Happy Climbing Guides
Per yesterday’s planning, both vans drove out of camp before 7am. We were playing the weekend game now so an early start was more important than it had been on Friday. We were heading back to The Emeralds for more climbing and we were happy to see that only one car had beaten us to the carpark.
Now we could chill some, making breakfast, coffee and packing our gear for the day. Just as we were suiting up I directed a Mexican family to the pools, then I lead the four of us over the bridge and to the Dollar Store Wall. Now armed with the guidebook, I didn’t get it wrong this time and with another climbing party at the crag, it was easy to spot. Talking to the other climbers, they were on their way down from the rock so we hung out a few minutes before taking over the small crag.
It was a perfect wall for our crew with four routes on it: 5.7+, 5.8, 5.9 and 5.10a. I didn’t waste any time leading the 5.7+ and setting up anchor for Kyle and Vanessa to play on it while Dan and I climbed the 5.9 on the far side of the wall. Kyle, though he hadn’t climbed in almost a year, was straight into it and made easy work of the first route.
I enjoyed the 5.9 and could notice the difference in rock from the crags we’d been at last time – it was a little smoother with less features but it still made for great climbing. Things got awkward at the top of the route, but I was safe at the anchor quick smart before lowering down as Vanessa started up the 5.7. Dan followed me up the 5.9 and climbed through the cruxes in a different way than I had, as always. He left the anchor up and by the time he was down, Vanessa was heading down as well.
We moved my rope over to the 5.8 then and just as I’d finished, another climbing couple was approaching the Dollar Store. They had a dog and so Dan was on high alert and we were surprised when they came barging into our camp, stepping over our gear and not really giving us much of a greeting other than “our dog is friendly”. When I asked which route they were looking for, he declared they’d be doing the 5.9. There was no real regard for wall-sharing or what we were up to and so they barged on over.
I made conversation with them, making light of a weird situation and we figured out how to climb around each other. As V&K started on the 5.8, I lead the 5.10a as our new friends got going on the 5.9. It suddenly became a very busy wall. The 5.10a was an absolute joy – the best route on the wall with some beautiful moves and sustained climbing and a perfect grade. Ethan (the new guy) and I reached out last bolts at the same time where our climbs converged and I was happy that he gave me right of way. At the top we talked about how to share the anchor and figured it out but as I lowered, he found that the 5.9 had its own anchor and so we were set.
As I came down, Dan held me in place for a little while so I could give Kyle advice on how to finish the 5.8, which he duly followed and nailed it right away. Dan got going on the 5.10a then and I continued chatting to our new friends as he climbed up. He flowed up the route and of course got to the top at the same time as Ethan’s partner and this time Dan was happy to wait while she topped out.
Vanessa was climbing the 5.8 now and after struggling a little to find enough height to reach over the first roof, she was well on her way. Our new friends got onto the 5.10a and made quick work of it while I lead the 5.9 again in order to retrieve my anchor and give Kyle a chance to climb it. I felt much more flow second time around since there was no lingering to figure out the moves. As I came down, I sat in the harness again to give V advice on getting to the 5.8 anchor and good on her, she figured it out and touched those glorious anchor screwgates after a few tries.
Our new friends left us then and Kyle tackled the 5.9 and cleaned the anchor for us. With the sun just peeking over the cliff, it was perfect timing – the whole crag was complete! Now looking for a new crag, we wanted to avoid the weekend crowds and so after consulting the guidebook I opted that we head to Pebble Beach crag.
Vanessa was done climbing for the day so we walked halfway back down the trail with her before parting ways. Kyle, Dan, Cleo and I ventured along the riverbed past the lower crags and a few parties enjoying a day by the river.
Pebble Beach was deserted, just as we’d hoped and though the wall was in full sun, the smoke in the air gave us similar conditions to a very cloudy day so we didn’t feel the heat much at all. We had a spot of lunch while contemplating the crag and Cleo found herself a shady haven next to a small pine tree. There were a good variety of routes on this short crag but we weren’t interested in anything below 5.10a and so that’s what we started on. The route on the right side of the wall was a one-move-wonder with a bit of an awkward roof then bulge, but it was a fun one.
Kyle needed a little advice, but otherwise got through it great and Dan made easy work of it. Now for a 5.10b! Kyle belayed me and Dan watched as I started on up the route. The easy climbing past the first two bolts made me conscious that the crux would likely be a difficult one and yes it was. It involved jamming my leg into a deep crack, hanging on a full forearm jam and there was a lot of yelling. They were yells of effort. Hanging on my arm, I had such limited time to figure out my next move, but with some great beta from Dan, I used my left foot as a weapon and got up and over the crux and clip in to my next bolt. Whew! The next few moves were power driven and then I was at anchor. A great climb!
