Sport Climbing


© photo by Jim Thornburg  | Mike Carville at Bowman Lake

Nevada City is a great weekend stay for San Francisco Bay Area climbers who want good accommodations and hard sport climbs at a choice of areas and elevations to match the season and weather. The nearby Emeralds, at 5,000 feet, climb like European limestone in a canyon setting. Indian Springs and Rainbow offer quiet, one-pitch climbs, smooth granite, and a more alpine feel. Donner Summit, at 7,000 feet, is big, scenic, and renowned.

The Emeralds – Steep (mostly 5.11 and up) un-crowded rock-climbing about 23 miles east of Nevada City via Highway 20. Shade and elevation cool these climbs even in July-August, especially in the Wishing Well area. Prime swimming holes are close by at the South Yuba River. Access is good and the area is active, with close to three dozen newly-bolted .10-.13 lines in the Gorge section (subject to sudden flooding in spring). The well-featured rock feels like limestone. Classics include the immediately-cruxy Resurrection (11.c) and the sporty and overhanging Steel Monkey (5.12a).

Indian Springs – Three levels of short, solid, south-facing, and bolted granite climbs just above I-80, accessed by driving 45 minutes east from Nevada City on Highway 20, joining I-80 east, and taking the Eagle Lakes exit to a trail below the cliffs. Moderate slabs and faces, and swimming at the nearby South Yuba River, make this a fun mid-summer stop on the way to Donner. Zephyr provides one of the Sierra’s most inviting introductions to a pitch of solid 5.10 sport climbing.

Rainbow – About 30 short, mostly bolted routes up impeccable, smooth, dome-like granite. This quiet climbing area, about 50 minutes from Nevada City, is one of the Sierra’s easiest to access and demands ultimate respect for private property and local climbing ethics. At .12c, Monkey Business works your inverted sidepull. Dark Special is a nice, delicate .10a, though a bit runout off the deck. Go east out of Nevada City on 20, join I-80 east, and take the Big Bend exit. The 10-minute approach trail starts across from the Big Bend Ranger Station.

Donner Summit – An hour from Nevada City, Donner is the big daddy of Tahoe region climbing areas, with hundreds of 1-4 pitch routes. Scenic Donner Lake views, a historic feel, pleasant summer afternoons, and high concentrations of fierce sport routes make for a classic Sierra experience. Top climbers who didn’t overindulge in town the night before will opt for Star Walls, where overhanging granite glistens with .12a-.14a gems like Warp Factor (.13a) and A Steep Climb Named Desire (.14a). Refer to Mike Carville’s Rock Climbing Lake Tahoe. Take 20 east, then follow I-80 east to the Soda Springs exit. Go right at the exit and follow old Highway 40 past Sugar Bowl to the cliffs.