Lake Tahoe is not a bouldering mecca like Hueco Tanks or Bishop, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fun places to climb. Although I’ve never personally completed any routes harder than a V4 grade, and usually can only put up V2s and 3s, there’s a wide variety of routes for climbers of all levels.
First things first. Where are the boulders? All over the place. The SuperTopo book, Lake Tahoe Bouldering, lists a lot of great spots all around the lake and extending into the surrounding region. The book isn’t as expertly done as Bishop Bouldering, but few are, so that’s not a knock on Lake Tahoe Bouldering. Areas vary from the Pie Shop in South Lake Tahoe to the Old County boulders on the north side of the lake to the Washoe Boulders, located north of Carson City, Nevada. If you live or frequent the Lake Tahoe area, there are likely some boulders nearby. Although Lovers Leap, near Strawberry, California, is known for roped climbing, there are also clusters of boulders there.
Although there are many more defined areas and routes in the region than those I’ve personally climbed, and many more waiting to be developed, a few of my favorites are the Pie Shop, the Washoe Boulders, and the Christmas Valley Boulders.
The Pie Shop is located on Sawmill Road in South Lake Tahoe, just a quarter mile from Highway 50. Be aware that if you’re looking for directions in Lake Tahoe Bouldering, it appears that my edition has a typo, stating that the boulders are 1.4 miles from the intersection when it should state that they are 1/4 mile from it. A few of the problems are highballs and one route (The Thing) even has a single bolt halfway up the wall. The rock is sharp with a lot of crimpers, slopers, and few jugs. There are a lot of problems around though, and it’s a very easy approach. Since there are a lot of trees, this is a good area to climb in the summer. Most problems are V4 and below, though there are a few more difficult routes. Just park on the side of the road and walk up the hill. (If you drive past a couple of buildings on your right [when approaching from HWY 50] you’ve gone too far.) If you keep walking away from the road past the boulders, you’ll encounter a large wall popular with climbers. Apparently the Pie Shop is so named because a pie shop was once located in the area.
The Christmas Valley Boulders are located, you guessed it, in Christmas Valley. From HWY 50, drive about one-and-three-quarter miles on South Upper Truckee Road and park at the pullout on the left. The boulders will be on the west side of the road. The boulders aren’t overly tall, and there’s a much bigger variety of holds than at the Pie Shop. According to a friend of mine, that’s because these boulders were deposited by explosions used to construct HWY 50 (If you look up from the boulders, you might see the highway clinging to the mountainside above you). This is another area that’s pretty good for beginner and intermediate climbers.
Finally, we come to the Washoe Boulders. Located on the north side of Carson City, from the highway, head east on College Parkway until you get to Goni Road (the first light, if memory serves). Turn left and drive up into the hills. You’ll end up driving through a neighborhood, but after a few miles, the road ends at a quarry and you’ll hang a right. The road becomes unpaved after a bit, but it’s graded well and my sedan makes it up just fine. When you get to a hard right turn below what appears to be a black cinder rockslide, park on the left. You’ll probably see a lot of empty ammo shells, as it appears that folks come out into the hills to shoot clay pigeons and the like. Worry not, as I’ve never had an issue and it doesn’t seem like anyone shoots when other folks are around. Just walk up the dirt road (past the giant boulder), and you’ll see a bunch of boulders around you come around the hill. The approach is probably about five minutes from the parking area, but there are a lot of fun routes, again mostly for beginner and intermediate climbers. I prefer the volcanic rock here over the rock at the Pie Shop and some other areas in the region, but that may be personal preference. The views over the Carson Valley are incredible, but this may be a rough area to climb during the summer, as it can get rather hot. Try climbing early in the day, and maybe sticking to shaded routes if the rock gets too hot. This may be the only place in the area you’ll be able to climb during the winter as many of the boulders at lake level will probably be under snow from October until May or later.
There are loads more places to climb in the region, but the Pie Shop, the Christmas Valley Boulders, and the Washoe Boulders are some of my favorites. If you don’t mind a short drive, Bishop is only a few hours south and is incredible. If you need bouldering intel for the area, the only book I know of is Lake Tahoe Bouldering, though there may be others.
No matter where you boulder, just remember that nothing feels better on your hands after a hard day of climbing than a nice, cold beer (or soda, if you prefer).
NOTE: If you’re driving through Carson City, the High Sierra Brewing Company has cheap happy-hour prices (I think their happy hour runs from 2-7 P.M. daily; I’ve never really had to check because when I get done climbing and stop in, it always seems like it’s happy hour). Their beer is pretty tasty, and they have a number of cheap happy-hour appetizers too.
**Ryan is not affiliated in any way with the High Sierra Brewing Company, SuperTopo, Lake Tahoe Bouldering, or Bishop Bouldering.
Author of Don’t Step on the Dirt