Kyle’s turn and the poor bugger, he’s just so much shorter than Dan and I! He had to do some funky feet moves just to get his hands on the right ledge before he could even tackle the crux and by that time, he was pretty much worn out. Dan and I shouted our beta and encouragement and he got bloody close, but he was scraping himself up all over and so called it a day and came down.
I belayed Dan as he ascended and he sat in the harness a couple of times to adjust then powered through the moves. He kept the power going up the rest of the route then cleaned the anchor and came down. Kyle was ready to get going, having a drive back to the Bay Area ahead of him and while I could have kept climbing all afternoon, the cold river was beckoning and so we packed it up and made our way back. It was nearly 4pm so we’d had a solid day on the rock.
Back at the vans, the carpark and every section of road in sight was packed with cars so we were happy to have had the early start. We found Vanessa inside the van catching up with her family and we wasted no time getting into our swimmers and heading back down to the river to cool off. Cleo got her vest on and we crossed the bridge to the same place we’d gone the other day. I jumped in from the cliffs nearby to get that jolting feeling of ice cold relief and the boys soon followed suit. We let our bodies cool off in the breeze and I coaxed Cleo in for some swimming. I got in for a second time to make sure I was properly cold and then we were good.
Back at the vans we said our goodbyes to K&V and didn’t envy them one bit for driving back home in Sunday evening traffic. We sat and contemplated our options a while before deciding that we needed to head back into Truckee for some supplies – mainly to fill our propane tank. We tried a few gas stations along the highway but without luck and so we ventured up our regular road opposite Boreal Ski Resort for camp.
We took a road forking to the left this time and after the initial rough ride, it was pretty easy going cutting along the side of the hill, looking down to the ski resort. At another turn-off, we got out of the car and lifted a big log out of the way to get through, excited at the prospect of taking a road not travelled in a long time.
After going a decent way without many turn-around options, we found our money spot amongst a thick field of small pines. We parked up with the car blocking the road but we knew not to expect any company so no matter. We enjoyed the gentle hum of traffic on the nearby highway as the sun dipped below the pines and the day properly cooled off. Yet another great camp.
Re-Supply and Rest-ish
No rush to get going anywhere this morning, we lazed around camp, made a big breakfast and I blogged a little to the hum of the highway below. We couldn’t really tell what the smoke was doing today through the thick pine forest but by 10am we were hot! That was a great queue for us to get on our way and so we turned the van around (with some difficulty because of the tight space) and romped down to the highway.
Twenty minutes later we were at the Ace Hardware in Truckee getting a propane fill. Though we’d lasted the night and this morning, my suspicion that we were low was spot on, the man filled the tank to its 1 lb capacity. Next we wandered over to Safeway for a shop where I got the essentials and we declined spending $20 on flamingo tubes. Keen for an easy day, we still had one foot in the door of the idea of tubing the Truckee River. We’d thought about doing it with V&K and friends over the weekend with a rafting company but balked at the $60 per head price.
When Cleo jumped onto the bed as we stocked the kitchen with our new supplies, we realized we’d forgotten dog food. Instead of returning to Safeway we drove a few blocks to the next shopping complex where there was another supermarket and a Sports Shop. While Dan got Cleo food, I enquired at the Sports Shop how much for their cheapest tube. $60! They’re in cahoots with the rafting companies! Now we shut down all interest in tubing the Truckee. Next Summer maybe, with pre-purchased Walmart tubes.
Stocked up for the rest of the week, all we wanted was to get the hell out of town – we’d had enough of the crazy crowds in the Tahoe area. Heading back west on highway 80, we stopped at a rest area to fill our water tanks, then we were back on highway 20 and the Emeralds area. This time we drove straight past the packed carpark and along Forest Road 18 for 13 miles. The first half was paved tarmac with more and more potholes appearing with each mile and the second half was a rough dirt road. Nothing the van couldn’t handle, but it was pretty slow going for comfort’s sake.
The Bowman Lake area was our destination, for more climbing goodness. I’d had such a great time riding the Donner Rim Trail that I was a little apprehensive of the lack of MTB trails in the area, but I can’t have everything all at once! We didn’t see the lake today, instead stopping at a large flat gravel area per the climbing guidebook for the “Gas and Electric” crag.
