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Tahoe climbing coalitions becoming land stewards

Laney Griffo
Special to the Sierra Sun

Climbing has been rapidly growing in popularity over the last decade and with thousands of routes to choose from at Lake Tahoe and Truckee, the region has become a Mecca.

However, with the rise of popularity also comes the rise of wear and tear on the most loved climbing areas.

Fortunately, coalitions in the area have picked up the torch and have become stewards of these areas.

North Tahoe Climbers Coalition Executive Director Gary Allan is a longtime local and has been climbing since the 70s. He said there are about a million new climbers a year.

“There is a big impact on outdoor climbing with all the new climbers,” Allan said.

The North Tahoe Climbers Coalition was formed recently under the fiscal sponsorship of the Truckee Donner Land Trust. The coalition helps maintain the Black Wall, which the Land Trust acquired in 2015.

The Black Wall is one of the largest and most popular climbing areas in Truckee. Just off of Old Highway 40, the 11.9-acre area features routes for all skill levels.

The coalition has worked to add first-aid stations and litters to the bottom of the wall to make self-rescue more feasible.

“The accident rate has increased,” Allan said.

Another thing that has increased at the climbing areas is human waste.

Allan said he’s been working with Nevada and Placer counties to make parking accessible and permanent bathrooms when they re-do Old Highway 40.

The coalition is also seeking to buy a campground for climbers.

“There is a lot of rogue camping going on that doesn’t have the human waste facilities to support it,” Allan said.

In addition to those big projects, the coalition has many on-going projects including graffiti cleanup and anchor replacement, as well as building and maintaining trails to access the climbing areas.

The Tahoe Climbing Coalition is leading a similar effort on the South Shore.

The coalition’s treasurer, Jen Dawn, said the idea for the coalition came up just conversationally between board members.

They put it out to the climbing community to see if anybody was interested.

“The overwhelming response from the climbing community was, ‘yes we do need this, we do want this,’” Dawn said.

The coalition has since hosted several cleanup days and educational classes for people to learn how to climb outside in a sustainable way such as, picking up your trash, not trampling the bushes, and how to poop in the woods with minimal impact.

The 125-member coalition recently launched a youth mentorship program.

“It’s taking the lessons of climbing — resilience, communication, teamwork — and creating a curriculum for at-risk youth,” Dawn said. The coalition had 18 kids go through the program and was about to launch the second round when COVID-19 hit, so they’ve put the program on hold. Like the North Tahoe Climbers Coalition, Tahoe Climbing Coalition does a lot of trail building and maintenance.

“There are some local crags where the access points are unnecessarily impactful,” Dawn said. “Like Luther Spires for example, last year we rerouted the entire lower part of that trail.”

They are partnering with Patagonia to reroute the upper part of the trail this year.

They also worked on a similar project for the Christmas Valley boulders.

The coalition wants to work on signage to educate people about trail and environmental impacts.

“We’ve partnered with the Forest Service to create awareness and signage for peregrine falcon nesting so that we’re not impacting that community,” Dawn said.

The falcons are known to nest at Castle Rock on Kingsbury Grade that is a popular climbing area.

Tahoe Climbing Coalition also does re-bolting and graffiti removal.

Dawn has also seen the increase of climbing’s popularity.

“Climbing is absolutely a destination sport … and there’s a lot of climbing in Tahoe, a lot of untapped climbing in Tahoe,” Dawn said. “We would see our role to help people do that safely, help people to do that in a sustainable way so that we’re not overcrowding some of our more accessible crags.”

“You kind of have to go public with some of the secret spots to spread people out,” Allan said.

Dawn said they are working with the Forest Service to get advice on guiding, so that they’re not over guiding people to some of the more popular locations.

If the coalitions can help teach people to climb sustainably, climbing could be a big economic driver for the basin, especially as winters become more unpredictable.

The Tahoe Climbing Coalition is working on a climbing festival for next year that they hope will bring hundreds of climbers to the area.

To learn more about the North Tahoe Climbers Coalition, visit northtahoeclimberscoalition.org.

To learn more about the Tahoe Climbing Coalition, visit tahoeclimbingcoalition.org.


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