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Spring Lovers Leap Report - Long Story

Original Post
Daniel Howe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0


This is going to be a long story, so if you're here for conditions, I will leave that up front.  For others that want to, read on.


There is still substantial snow on the ground during the approach, as well as decent, making for an adventurous outing at Lovers Leap.  The campground is closed, so park across from the Strawberry Lodge and hike in.  Be mindful that the neighborhood on the way to the campground are private, and kindly request that you do not use their driveways for turnarounds or parking.

Approach: The talus field approach to the east wall and main wall, has snow from just off the main footpath, to the base of the talus field, as well as the base of the climbs.  At the base of The Line, East Wall and Bears Reach the snow is heavily compacted and icy.  

Descent: The Main Wall and East Wall both have snow on the top, making for an even more adventurous descent.  Recently downed trees make route finding 100' from the top of the Bears Reach a little interesting and there is a small stream with icy waters so be wary of crossing this time of year, and note that it is easy to get sidetracked going east instead of heading west to the main climber's trail.

Rock Conditions:  There is water seepage and runoff from Eagles Buttress through Eeyores Enigma.  Although generally, East Wall is fairly dry as well as other areas, there are small areas of water in cracks, most of the dikes are dry.  This weekend it is bound to rain so these conditions will obviously change in the next couple of days.

The Story

When I started climbing in my younger years, the Leap was a favorite destination.  My climbing partner and I headed out here regularly to hone our climbing skills on many of the routes in preparation for bigger aspirations in Yosemite and the like.  However, I had an injury sometime back that forced me to take a hiatus from climbing, and had not climbed since.  About a year and a half ago my family got interested, and then some friends, so just like that, I was back in it like I had never stopped.

I have wanted to get outdoors this winter as much as possible, though the conditions or other responsibilities kept me away from the wall and mostly in the gym, training for the real rock.  I had a dream of getting back on some of the climbs that had inspired me at the beginning of my climbing.  I wanted more than anything to go to Lovers Leap and other South Lake Tahoe area climbing areas.  Then I stumbled upon a few threads in the Mountain Project forums that awoke the dream to manifest.  First was the birthday challenge, and second was the Brotherhood of the Traveling Stopper.  I thought that getting out to Tahoe for a weekend of climbing was just what I needed to get my head back in it completely, and started out planning a climbing fest of epic proportions.

One slight, or rather large, challenge occurred in the preparation for the journey, a baby girl, and the delivery date had been moved up to the next two weeks.  I had better get the climb of the century on before climbing would be back seat for a while.  So, I reached out to the Brotherhood to see if there was a stopper that was ready for a new traveler, and low and behold, "Andrew Arroz" came to the rescue with a Camp #5 stopper, just in time for the weekend weather window at Lovers Leap.

The stopper arrived on a Thursday to my office, and I drove out to pick it up on Friday night.  My hands were sweating in anticipation of the climbing and getting the stopper in my hand was like taking Excalibur out of the stone, holding it in hand and raising it to the moonlit sky.  This was really happening.  Tomorrow would be the day, and I could hardly wait, nor sleep.

At four o'clock I rose and prepared my mind and body for the day ahead, and shortly afterward my partner and good friend, Matt and I, left for Tahoe.  I know this road like the back of my hand, but the drive brought back memories that just made me want to climb more.  I was getting gripped for climbing and we hadn't even left the cities yet.  As the road started winding, and the river snaked around each bend, I could sense the rock was getting closer.  Around every corner, an old friend would peer out from the trees, the road to downtown Placerville, Bridalveil Falls, Ice House Road, Sugar Loaf, and then the West Wall of Lovers Leap.  It stood there, unchanged after the many years, and yet here we were.  I felt different than I had the last time climbing the formidable rock.  I had changed.  I no longer was intimidated by the size, and dark looming cliffs as I had been when I was younger.  I was now in trance with the lines of the walls, and yearning to get to know my old friend again.