The gravel spot was across the road from another aquaduct. We’d been seeing these nestled in the hills throughout the area and this one, concreted into the ground, had a raging current. When we went up for a look we kept Cleo close by, fearing the sight of her sweeping away from us in the death river.
Back at the gravel lot, I discovered the road leading to the crag was not gated and so we could drive closer to the crag. Cleo led the way, trotting along the slightly overgrown road with us following behind in the van. At the end of the road, we came across an unexpected camp. It was Dan’s idea. With the crag this close, we might as well climb it and then call it.
The sun, despite being behind a layer of smoke, was beating down on us so I suggested we set up the tarp over the kitchen and Dan declared that a great idea since we hadn’t used it much. It was a perfect set up and meant that lunch-making and eating was a pleasant experience.
Thanks to the early afternoon heat, we weren’t sure about climbing but we wandered over to check out the crag anyway. The trail and base of the crag was littered with timber, tin and concrete debris – remnants of a long-ago aquaduct we suspected that just never got cleared away. We bush-bashed a little and after five minutes saw a wall with anchors and bolts on it. It looked like fun, but there’s no way we’d be climbing it in this heat. At the crag we could hear a river rushing by below us and so Dan suggested we go hang out by the river and have ourselves an evening climb. Yes please!
Back at the van, we packed a couple small backpacks of goodies and scrambled off down the hill seeking out the flowing water. It probably took us about twenty minutes to find our way down and dip our toes in the water. We crossed the river (knee deep) to a rocky beach where we were shaded by an over-hanging rock face – a perfect spot to while away the afternoon. There wasn’t a person in sight, which meant it made no sense to be wearing clothes or swimmers, so we rid ourselves of them.
After taking a dip, I set myself up mid-river to do some laundry while Dan put some music on and watched me work. It feels like going back to basics washing clothes using river water, especially when doing so naked. Dan strung up a clothesline using Cleo’s leash and helped me hang up our wares to dry. For the next hour or so, I read a little and we chatted away.
It must have been about 3pm when we noticed the sun was no longer out. With the persistent smoke and intermittent cloud cover, all indication of what time of day it was had gone out the window. The sun was behind clouds and we could feel it had cooled off a little, so we packed up our rest spot and bush-bashed back up the hill to hit the wall.
The crag was much more pleasant at this hour, complete with a belay bench propped up out of the mass of timber pilons piled at the base. The crag was small like those we’d been climbing at the Emeralds and the six routes varied from 5.8 to 5.10b which suited us perfectly. I started out on the 5.8 in the middle of the wall and it was a nice start with an interesting ending. Dan did it easily then we moved right to the first 5.9. This one felt lovely, requiring some figuring out in places, but the rock gave just enough grip when needed, especially under our feet.
Next up was a pair of short climbs on the right side of the wall – a 5.9 bolted route, then a 5.10a next to it for some top-roping. The 5.9 was a real challenge. With only two bolts on the entire climb, the hard crux was between the first and second. There was some effort yelling as I pulled up on a two-finger hold hoping that my left foot would stick. After pulling the first half of the move, Dan did very well audibly guiding my left foot into the position I needed as I pushed up. I had one finger slip off a hold in the process, but managed to keep my grip and clip the second bolt. I had a rest there to gather myself then finished out the climb which was fairly run-out to the anchor without another bolt to clip. Short and not sweet, it wasn’t a climb I really enjoyed. At the anchor I asked if Dan even wanted to do it but of course he should try, he makes a habit of breezing through climbs that I struggle on.
Dan slipped at the crux and was happy to have the rope above him for a quick catch and five minutes later, he’d recovered and finished out the route. At the top, he moved the anchor over to the 5.10a for us to have a go at that. It might have been the top-rope, but this seemed like a much easier route since there was a nice flaked arête to pull on for most of the way up. I didn’t waste much time on it and neither did Dan. He cleaned the anchor and came back down to timber level.
I checked my watch and it was nearly 7pm. We were both hungry and had worked pretty hard on the last 5.9 so we bailed on my plan to finish out everything on the wall. It wasn’t getting dark but it seemed a good time to finish up – Cleo definitely thought so, she was already halfway back to the van.
We heard some distant claps of thunder as we walked back “home” along the crag’s base and hoped we might get some rain, just for something different. We were happy to see the van, though one side of the tarp had fallen down thanks to my poor peg placement but the clothesline had survived!
Dan leveled up the car and I had a rest, reading my book in bed, while he cooked dinner over a podcast. It was a nice change for me to be presented with dinner and I thoroughly enjoyed the sausage pasta Dan served up.
The rain we’d hoped for didn’t come, but the singing crickets kept us company throughout the night.
