It’s been cold in Tahoe, really cold. Too bad there hasn’t been a bunch of precipitation to go along with the temps. But as the story goes when one thing is off something else is almost always on. This is especially true in Tahoe where there is arguably never a dull moment for the active adventurer who’s willing to seek out the best of what’s on tap at any given moment. Of course I sincerely wish I was about to report on the freak multi-foot dump that just came in to pound our zone erasing any need to think about such frivolous things as heading to Las Vegas to ski powder. Unfortunately that is not the case, but I’ll tell you what. If you are an ice climber, or ever wanted to get into or even just try to ice climb, now is the time.
That’s right, the snow may be thin-to-nonexistent right now, but the ice climbing is fat! Go figure. A taste of the goods in early October coming off an all-time winter in 10′-11′ gave us the false hopes of another banger start to the 11′-12′ season. Then the fall just straight up goes dry and produces some of the best surf ever seen on Lake Tahoe for a few weeks followed by what some are calling “as good as it gets” for Californian ice climbing.
The joke with ice climbing in Tahoe, particularly in California is it’s “here today, gone tomorrow”. That saying also happens to be remininsent of a somewhat coveted ice line that resides just off Highway 89 near the entrance to Alpine Meadows, “Here Today, Gone in Twenty Seconds (WI 4-5 15 m)”. I know there’s a good group of ice climbers in Tahoe, and that the majority of us would rather be talking about how sore we are from so much pow slaying, but the fact is ice is what’s up right now.
Reports from the greater Tahoe Basin share that for the most part ice is plentiful. A few areas that have seen quality action as of late include Rainbow (north of Donner Summit), Cold Stream Canyon, Eagle Creek Canyon, the Fallen Leaf Lake area, and Lover’s Leap.
For anyone that’s completely new to the sport the disclaimer that goes along with all of these fun activities in our local backyard, like rock climbing and backcountry skiing, also adhere to local ice climbing. It’s a very dangerous sport with very real consequences, but at the same time can be managed and mitigated properly to allow for an incredibly fun adventure when all systems are operating safely.
One of the best places to go for a local ice climb is Cascade Falls, which is where Jeff, Jeremy and myself headed this past weekend. Accessed from the Bayview Trailhead the waterfall at the west end of the lake usually forms a thick, solid, low angle flow that’s perfect for beginners. There’s also another reasonably mellow flow near the main waterfall that’s very climbable and top-ropable right now. Both of those climbs are rated at about WI 2. The main falls is about 50m wide and 70m long and many parties climb it in two pitches. The looker’s left line is your best bet for a user friendly top-rope or a great intro lead climb.
Here’s a shot of the approach trail,
and the two largest flows on the hike in.
On either sides of the main waterfall tend to be steeper and shorter lines. WI 3 grades are common on these flows as are thin ice conditions. Most of these routes are 25-35 m in length. The way to access these routes are to hike to the top of the falls and rappel down to the base, or find a questionable hike down about 30 yards away from the main falls.
Cascade Falls isn’t just for the moderate climber either. Check out this guy dry-tooling his way through this rad looking mixed climb that’s located looker’s left from the base of the main drips. I was actually on lead while he was climbing this route, but still peered over to my left to try and see what this guy was getting himself into after placing and clipping a few screws. They both sounded pretty stoked with the effort when the climber eventually toped out.
It may not be what we’re ideally looking for, but there’s never a reason to get too bummed on conditions in Tahoe. The snow will come at some point, and until then, why not tap into what’s exceptionally good right now and go climb some ice? It’s a fun local activity, doesn’t have the longest or most reliable season, and helps hone in useful mountaineering skills that can assist you elsewhere in the mountains. Best of all it seems to be the best available activity right now so if you’ve got the motivation go get some! If anything getting out in the mountains and catching a good ol’ Tahoe sunset will do you good if you’re not stoked to go for a skin and search for the elusive recrystallized powder that’s out there.