Did you know there’s high quality rock climbing to be done in Squaw Valley? I had heard the rumors for years, but never got the chance to rope-up until a local climbing pioneer clued me into the whereabouts of one of the developed crags late last fall. The beta had never been published, and with all the other great climbing in and around Tahoe I could never rationalize the wild goose chase with no information when I knew I could be scoring somewhere like Donner, Big Chief, or Eagle Creek Canyon.

I was stoked to finally get my climb on in Squaw last fall, finding the Santana Wall and enjoying some pretty fun sport climbing. That friendly local also mentioned there was an even better wall to be climbed in Silverado, but the snow started flying and I never got a chance to get out there. That is until this morning, when my partner and I finally made it out to Silvy, and got a chance to sample some of the goods.

The Santana Wall is a relatively small granite cliff in Shirley Canyon that holds at least six established routes. At a leisurely pace you can hike in and be at the base of the wall in about thirty minutes. The five main routes range from 5.5 to 5.9+. There’s also a project route that was initially started when snow was still on the ground, but is now unrated, considered hard (5.12+ or higher), and it’s because the routes first taker didn’t consider what moves might be lurking under the snow after it melted. Pretty funny. Apparently it’s a quality 5.10+ after the first bolt.

The Santana Wall is a great place for a climbing session partially because it’s in Squaw Valley, partially because the hike in via Shirley Canyon is so beautiful, and mostly because the routes are fun and off the beaten path. There are also a few undeveloped walls in the area waiting for the right people to take the time and see if they’re worth developing. The cover shot in this piece is of me rappelling off one of these undeveloped walls this past weekend when my partner and I  decided to forgo a session on the Santana Wall, and see if one of these cliffs I had scoped in the past was worth working on. Turns out it was, but the wall was dirty to say the least. Lots of loose pebbles and dirt. But with some patience and the know-how to clean some rock, this could be another cool addition to the nearby Santana Wall. Here’s Jillian working the initial moves on one of the routes we played on.

The real eye-opener came this first day of September when Jeff Dostie and I made it back to the Silverado Cliff. You know that all-time cliff, looker’s right off the chair as you’re heading back up for another glorious lap in Silvy?  Yeah, the closed one. That’s the wall where no fewer than sixteen established routes exist. Beyond the cover shot and that last one of Jillian, all of the other shots in this piece are from this session. I can’t track down my photos from last fall climbing at the Santana Wall, but at the end of the article I’ll fill you in on where to get the most up-to-date beta you can on climbing in Squaw Valley, pictures included.

The Silverado Cliff. If you’re a Squaw skier, or just a local climber, this is an amazing place to spend a few hours. A beautiful hike in following Shirley Creek, breathtaking Sierra backdrops whenever the dense trees part yielding room  for a view, and steep, sustained, perfect granite. The hike in takes at least 45 minutes, and the wall is up to 125′ feet tall. Routes range from 5.7 to 5.11 c/d.

The climbing is mixed on the Silverado Cliff. Some routes are top-ropeable, there’s a few sport climbs, and many routes are traditionally protected. I will say, the 5.7 shouldn’t be looked at as your regular “don’t think too much about it” easy warm-up. It’s a bit awkward with a very wide crack system that takes gear up to a number 5, and you could definitely use more than one of those. Just a note as I know most climbers are capable of sending routes as mellow as 5.7, a grade I love, this one just had that quintessential Silverado pucker vibe, probably (no, for sure) because we did not have ample large cam’s to place. Nonetheless, this is a truly spectacular wall to climb, and it’s also pretty cool to be climbing in an area that so many of us dream about come wintertime.

If you haven’t been up Shirley Canyon lately, you should go. It’s amazing how late a lot of the wildflowers are coming out this year, with vibrant colors you’d normally only get to see a month or so ago. The vegetation is just unreal for this late in a Tahoe summer, popping in thick green groves, especially along the rich riparian corridor of Shirley Creek. The sea of granite once you get a ways up the trail is equally as brilliant.

You really can’t beat a swim in Shirley Creek either, with so many glorious pools to chill in at various points throughout the hike, that’s a reason in itself to get up there…even if your dogs beat you to it.

So here’s the bit I was saying about sharing the most up-to-date beta on climbing in Squaw. There’s a brand spanking new guidebook out on climbing in North Tahoe! The Santana Wall and the Silverado Cliff are both in there, and there are great pictures to help lead you on the right path to sending. There are a ton of previously undocumented climbs listed in the book as well. I’m still digesting the book myself, and while there are already several critiques about the book, not just from myself, but from full-time climbers in our community, if you climb or are looking to get into it, you should grab this book. Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City is the place for all the climbing gear you’ll ever need, and they’re the ones you should visit to pick up this new guidebook, over sixteen years in the making! I’ll have a more specific post on the new guidebook soon.


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