The night brought a few raindrops, but not enough to come through the opened roof vent. When morning came, a hazy sky was above us but it was rain clouds and not smoke that covered the sun. As we snoozed, we opened the back doors of the van to hear the raindrops hit the tarp and watch the rain fill the valley below us. Though the rain gained some momentum for a while, it wasn’t enough to wet the ground.
When I got out of bed, I discovered I was quite sore from the past few days’ climbing. Dan rejoiced to Cleo, “Yay Cleo! We finally tired her out!” It was true, I was shattered. Despite the rain, there was no way we were going to tackle the 5.10a/b remaining on the Gas & Electric Crag, or any other wall around Bowman Lake. Instead, I suggested breakfast at the nearby lake which we still hadn’t seen.
We packed up camp and continued along Forest Road 18, finding it less like a road and more like an offroad Jeep trail. It was bloody steep in sections and rocks jutted out willy-nilly so that it took us about half an hour to travel two miles. Surely the breakfast spot would be worth it!
Not really, when we reached the lake, we saw a Westafalia camped right on the side of the road which suggested there weren’t many flat pull-out options. After trying a dead-end road and reversing all the way back up it, we drove around the lake a short ways before finding a flat piece of road. We pulled over as far as we could and that was our breakfast spot. We didn’t expect any traffic.
The rain that didn’t fall earlier in the morning fell gently now onto the hot griddle, sizzling away with the eggs and toast I was cooking. By the time brekkie was done, it wasn’t bucketing down, but it was persistent. We shut up the kitchen and huddled inside with the side doors open to enjoy our meal and the view of rain falling over the lake. After enduring all the smoke in the air, it was a welcome change, I just hope the firefighters felt it too.
By the time we were done eating, the rain had subsided, but the clouds still hung above us. Being fairly close to Downieville, we had considered driving further north along FR18 to make the connection, but after the recent off-roading, decided that was a stupid idea. Instead, we head back the way we’d come and out to Highway 20.
On the way down, as we approached the Emeralds, we stopped to watch a helicopter hovering over the river, thinking he had a water bucket to fill. But it wasn’t that, he was dangling a cord and we watched him as he picked up some form of cargo from inside a fenced yard with an astonishing efficiency.
My body may have been too sore for climbing, but that meant a spot of mountain biking was in order! Just after we reached Highway 20, the Pioneer Trail started and followed the highway west to Scott’s Lake. Dan, always the encouraging shuttle driver, obliged to drop me off at the trailhead and meet me at the end.
Intermittent rain drops fell as Dan helped me clean up my chain from the last ride and get geared up. I rode away from him and Cleo just after 11am, hoping to meet up again around 1:30pm. The trail started out on a road, taking me underneath a water flume and then the singletrack started. It was a solid climb for a few miles that was either rocky or broken up tarmac. It then transitioned to dusty switchbacks to get me to the top where I enjoyed views down into Bear Meadow where I’d started. I was grateful for the clouds in the sky, they were keeping me cool.
I meandered downhill then, getting wet thanks to the bushes crowding the narrow singletrack. If it wasn’t for the rain held in the leaves of the bushes, you’d have never known it rained – the trail was as dry as desert.
Being next to the highway for most of the ride meant I never felt isolated but I did have the trails to myself. The White Cloud section of the trail had particularly nice flow where the trail had seen more moisture and so had a lot more grip through the banked corners. It was around the bottom of this section that I caught a camper completely by surprise. She had her pants down to her ankles, relieving herself behind a tree and the poor girl obviously didn’t expect to see me. I shouted out “Sorry!” as I passed hoping she wasn’t too embarrassed that she’d been caught in the act.
Dan messaged me about an hour in letting me know where he’d parked up and good thing too because I was out of service right after that point. I crossed over to the other side of the highway for the last section of the Pioneer that ran along the front of people’s properties and wasn’t too exciting except for some built-up berms and jumps obviously there to keep people like me entertained.
At the end of the Pioneer trail, I came out at a bike shop/café/pub that looked familiar. I had been in the area for Thanksgiving back in 2017 mountain biking and I figured we must have done a ride from this spot.
Now looking for Scotts Flat Trail to lead me down to the lake, I asked a local couple and they directed me to the right place. They had a dog so I got ahead of them and didn’t see another human until I rode into the very crowded campground at the base. This trail was Nevada City’s Flow Trail. It was well built, but in need of some maintenance to dig out the brake ruts that had formed before every corner. I chased two bambies (baby deer) along the trail for a good 20 meters at one point, leaving them when I turned through a burmed corner as they jumped over it.