Stepping out of the car, we were blasted with frigid air.  It had been in the low twenties and thirties the last few nights and the ground reminded you of that with the periodic pile of snow and black ice.  A quick check of our gear and we headed out from the Strawberry Lodge to the trails.  As we rounded the boulders the trail became icier.  A small stream in the middle of the trail had frozen over but a slip onto the ice revealed the frigid water below.  We were getting closer to the talus field and the familiar sound of cams and carabiners bouncing on climber's racks let us know that there were others nearby.  We had planned to climb the Lower Buttress linkup to the Main Wall, but the uncertainty of conditions prompted me to examine the top of the rocks first.  Looking up to the East Wall, we could make out two other parties.  One starting off on The Line and another group already at the first anchor of Bears Reach.  The top of the Lower Buttress surprisingly looked clear of snow, but I had remembered from earlier years how the snow had usually covered the starting moves of some of the climbs.  Though the Main Wall was relatively clean, there were some signs of water which led me to believe there would be some snow at the top of that wall as well.  To play it safe, we decided to get on an easier route, out of the way of the other two parties and to examine the top of the wall and the descent trail.

We took a quick look around and found the East Wall, between The Line and Bears Reach looked clean, and adventurous.  If we were lucky, the top of the Main Wall would be dry, and we could walk around for another go at one of the more prominent exposed lines.  I don't believe I have ever climbed this route, but the features seemed relatively straightforward, climb to a ledge, set up the belay, then go around the arete to another good belay for the second pitch where it merges with Bears Reach.  However, I decided that there was a better line going straight up.  It looked like a nice corner to practice stemming, locks and the mind games that Lovers Leap is known for.  My partner, Matt, had been gaining experience outdoors and this seemed like a perfect variation to make the trip a little more fun.  Afterall, we had one of the Traveling Stoppers in tote, and it would lend its power to pull through!  What was thought to be a 5.7 route, turned into a 5.10 after a few moves.  

A quick check of the roof ahead, and I decided to head left to rejoin Bears Reach, after all, that would probably be a good finish to the route, instead of an unknown section above (I have now learned that this variation is called Fireworks Combo/Flying Circus).  The move around the arete was a good idea and as I stared down the traverse, I had to remind myself to place more pieces to protect the second.  It was easy climbing but didn't want to make a fall turn ugly for him.  As I neared where I thought the next belay stance would be, I spotted yet another party coming up Bears Reach.  The leader was helpful in pointing out some flakes that traversed to his stance and welcomed me to belay nearby his party.  

As I wrapped up the pitch and set up the belay, I looked down to see that I was completely out of sight of Matt, and a few of the sections he would need to do without any guidance.  For someone who has not climbed at Lovers Leap before, some of the horizontal dikes and flakes can be intimidating.  One needs to simply trust in themselves and the way will come.  After a few minutes, Matt started up, and then I felt the rope suddenly weight.  I wondered if he was doing well, and was slightly concerned until his head came up over the arete, ready for the traverse.  The traverse went well, and he arrived at the anchor, but thoroughly exhausted from the mental party that Lovers Leap likes to through.  We bantered a little back and forth to ease the tension, and decided that while we had other plans for the day, it might be best to finish the route and head home.  The rest of the climb was amazing.  A slight roof and some reachy moves led to pure granite bliss.  I love this.  Finally, the third class walk off to the slabs at the top.  It was here, that I was reminded of how cold it truly was.  The top of had plenty of snow, with a few spots exposing the brush below.  The top of the Main Wall and the descent looked absolutely miserable.  I was glad to head back, though there was still a descent to follow.

Once Matt arrived at the top, we snapped a few pictures, racked and prepared for the walk down.  

I kept thinking back to how some earlier visits in the snow had almost turned nightmare with my partner sliding down a shoot and nearly plummeting into the talus field.  I knew that the descent wasn't nearly as dangerous, but I thought that I should probably mention something to Matt.  Just as I opened my mouth to say the obvious, I started sliding down the snow and landed my leg on a rock and my shoulder into a tree.  So much for being mindfully aware, I thought to myself.  All in all, I fell four times on the trip.  All of which on the descent.

I halfway joked with Matt about going for another climb once we got to the base.  He lightheartedly agreed, but we both knew it would wait until the next time.

SeƱor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

Awesome. You're an inspiration. Glad I mailed you that stopper.

Thue Madsen · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 15

Great write up!! Thanks for sharing. 

splitclimber · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 7

so did ya place the stopper?  

Daniel Howe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0
splitclimber wrote:

so did ya place the stopper?  

Oh yes.  On every pitch.  I wanted to elaborate more on that but reached the character limit for the forum post.  Thanks for asking

Daniel Howe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0
AndrewArroz wrote:

Awesome. You're an inspiration. Glad I mailed you that stopper.

Glad you sent it!  Arrived just in time :)

jg fox · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 5

The Leap looks so dry, California's winter is so depressing...

But if you are pure rock climber you'll love it.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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