No one knows when rock climbing started — most likely when people and rocks were introduced.
Rock climbing is a very specialized sport that has grown in popularity the last few years. It’s no longer limited to wild-eyed men and women yelling things like “On belay!” You don’t even have to be outside. Climbing gyms let the curious and über cautious climb without getting twigs in their hair and bugs in their smiles.
On any given day in the Sierra, if conditions are good, you’ll find climbers on sheer cliff faces with the tools of their trade: rope, helmets, cams, pitons, anchors and carabiners. There will be lots of yelling as the person in front keeps in touch with those below.
Climbing cliff faces or free-standing rocks isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of knee. It’s a robust undertaking that requires training, physical fitness and expert guidance from experienced climbers.
The gear is very specific. From the shoes to the ropes, it’s very serious stuff with a corresponding price. Yves Chouinard is a pioneer rock climber who invented and personally tested much of the equipment used today. All gear one might use has been made and tested for stresses far greater than what might happen during a climb — it’s a matter of life or death.
No plans to climb? You can still enjoy watching others. Just up Highway 50 is a world-class climbing spot that is pretty easy to find. You will find climbers there just about every day of the week.
Lover’s Leap is a gigantic chunk of granite. Drive east on Highway 50 to Strawberry. Pull off at the lodge and take the frontage road until you reach a parking lot and camping area. There is a $5 day use fee to park. It regularly fills up, especially on the weekends. There is no parking on the road leading to the trail head. You may have to park on the county road and walk in.
There are water and toilets at the trail head and the trail to the face of Lover’s Leap is clearly marked. It is a relatively short, easy hike to get to a spot where you can see the climbers. The first part of the trail is crushed granite; the trail then turns into what bikers call a rock garden.
The trail is very rocky, much like a dry stream bed, wo wear sturdy shoes. If you are a member of Club Clumsy, take hiking poles. You’ll come to an area where the climbers are busy after about a half mile. Keep going. The climbing area covers the entire expanse of the cliff face. Find a comfortable spot and settle in to watch.
The trail continues past the climbing area and turns back into a forested area. You’ll reach Slippery Ford on the American River about a half mile past the climbers, just across from Horsetail Falls. The entire trail is a remnant of the old Johnson Cut Off, one of the original wagon routes from Echo Summit into the Placerville area. It’s a beautiful spot and worth the extra bit of hiking.
Make sure to take water, something to munch on, a hat, sunscreen, binoculars and bug spray. If you go on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, stay and enjoy a meal at Strawberry Lodge.
The climbers consider reaching the top quite an accomplishment. I consider remaining upright while walking the rock garden quite an accomplishment.
Have a great time; stay outside!