The lake was nothing special – it looked like every other reservoir in California – very low with no shade at its shores. That obviously didn’t prevent the crowds! The campground was ridiculous and the beach across the trail from it even more so. Dan would have been happy to not see it.
Having reached the end of the single track (after over 40 km), I pedaled through the campground and up the tarmac road to Dan’s parking spot. I was happy to see him and he to see me. It was humidly hot and while I originally wanted to find a water hole to dunk my body in, we settled on heading out for lunch instead. The pub at the top of the hill that I’d come across would be a perfect place to settle down for a burger and watch the world go by.
Unfortunately, the pub at the trailhead I’d passed was closed and so we drove into Nevada City to find a late lunch option (it was now nearly 3pm). I found a spot off the main street and we perched at an outside table, unfortunately with Cleo left inside the van since pets weren’t allowed. Five minutes after we’d ordered we wished we’d just gone off and found a nice parking spot to make our own lunch. The place, though not slammed, was being run by one waiter and was overpriced. And so we sat and waited, waited, waited until we were finally awarded some food. And damn the food was delicious. My burger had everything on it and the fried was choice. Dan felt the same way
As we’d waited for our food, we contemplated our next move. Having been sore from climbing in the morning and then riding nearly 50 km, I was properly shattered and couldn’t really fathom doing much more hard activity. We came up with a few ideas but by the time we left the place, we’d decided to head south towards Cosumnes River Gorge for some easy climbing before heading home.
The day had gotten away from us so we didn’t want to get all the way to Cosumnes tonight so as Dan drove, I started on the beers and finding camp. By the time we passed through Auburn where we’d played a few days earlier, I had four options lined up. Our first was a river access carpark which we thought would be ok but we carried on. The next three options were all duds – a couple on private land and the others stating no overnight parking or fees. While I used the bathroom at one of those failed camps, Dan did some hunting but decided we’d be best off at our first option. I liked the sound of that too. We back-tracked a couple of miles and found ourselves a shaded spot at the Greenwood Creek River Access Park.
I was encouraged to see signs identifying the land as BLM and that parking overnight was allowed as long as you didn’t stay over 72 hours. Perfect! We wandered down to the creek which lead to the South Fork of the American River – a popular spot for rafting/kayaking/tubing. There were a few parties on the main beach right at the base of the trail and so we carried on along a trail until we found ourselves a private put-in spot where we all got in for a much needed swim. The water temperature was perfect and Dan said it was his best swim of the trip because of it.
Back at the van, we huddled in the back to watch some Olympics coverage until the sun started going down and Cleo started panting (it was still a little warm inside the van). Another dip then! Back down at the river, we all got in for a second time to cool off and watched the last of the sun leave the dry hills. We were happy to see blue skies above us for the first time in a week, the rain had obviously brought it all down to the ground.
We were properly ready for camp now and only ten minutes after we returned to the carpark, the last car left and so we had the place to ourselves. I cooked us dinner and we were soon in bed for some much needed rest.
When we woke the next morning to the sun warming up the van, I was happy to have had a great sleep. Not long after getting up, we knew we wouldn’t be climbing today. Our fingertips, upper body and forearms were still achy and if we climbed at Cosumnes River Gorge, we’d only be doing it because we thought we should, not because we wanted to. And we were ok with that.
Before breakfast, we wanted a swim so we meandered down to the river for a third time, this time taking Cleo’s vest. Wow did she impress us. I got in the water and coaxed her to come towards me then encouraged her to swim all the way across with me. The river was probably fifty meters wide and by the halfway mark, Cleo had overtaken me and I couldn’t keep up with her. With the vest keeping her body floating, she had some serious power! There were many cheers coming from Dan on shore, then a warning that I should make sure she didn’t go for the flock of geese grazing on the far bank.
We swam back across, Cleo just as easily as she’d come and Dan surprised me by getting in past his knees. Though the water temperature was perfect, I thought the coolness of the early morning would dissuade him. We stayed wet and made breakfast at the van, contemplating what we’d do with a few extra days at home.
I drove us out of camp and south on Highway 49 and it was nice to drive through some beautiful country neighbourhoods – much better than the big highways that don’t offer much in the way of inspiration. It was short lived. Within an hour we were on Highway 80, our regular winter route, amongst traffic and heading home. I managed to drive us two thirds of the way there before we stopped for a break and a cold drink and Dan took over.
We were happy to be home (again) and found the garden had predictably grown, but still no fruit being born. Hopefully the mass of leaves will eventually produce some tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, onions and carrots.