World-class granite: Local climbing outfits help to access Truckee-Donner’s unparalleled routes
June 14, 2018
As first light hits Donner Summit's Black Wall, a group of climbers begin their ascent up one of the several dozen routes on the rock formation.
They are among thousands of climbers that will head to the area this summer to challenge themselves on some of the most pristine granite on the planet.
"It's really a top-five location for climbers of all levels to come to," said Jenny Fellows, Director at North American Ski Training and Climbing School. "Whether a person is a beginner or an advanced climber, Donner Summit is on the to-do list. It's kind of an unsung, spectacular part of what we have to do in Truckee and the North Shore."
Boasting nearly 300 routes, according to MountainProject.com, Donner Summit is a climbing mecca in the area, offering spectacular views of Donner Lake below, easy access to climbing, and routes for all abilities.
"Donner Summit is the spot," said Alpenglow Expeditions Director of Marketing and Sales Sean Kristl. "It's the best cragging here in the north shore of Lake Tahoe."
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With hundreds of options to choose from, local experts gave their thoughts on some of the best places to climb.
With nearly two decades of climbing experience under his belt and more than 10 years as a guide, North American Ski Training and Climbing School Lead Guide Peter Fasoldt said Snowshed on Donner Summit is among the best places for learning and progressing.
"It's perhaps the best well-known climbing area, because it's right off the road and host to over 50 quality rock climbs, all of which lie within a range of difficulty that suits almost all climbers from beginners to experts," he said. "Some of the hardest routes are here at Snowshed, and there are a couple of easier routes that are also very good.
"No matter where you are, the view is amazing. To have such good climbing, as we do on Snowshed, literally two minutes from the road, if that, we are blessed. We are a fortunate group of climbers here."
For early season climbing, Fasoldt said he heads to an area in Donner Memorial State Park known for its bouldering and seclusion.
"Coldstream, that's the one that I'd say is the most special," he said. "That's the place I look forward to climbing most each early season.
Mimi Vadasz, of Alpine Skills International, said she prefers a route on Donner Pass known for its views of the lake below and excellent face climbing, labeled on MountainProject.com as Neanderthal Dudes.
Kristl said the crack system on the nearby Black Wall called One Hand Clapping is among his favorite climbs.
"It's a complete classic climb, very similar to stuff you'd find in Yosemite Valley," he said.
With so many options for climbing in the area, Truckee and North Lake Tahoe have a trio of companies that offer professional lessons and guiding for beginner up to experienced climbers.
Alpine Skills International
Founded in 1979, Alpine Skills International is the area's oldest rock climbing program.
The company offers an array of options when it comes to climbing, with everything from lessons in basic skills to trips into the Alps to climb mountains such as the Matterhorn.
Alpine Skills offers daily classes, specialty classes, family and group climbs, and youth camps taught by experienced climbers.
"My guides are fulltime rock climbers," said Vadasz. "They climb in Joshua Tree in the winter and climb here in the summer. That's what they do, they rock climb."
To help new climbers improve their abilities, the company makes use of a nine-step progression program. During weekends this summer, climbers can sign up for one of the nine classes, which range from an introduction to climbing up to the final class on the techniques and preparation needed for a "big wall" climb.
"The anchoring course is really popular too. People who have taken a course and taken some top roping, they want to go and do it again, but they don't know the ins and outs of setting up their own top rope," said Vadasz.
"(The class is) really good for fathers and mothers, because the kids want to go climbing, so we teach them how to anchor and climb outside."
This summer Alpine Skills will offer half-day family rock climbing (up to four members) for novice up to advanced climbers at a group cost of $289.
Individuals can also sign up for group rock climbing at a price of $149 for a full day, or $89 for a half day. Gear is provided with the lessons. The company also guides across the lake at Lover's Leap.
For more experienced climbers, Alpine Skills International offers trips into the high Sierra and Cascade Range.
