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Home >> Climbing Areas >> Lover's Leap Tuesday, May 28, 2024 

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Mac nears the crux of Surrealistic Pillar Direct.
Photo: Sarah Felchlin

Lover's Leap Rock Climbing Info

Lover’s Leap boasts some of the countries best moderate granite. According to Royal Robbins in his 1976 Tahoe Guide, “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.” Yosemite Valley offers better long routes, scenery, and history but Lover’s Leap has more easy and moderate multi-pitch climbs. Unlike the Valley where to climb three multi-pitch 5.8 climbs you would have to drive miles to three separate cliffs, at Lover’s Leap you usually just walk 100 feet in either direction.

Lover's Leap Climbing Skills
The myriad rock features offer many different climbing options for each crux which can help or confuse. Sometimes it is easier to do an improbable face move to the side of a major feature. Some 5.8 moves, the crux on Haystack for example feel like 5.7 if you have the perfect beta or 5.10 if you miss a key hold. Stemming, long reaches, and discriminating handhold selection are invaluable Leap skills. Most crack climbs involve a combination of stemming, face climbing and the occasional straight-in jam. Most face climbs involve reaches and mantels between dikes. It is not the size of the holds but rather the distance between dikes that determines route difficulty. Face climbs at Lover’s Leap favor tall climbers as a 5.10 move may be 5.9 for someone taller than 6’0” and 5.11 for someone shorter than 5’5”.

Gear and Equipment
The rack for most climbs is: two sets of cams, two sets of nuts, eight long slings, and eight quickdraws. Almost all anchors are natural so having a little extra gear is nice. Each SuperTopo notes where other gear is needed. One rope is all you will need to climb at The Leap, but you may want an extra one in case you need to retreat. A 60 meter rope can be useful, not mandatory. Taping your hands is not necessary as most of the climbing involves face climbing on dikes, even while ascending a crack.

Good First Leap Climbs
The following list will introduce you to the climbing at Lover’s Leap. All these climbs are in our Lover's Leap Select guidebook. We encourage you to check out the FREE SuperTopo of Corrugation Corner to get psyched for a Leap adventure.

Knapsack Crack
This climb is great for first time Lover’s Leap climbers. The route ascends 300 feet of clean, moderate, and well-protected terrain.
Manic Depressive, Direct
Less sustained and less quality than Knapsack crack, this route is a great first outdoor rock climb.
This is the most popular Hogsback climb. It delivers sustained and wandering 5.6 moves up the tallest part of wall.
Harvey's Wallbangers, Center
The climbing is mostly 5.4 with one short 5.6 fingers crux. This is a good step up from Knapsack Crack and definitely easier than Deception.
Pop Bottle
With just a few moves of 5.7, Pop Bottle is a great introduction to the East Wall. While the route ascends lower-angle rock, a few steep bulges add some spice.
Surrealistic Pillar
While Surrealistic Pillar follows a line of large cracks, it is almost entirely a face climb.
East Wall
This challenging and adventurous climb meanders across features rarely found on many Lover’s Leap routes: a huge belay ledge, an enormous featured corner, and super-sized dikes and flakes.

Good Climbs for Returning Leap Climbers
Once warmed up to Leap climbing, you may want to expand your tick list to the climbs listed below. All of these climbs are part of Lover's Leap Select guidebook.

Bear's Reach
This must-do climb offers more than a few memorable face and crack moves. The name comes from the second pitch crux where, depending on your height, you must make a huge “Bear’s Reach” between two large holds.
Corrugation Corner  
This awesome route is one of the steepest climbs in this guide and one of the steepest granite 5.7s you will find anywhere.
  Second to The Line, Haystack takes one of the most striking crack systems on the East Wall and ascends a diversity of terrain from straight in jamming to face moves and roofs.
East Crack
With only a few 5.8 moves, this is a good entry to 5.8 and is only moderately more difficult (and better protected) than Bear’s Reach.
The Line
The Line is the most popular and striking route at Lover’s Leap and offers a delicious mixture of lieback, stem, and face moves with the occasional straight-in jam.
Traveler Buttress  
There are four reasons why you must climb this route: the amazing line, the stomach-turning exposure, the flawless rock quality, and a fascinating history.
5.9 R
Sustained at the 5.8 and 5.9 level, Scimitar is set apart by its variety as you will encounter lieback cracks, runout face, and steep bulges.
Eagle's Buttress, Right
This unsung classic has somehow escaped notice for many years. The climbing is sustained, varied, and occasionally spectacular.

Bring the crash pad to Lover’s Leap? Yes. While limited with only about 30 problems, the Lover’s Leap boulders are exceptional. The high-quality of granite is extremely textured and offers a wide variety of handholds. Most problems are in the V1-V4 range and offer everything from steep crimps and slopers to long traverses and short cracks. There are enough problems for a full day of bouldering, or to just cool down after a day of climbing at the big cliffs. A Lover's Leap Bouldering guide is included in the South Lake Tahoe Climbing guidebook.

Leave No Trace
Lover's Leap is on National Forest land and is so far subject to few restrictions. Lets keep it that way. Use existing trails, clean up your campsite, and park only in the Lover's Leap campground or along Highway 50.

