Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Autumn Climbing at Lovers Leap

For my brother, life is about two things: surfing and climbing; everything else is work. Six months after moving into my new house he finally came to visit. He had been busy "working", all summer, though he is unemployed. He had recently heard and read about Lover's Leap, as the best climbing in the Tahoe Area, and wanted to go. Though I was not very familiar with the area, I had climbed there once before. Luck would have it that the weekend this Southern California boy decided to visit, was the first real weekend of fall, complete with one of the largest October snow storms I have seen.

The small community of Strawberry California is not known for much. Most who know of it, know it as a stop along Highway 50 right before South Lake Tahoe. However a lucky few know it as the home of Lover's Leap. The sign on the side of the highway says Strawberry California population "50". Its most popular attraction is the Strawberry Lodge and Strawberry Market. Located in Eldorado County, this Strawberry should not be confused with the two other communities of the same name which are also located in California; one in Marin and the other in Tuolumne county.

Many years ago my then to be wife and I spent a romantic new years eve night at the lodge. A harrowing introduction to cross country skiing was experienced the next morning. Off in the distance I could see a massive looming rock formation behind the lodge: Lover's Leap. When I returned home I started researching climbing the rock. Scanning the SuperTopo website, a 5 star 5.7 route appeared: Corrugation Corner. Perfect cause I only lead 5.7 trad. The more I read the more I was excited. Sentences like this, "this is one of the steepest climbs in this guide and one of the steepest granite 5.7’s you will find anywhere. Instead of following the main corner, the route often pushed you out on a horrendously exposed arĂȘte..." made me want to do this climb even more. What finally sealed the deal was the free topo provided by SuperTopo. Thanks again Chris!!



This last Sunday conditions were quite different than the time I did it about six years ago. We had waken early and was on the road by eight. It had been storming the day and night before but only a light dusting fell at my house. Even though LL is considered Tahoe, the drive there took over an hour and a half; it's a big lake! Halfway around the lake we went from fall to winter, as the landscape was covered with 2 inches of snow. When we arrived at LL the winter landscape was still present. We racked gear at the car while answering question to many onlookers shocked that we were climbing in this weather. We even got a "better not" remark from a well bundled up lady. I parked the car in the "day use" area and paid the self pay fee. I was glad to pay the fee, anything to help out our state parks, and it was good karma for a day such as this. All set we shouldered our packs and were off tromping through 2+ inches of fresh snow.

As we climbed out of the camp ground and onto the old Pony Express trail, an open view of LL great ed us. It is the largest granite "rock" I have seen outside of Yosemite. Sure there were granite mountains which are larger, ie Tahquitz, however that is not one single bubbling mass of quartz, feldspar, and mica. The corner which Corrugation Corner laid upon is instantly apparent. I don't know if it was the dusting of snow, the dark wet face, or the cold that gave the rock its menacing look. I shuddered thinking of being on the middle of that rock clawing and scraping my way up, then patted myself on the back, knowing that I had successfully climbed the route in the past.

Soon after monk boulder and the cut tree across the trail we turned right onto a climber's trail at the center of the lower buttress. We made our way up and to the right. To our delight we found a two pitch over hung section of rock call Dear John Buttress. The second pitch was ridiculous, however on the first we found a nice 5.9 and a high grade 5.10. My brother lead the nine and we top roped the ten. With frozen finger tips we packed up and moved on to do some more exploring. Though it never seemed like we were on trail we soon found ourselves a top the ramp which lead to C Corner. The falling snow from the night before did not stick to the rock face. Instead it cascaded down until it settled on the ledge. I remembered the ledge being wider when it wasn't covered with frozen water.

Being atop the ramp, brought me back to the first time I stood at that spot looking at the rock wall ahead of me. It was many years ago and I was in my climbing prime. Back in those days I lived the sport. I preferred the title rock climber over engineer, outdoors man, even Mister. With My Wife To Be, we had climbed in most of California's popular climbing area's. We'd hit the climbing gyms on the weekdays and travel to find rock on the weekends. Scrambling across the then dry ledge, it was little more than careful walking. I think it was fall and though there were several obviously climber's cars in the once free parking area, none were to be found on our corner. The base of the climb has a open area, and without exchanging words MWTB flaked out the rope as I finished racking gear onto my harness. I tied into the rope and did a quick check of each others gear, and stepped off the dirt onto the rock.

It is moments like this that I love the most about climbing. The clarity it brings. The mix of fear, and excitement, allows me to push away all thoughts and concentrate on the task at hand. The first pitch went by smoothly. On the second pitch the exposure was intense and I made a belay anchor on a "whales belly", a large smooth sloping ledge. As MWTB came into view I could tell she was mentally exhausted. The last piece of protection prior to the belay was a well sunk nut in a tapered slot, my favorite nut: a home made double tapered number "7". With my name stamped on the side it fit every time I drew it. A good attribute of a nut, when at the time of it's creation, way before LL, my rack consisted of three cams and a sparse set of passive pro. In her frustration she could not free my nut and we left it to continue off the climb. The third pitch topped out easily and we had an enjoyable hike off LL and back onto the Pony express trail. That was the last time my wife climbed a multi pitch route with me.

Those quick memories flashed in my mind and passed as I took a step down towards the start of Travelers Buttress one ledge below the main ledge CC was on. The sky had turned angry when we at the base of TB and decided to head down. Someone had been up there that morning and we followed the two tracks back to the PE trail. We returned to the car only to find two climbers racking up in the falling snow. They were about the depart the parking lot and head up to the rock. We told them that Dear John Buttress was dry and wished them luck. We then quickly jumped in the truck, fired up the engine, and cranked the heater.

I know that my days as rock climber are over. Sure I still rock climb many times each year, however I no longer wear that title. I gained what I needed from it: the ability to move over rock confidently, the mental strength to over come my fears, and the clarity needed to concentrate on the task at hand. As my brother and I warmed ourselves with a cup of tea I realized the most important thing that I gained and continue to gain from rock climbing is the time spent with those that I love.

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