"They get hooked, and then they go, 'I want to climb a mountain,'" said Vadasz.
For more information or to register for classes, visit AlpineSkills.com.
North American Ski Training & Climbing School
The North American Ski Training and Climbing School is the area's second oldest climbing school, and offers beginner through expert climbing, technique coaching, crack climbing, anchor building, self-rescue, lead climbing, multi-pitch, and more.
"We have a number of new camps, new guides, new equipment, and new areas we're guiding on," said Fellows.
The school is able to tailor lessons to individual climbers and groups, and includes all of the gear needed to climb.
Half-day lessons range from $125 to $295 depending on the number of people in a group. A full day costs $195 to $475. The school also offers two-hour lessons ranging from $130 to $185.
Climbers as young as 4 years old can sign up for lessons, which generally take place at the beginner slab, School Rock.
"Generally if a kid shows interest for climbing and wants to go, they do great," said Fellows. "They can gear up, climb a little bit, get like 2 feet off the deck, 5 feet off the deck, 10 feet off the deck, whatever the child's comfort level is."
As the school's lead guide, Fasoldt said his emphasis is on teaching safety and technique to beginning climbers.
"It's an extreme benefit to beginner climbers and novice climbers, who might have climbed in the gym, to seek some sort of professional instruction to learn the techniques, and also to learn how to maintain one's awareness out there because it can be an overwhelming environment," said Fasoldt, who also works as an independent guide from Truckee to Mammoth Mountain.
For more information or to register for classes, visit SkiNASTC.com.
Heading into its third season, Alpenglow Expeditions continues to grow as a company, taking climbers primarily to Donner Summit and South Lake's Lover's Leap.
"(Lover's Leap) is one of the best moderate, multi-pitch climbs in the United States," said Kristl.
Alpenglow's lesson offerings include intro to rock climbing, family climbing, private lessons, self rescue, multi-pitch climbing, high Sierra alpine climbing, and more. Prices on classes vary, for more information visit AlpenglowExpeditions.com.
When it comes to teaching new climbers, Kristl stressed the importance the company puts on safety and having top-notch instructors.
"Alpenglow is all about educating people. What we really want to do is create competent rock climbers, and on a larger level, competent mountain travelers," he said.
"We hold a very high standard in terms of certification. For us here at Alpenglow Expeditions, we only hire and employee certified rock guides. Everybody who is going to be a guide for Alpenglow Expeditions or is going to be in the field has gone through some sort of the certification process through the American Mountain Guides Association. We stand for a higher certification standard … and that's not normal in the United States."
Alpenglow's chief guide is Logan Talbot, one of few guides in the country to hold certification from the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations.
"Talbot was the 127th fully certified ISMGA guide in the United States," said Kristl. "They are few and far between. There's not a lot of these guys out here … he's the one that sets our standards and hires all of our guides."
Alpenglow also offers booking for climbs across the world including Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, and more.
The sport of rock climbing has seen steady growth over the past few years, according to several of the local schools and guides, which they largely attributed to the increase in climbing gyms.
"It's definitely having a big impact on climbing and getting more and more people into the sport," said Kristl on indoor gyms. "What we see happening is a lot of people get that movement down in the gym. They understand how to use their feet, they understand how to climb something that's maybe a little more steep. They also understand how to top rope and belay effectively."
Truckee is scheduled to have its first of two climbing gyms open in early 2019, according to information from Truckee's Performance Training Center. The 21,000-square-foot Performance Base Camp on Pioneer Trail will consist of hand-selected equipment by alpine legend Julia Mancuso, and will include 8,100 square feet of rock climbing and bouldering.
With one location in Incline Village, High Altitude Fitness got approval earlier in the year to build a two-story, 27,500-square-foot gym in Truckee on Donner Pass Road and Northwoods Boulevard.
"It's fantastic for us, for the other guide schools," said Fellows on the addition of the gyms to Truckee. "And for local kids to give them a place to hang out."
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.