Climb: Donner Pass

One Day at Donner Pass, Lake Tahoe, CA

Donner Lake

The morning found us debating wether that was REALLY Tommy Chong sitting in Wild Cherries cafe, and listening to Bob-san’s partner for the day wax hardman on the leads he has/will put up around the american west.

Mark and I decided we would tackle One Hand Clapping, while Bob and co. would get on some .10 crack nearby.

Black Wall

We totally fungled the approach, spending a good 10 minutes of our lives doing some classic manzanita battle while the team of two we passed at the pullout breezed by us on the use trail.

We chatted with this team of two, trading stories of epics and near epics. The second (after the leader was well out of earshot, I noted) started spraying about the 11’s he was on last weekend. I tuned out quickly.

Soon enough the second from the other team was off and I set out on my lead.

Pitch one of One Hand Clapping is meant to be one of the best 5.8 granite handcracks around. It largely lives up to the billing, though Bishop’s Terrace still THE 5.8 handcrack in my opinion – just longer and more continuous at the grade. OHC p.1 is less consistent and has a more defined crux (where it goes to double cracks), whereas Bishop’s is just 5.8 jam after 5.8 jam for a good long while.

Posting up and waiting for the second to clear the first belay, I asked if there was room for two. The second said that there was, and I headed up for the last 10 feet of climbing. Purely on a whim I placed a rattly .5 c4 in a horizontal crack 5 feet below the belay (edit from a subsequent climb: it takes a .75 perfectly). I had the piece, and I had no pro for perhaps 25 feet prior; a little insurance never hurts.

Just as I was clipping a draw to the belay bolt, the second took a 10 foot drop damn near on my head out of the finger crack above the belay – without making a SOUND.

Everyone climbs at their own risk, I know, and ultimately I’m the leader making my own judgements. Still, I admonished this (self-proclaimed 5.11) climber that the least you can do before taking a fall, ON TO A LEADER about to clip an anchor, on stuff 3+ grades below your limit, is to scream like a little girl and give some advance warning. Oh well. I lived.

The second pitch is an attention-grabber. The moves off the belay are non-trivial fingers and off-fingers crack, with a ledgy respite and good pro before things get truly weird. Bring your thin stuff. The whole sequence is that wonderful blend of terrible and fun – shoving your right shoulder in to the corner while finding small irregularities for your feet, working up and around, and finally pulling the corner on strange cupped hand jams. FYI, carrying a pack on this pitch sucks bad. Don’t carry a pack on this climb. Better yet – make your partner carry the pack.

Pitch three is fine, but but just fine. Essentially you come for the first two pitches and deal with the third as the price of entry.

After descending, our collective attention turned to the laser-cut left facing corner/crack to the left of One Hand Clapping. From a distance this thing looks overhung, Getting closer reveals a great tight hands crack at about 80 degrees. This ended up being a fantastic little 60 foot 5.9(-) jamming and stemming route.

This day just kept getting better.

After poking around a bit more, we decided to explore a new area: Grouse Slabs.

The approach up to Grouse from School House Rock is what an approach should be: easy and scenic, picking up the Tahoe Rim trail. This was the site of me and Mark almost crapping our pants last season when we abruptly heard the sound of a mack truck coming through some underbrush down a hillside. Neither of us likes to admit it, but we each tried to position the other in front to avoid being bear food.

This was no bear, people, this was a just a bear-sized dog, happily charging through the trees and shrubs, but where was the owner? Ok, there she is. Fat dog, trim, trail-running owner. Can I move to Truckee now?

Up at Grouse we did a few climbs:

Half Hit (5.9+) – the obvious finger crack furthest to the left on the formation. Boy, I wouldn’t want to take a fall low on this thing. Otherwise a two-move wonder but a great introduction to 5.9 fingerlock territory.

Desire (5.9) – the obvious bolted line on the nearly freestanding pillar. Crux is low, like the first two moves. Little to recommend here.

Desire - Grouse Slabs

One Toke Arete (5.10 face) – Wasn’t getting rave reviews from those ahead of me. Looks like sincere grounder potential to the first bolt.

Crack line to the left of desire (5.8) – Fun little headwall to bolted anchor, with a well-defined flared jamming crux. Worthwhile.

In a previous trip to Grouse we’d done:

Insidious Crack (5.6) – Great little straight-in crack climb, good for the new leader, though there is are a few flared placements and a little 10 foot runout near the top.

Jellyroll Arch (5.8) – Do this before you get on Frogland in Red Rocks. The move out and around the arch bears an uncanny similarity to a move many times higher off the deck in the desert. The 5.9 roof handcrack finish is a MUST (use a runner on your protection, lest you have a cam irretrievably sucked up in the crack) . Highly Recommended.


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