Sarah on Pitch 1 of Surrealistic Pillar.
Photo: Chris McNamara

Leap Essentials
The following is an overview of the essential Lover’s Leap info.

Getting There
Lover’s Leap is located off Highway 50 in the town of Strawberry, about 20 miles west of Lake Tahoe (view map). From Highway 50, pull into the east end of the Strawberry Lodge Parking lot. The road bends left, continues another 500 feet and then goes over a bridge that crosses the American River. Take a left immediately after the bridge and continue up a narrow road for 0.2 miles to the campground. All climbs at Lover's Leap are accessed from the trailhead 50 feet south of the campground bathrooms. If campground parking is full, park just west of the Strawberry Lodge in a large pullout on the south side of Highway 50. From here it is a 10-minute walk to the campground and trailhead.

Distances from:

San Francisco: 3.5 hours, 170 miles
Sacramento: 2 hours, 85 miles
South Lake Tahoe: 30 minutes, 20 miles
Truckee: 1.5 hours, 65 miles
Bishop: 4 hours, 200 miles

When to Climb
Lover’s Leap has a similar climate to Yosemite Valley with ideal climbing conditions in the spring and fall. Below is a summary of the climbing seasons. Note that the beginning and end of the climbing season is decided by fierceness of the winter. In lean years, you can climb from April to December. In heavy years, you can climb June to October. Be sure to check the SuperTopo web site to see if it has been a heavy or light snow year before planning your trip.

May–June: This is a prime time to visit Lover’s Leap because of the long days and great climbing temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Depending on the snow year, the walls are generally clear of snow and dry by the end of April. Be prepared for some wet cracks and the occasional late-season storms. Expect crowds.

July–August: While the skies are usually clear, the day temperatures are consistently in the 80s and 90s making it too warm to climb in the sun, but tolerable in the shade. Bring plenty of water and wake up early (most routes go into the sun after noon), climb for a few hours, then head for the American River.

September–October: Fall is a great time to visit Lover’s Leap. Temperatures are perfect for climbing and generally stay in the 60s and 70s. There are rarely any storms and the rock is dry. In early September, the occasional heat wave can roll through and in late October the temperatures can be freezing at night. Expect crowds.

November: The weather is uncertain during this time. The first winter storm usually hits in the first two weeks of November which makes most of the routes too wet to climb for the rest of the winter. However, during a dry year the climbing conditions can be great with temperatures in the 50s and 60s with few crowds. Even during a dry November, you will need to bring warm clothing as night temperatures are often below freezing.

December–March: Due to the bleak climbing conditions, nobody visits Lover’s Leap in the winter. Snow covers the base and summits of most cliffs, temperatures are often freezing and the rock is wet. During cold years ice forms on the right side of the East Wall making for the rare California multi-pitch ice climb.

April: Wet rock and unstable weather usually make April a terrible time to climb at Lover’s Leap. However, in an extremely dry year April can have great weather and be free of crowds.

Twin Bridges weather—five day forecast for the closest town to The Leap.

Sarah leads up Psychedelic Tree.
Photo: Todd Offenbacher

The Lover’s Leap campground is deluxe. It may not be as historic as Yosemite’s Camp 4, but it blows it away in terms of quality. It’s $10, minutes from the climbing and has all the necessities: picnic tables, pit-toilets, privacy, running water, and a bar within a 5-minute walk. There are about 30 campsites available that each have room for 2-4 tents. Each campsite comes with just one designated parking spot—park additional cars on Highway 50. There is a 14-day limit on camping and you must carry out all your trash (dispose of trash at the Strawberry Lodge for $5 per bag or go to the free dumpster a few miles west on Highway 50 at the Pyramid Creek/Horsetail Falls trailhead). Each site has its own campfire ring and you should bring your own wood as the Forest Service discourages collecting wood around the campsites. Be low-key when camping: dispose of trash, camp only in designated spots, don't create new camp sites, and make sure all fires are completely extinguished.

If the campground is full, there is free camping about 0.5 miles west on the Strawberry Creek Road. Go to this intersection then drive south for at least a half mile. There are no designated camp sites but you can park anywhere. You need a permit to have a camp fire. More free camping on the Phantom Spires access road, 10 minutes west on Highway 50. Drive west and turn right on Wrights Lake Road. Go about 2 miles and turn left down a logging road (your car will need medium clearance).You can also camp just about anywhere else on Wright's Lake Road.

The Lodge and Motels
The Strawberry Lodge is just a ten-minute walk from the campground/trailhead and offers rooms at $45-155. There are a variety of cheap motes in South Lake Tahoe.You can also stay in one of Chris McNamara's Lake Tahoe Vacation Rentals in South Lake Tahoe (about 25 minutes from Lover's Leap).

The Strawberry Lodge, located on Highway 50 just a five-minute walk from Lover's Leap campground, offers good American food at moderate prices and has a bar.The bar serves great local and semi-local brews and is the spot of choice to talk about all the climbs you onsighted that day, how you found all the ratings too easy, and how that 5.12 you climbed next to looked pretty doable.

