Beth Rodden on the third pitch of Traveler Buttress (5.9).
IMAGES + JIM THORNBURG
A BRIEF HISTORY “WITH THE LONE EXCEPTION OF TAHQUITZ ROCK, LOVER’S LEAP HAS THE BEST SELECTION OF CONCENTRATED FREE CLIMBS IN CALIFORNIA. NO ONE CLIFF EVEN IN YOSEMITE HAS LOVER’S LEAP’S CONCENTRATION WITH SUCH QUALITY AND VARIETY.” —Climber’s Guide to Lake Tahoe Region, by Royal Robbins, 1976 The record of technical climbing at Lover’s Leap is among the most mature yet ambiguous climbing narrations in the history of California. What is known about the Leap’s earliest ascents begins in familiar fashion with Sierra Club outings in the early 1950s. At the time, Sierra Club institutions were well-known for hosting highly organized, almost militant instruction operations at locations they deemed “practice crags.” As training for alpine ascents in the High Sierra and abroad, Sierra Club members scoured a fair amount of Lover’s Leap and ascended some of the crag’s most formidable faces. By the mid-1950s Phil Berry and Robin Linnett began picking off obvious first ascents on the East Wall and Main Wall of Lover’s Leap. Berry and Linnett were first on many of the crag’s best routes, including the upper half of Bookmark (5.7) and East of Eeyore (5.8) in 1954, and Bear’s Reach (5.7) and Eagle Buttress Left (5.8) in 1956. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lover’s Leap witnessed a small surge of technical route development by some of the era’s finest climbers. TM Herbert, Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, Roger Moreau, Russell Hoopes, Ken Edsburg, Steve Roper, Galen Rowell, Gordon Webster, Steve Thompson, Dick Long, Tom Higgins, Jeff Lowe and Allen Steck were among a prominent group of climbers who accomplished early repeats of the existing climbs and established many of the crag’s best routes.
39 | SPRING 2015
As free-climbing standards reached new heights in the mid-1970s, many of California’s longstanding aid climbs fell to a new wave of strong fingers and sticky rubber. Lines deemed too blank or too thin for free climbing were dispatched on a daily basis by an ever-increasing number of talented climbers. With its famous horizontal dikes that provide ample holds in solid rock, climbers of the 1970s felt that nearly every inch of Lover’s Leap could be free climbed. Because of people like Jay Smith, Tony Yaniro, Ron Kauk, John Bachar, Paul Crawford, Rick Cashner, Bill Price, Rick Sumner and Richard Harrison, climbing at Lover’s Leap pushed forward into the 5.12 range, setting a new standard for the next generation and opening a passage for hard free ascents in the Tahoe region. Today Lover’s Leap presents a great selection of climbs from 5.1 to 5.12+. The heavily featured nature of the stone has allowed for the majority of the area’s climbs to fall somewhere between 5.7 and 5.10. The bulk of the ratings at Lover’s Leap are considered moderate; however, many climbers will still find a multitude of challenges, both mental and physical, on the Leap’s famous trade routes. Even the Leap’s most popular climbs, such as Traveler Buttress (5.9), Corrugation Corner (5.7) and The Line (5.9), host some short sections with scarce protection or a bit of technical, wide-crack climbing. Area testpieces like Fantasia (5.9 R) and East Wall Arête (5.10 R) challenge the area’s boldest climbers with long runouts between hard-to-find placements. But these cliffs are also stacked with extremely safe multi-pitch climbs and well-protected sport climbs. With so many options for free climbing here, searching through the long list of climbs in any Tahoe area guidebook can be overwhelming. But if you take the time to explore a bit, you’ll certainly find that the Leap is full of adventure and that it hosts the highest concentration of high-quality moderate climbing in the Western United States. —Dean Fleming