snake and fended him off with some rock throwing. The shade was ours.
This crag was unique in that its routes were conveniently ordered and mostly bolted. From left to right, we had a 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.10a, 5.11, 5.10-. We figured we’d do the lot. Before we could do any climbing though, we had to manufacture some shade. We managed to string the tarp up perfectly for the first couple of climbs and Cleo was the first to test it – she was pant-free as I started my ascent of the 5.7.
It was easy climbing so I didn’t mind that the bolts were spaced out and I enjoyed the 90 foot height of the anchors. Dan ran up it, enjoying it as well, then cleaned and came down. The next one was similar but with less crack and more slab. We were both enjoying the solid friction of the rock after the polished footholds of Twin Crags.
Time to move our shade structure around the corner to the 5.9 which we did so effectively. The start of this route was all slab and Dan did really well at it considering he’d never really slab-climbed before. It was fun, but I was ready for some harder stuff.
It was about now I tried to get a message off to V&K. We were pretty much out of service, but every now and then a single bar would pop up. I’d messaged them the day before that we’d be here and they said they’d join, but it was now past 1pm and I feared they wouldn’t be overjoyed doing the hike in for only one climb since we were getting towards the end of our day.
We’d moved far enough around the wall now that we were in the shade, which was perfect. I’d racked up and was just about to start on the 5.10a when we saw V&K’s black Subaru pull up next to our van. I didn’t know if they’d received my message but there was no way we could communicate to them now. We managed to shout a “HEY!” and “BRING WATER!” but that was about it. They crossed the road and started up the hill as I started up the rock. I opted to place some gear on an alternate route instead of risking an unprotected slab climb to the high first bolt. It was a good decision, I was at the second bolt safely and moving upwards. The rest of the climb was delightful.
Halfway up the rock, Vanessa shouted that they couldn’t find the trail so I finished as fast as I could, then we walked down to the pine tree to try and give them direction. They’d pretty much figured it out by then and five minutes later, they were with us. It was 3pm. Despite bringing all their gear, they didn’t have enough time to climb so they settled with watching Dan do the 5.10a while we found out about their scuba dive. Dan did the proper start and made me super happy that I hadn’t attempted it unprotected, despite nailing it first go.
Determined to do all the climbs at the crag, I was keen to get on the 5.10-. That was V&K’s exit so we said our goodbyes and they had back down the hill. At least they’d got to do a hike?
I did a LOT of yelling on the 5.10-, mostly due to fear and not effort. The bolts were spaced out between the different sections of slab and I was feeling the muscle soreness from a week of climbing. I was elated at the anchor and Dan very proud. He almost embarrassed me when he followed me up, especially at the last few moves which he made look easy. I think I’d been so desperate to make the anchor that I hadn’t considered all the hand and feet options available to me.
That route was a great way to end our trip. We’d climbed pretty easy for most of the week but we were satisfied with how much we pushed ourselves. It was around 5pm now, so we downed the tarp and I sorted my gear, figuring we’d come back for the 5.11 when we were worthy.
It was a nice walk down, much better than the approach journey and we could see that night’s camp right behind where we’d parked. At the car we drove down onto a dirt road towards the river and found a choice spot hidden behind some trees. We parked it there and walked towards the sound of the running water. I took some soap and while Dan had a full-on splash shower, I was content massaging my hands and feet. It felt glorious.
Back at the car, we were out of water and I couldn’t find my aquatabs so we couldn’t safely use river water. Dan did some hunting on maps.me (an offline map app) and there was a couple towns nearby. Unfortunately their roadside markets were closed so we ended up driving a bit further into Markleeville which was a gorgeous little town with glowing bulbs strung above outdoor seating areas which were packed to the gills! Thankfully the local store was open and we bought a couple gallons to get us through the night.
We contemplated finding a different camp, but we decided we weren’t in the mood for hunting – the place we’d found would do. When we pulled in we were kicking ourselves for our poor planning – there was someone in our spot!
Didn’t really matter, there was another pull-out a few dozen meters away surrounded by bush so we still had our own spot. We parked it, I cooked dinner, we saw the sky turn a beautiful purple, we ate, we crashed.
Non-Stop Drive Home
It had been the warmest night yet so we were pretty much in shorts as soon as we got out of bed. Eggs and hashies for brekkie, another walk to the river, then we were heading home. We said goodbye to yesterday’s crag, waved at Caples Lake as we went past and slowly head down the hill towards the Bay.
Though we hadn’t planned it that way, I ended up driving us non-stop all the way to our door. The heat rose as we came down and we were on the highways before we knew it. It was Sunday morning so there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic, but enough that I had to pay attention.
We rolled in to our workshop to find another neighbour had moved out and the apartment that had been vacated two months before still wasn’t rented.
We didn’t even unpack. We went straight upstairs, turned on the air conditioning and watched F1 for the rest of the day.