In Pollock Pines, a town located 30 minutes west of the Leap on US 50, there is a decent coffee shop called Pony Espresso. A favorite Mexican restaurant for locals and travelers alike is Los Hermanos (beware that it's crowded on weekends). Both Pony Espresso and Los Hermanos are off the Sly Park Rd. exit in Pollock Pines.

For other food options you will need to travel to South Lake Tahoe. Here are some of South Tahoe’s better restaurants: Lake Tahoe Pizza (1168 Highway 50; 530-544-1919) has some of the best pizza in Lake Tahoe with a salad bar. Rude Brothers has good coffee, bagels, and moderate prices. Izzies Burger Spa (2591 Lake Tahoe Boulevard; 530-544-5030) offers great burgers and a salad bar. For great Mexican food head to The Cantina (Highway 89 and 10th Street; 530 544 1233). Sprouts has great natural food, and a friendly staff (3123 Harrison Avenue; 530-541 6969). Ernie’s is the classic greasy spoon and serves good breakfast (1146 Emerald Bay Road; 530-541-2161). If you are driving south from The Leap there are a number of restaurants in Placerville, including In-N-Out Burger.

If you are craving good franchised coffee, there are Starbucks both in Placerville and west of Raley’s on Highway 50.

Buy your food either in Placerville, Palace Pines or South Lake Tahoe, as there are no major grocery stores near Lover’s Leap. The Strawberry Market, located across from Strawberry Lodge has essential items. The next closest spot is Liras Supermarket (2977 Highway 50; 530-577-5399) located 10 minutes before South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50. Drive another 10 minutes and you reach Raley’s Supermarket, located at the junction of 89 and 50 in South Lake Tahoe, which offers the best prices in the area. If driving from the Bay Area, Safeway is located on the left just before Placerville, about 45 minute from Lover’s Leap. There is a Safeway even closer to The Leap in Pollock Pines off Sly Park Rd.

Snakes and Critters
Rattlesnakes and squirrels are everywhere and don't seem to mind the presence of climbers. The squirrels are especially bad at the East Wall and wait in the brush until you are one pitch up; then strike. They are seasoned pros at chewing into backpacks and devouring anything edible (and inedible things as well). Defend yourself against squirrel raids by either hanging your pack at least 6 feet up on the wall or by bringing a squirrel-proof Tupperware container. Rattlesnakes are particularly active in the spring and seem to enjoy hanging out on approach and descent trails. Watch your step.

Climbing Gear and Climbing Guides
Lover's Leap Guides (530-318-2939) is a guide service run by some of the most experienced Lover's Leap climbers. They offer classes in beginning to advanced climbing, learning to lead, summiting all the Phantom Spires and adaptive climbing. Alpine Skills International and Sierra Mountain Guides also offer group trips and private guiding to climbs at Lover's Leap and the rest of the Tahoe area. The closest selection of gear and climbing beta is at Sports Ltd.

Matt enjoying The Groove.
Photo: Chris McNamara

Rest Days
When you need a rest day or just want to mix things up, head to South Lake Tahoe for two world-class mountain bike trails: The Flume Trail and Mister Toads Wild Ride. During the summer you can also buy lift tickets and ride at many of the ski resorts. There are also a number of hiking trails not to mention all the Lake Tahoe activities: kayaking, water skiing, sitting on the beach, etc. For guidebooks and recommendations from knowledgeable locals, visit South Lake Tahoe’s best outdoor sports shop Sports Ltd. (Crescent V Shopping Center, 4008 Lake Tahoe Boulevard; 530-542-4000) All the nightlife is at either one of South Lake Tahoe’s two major casinos: Harrah’s or Harvey’s.

Nearby Climbing Areasv
There are over ten quality cragging areas within a half-hour drive of Lover’s Leap. These areas are great if Lover’s Leap is too cold, too hot or you just want to satisfy your bouldering or sport climbing urge.

Phantom Spires: When Lover’s Leap is just a bit too cold, the Phantom Spires are often perfect. The three 100- to 200-foot-tall spires offer a mixture of knobby face climbs and quality cracks on high quality granite. The climbing season is from April to November. (10 minutes from Lover’s Leap.)

Sugarloaf: Aside from the rare cold year, Sugarloaf is a year-round climbing destination with quality multi-pitch sport and trad climbs. The approach is short and the rock quality is good. It is climbable in the summer, but often very hot. (20 minutes from Lover’s Leap.)

The Pie Shop: With direct southern exposure, The Pie Shop is one of Tahoe’s few year-round climbing areas. It offers great bouldering, okay and gritty sport climbing, and two quality trad climbs. The rock is of less quality than Lover’s Leap, the approach takes 5 minutes, there are 10 boulders, and the cliffs are 50 to 200 feet tall. (20 minutes from Lover’s Leap.)

Luther Rock: This summer and fall area offers 30 quality sport climbs and a few trad climbs nearly all at the 5.10 and 5.11 grades. The rock quality is good to great with a texture that doesn't’t tear up your fingers. The cliffs are 60 to 100 feet tall and the approach takes 45 minutes. (30 minutes from Lover’s Leap.)

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