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Climbing Free

A planned land acquisition on Donner Summit aims to keep access open for popular climbing area
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Rock is an integral piece of landscape that shapes the skyline and helps to define nature’s beauty. Climbers scale these walls for sport and to be able to see the world from a unique point of view. In Tahoe, rock climbing thrives through the accessibility of the routes and the active community of climbers. That culture has been given a recent boost with the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s (TDLT) agreement to purchase a prized climbing area from a private landowner, which will ensure future access for all.

On March 13 the TDLT, working in partnership with the Access Fund, a group dedicated to supporting climbing communities around the country, signed the contract for a 10-acre parcel on Donner Summit. The TDLT currently holds a Purchase and Sale Agreement to fundraise, then acquire the property by December.

The area is just off of Highway 40 near the west end of Donner Lake. It includes rock walls ideal for all levels of climbing, as well as the iconic Black Wall, one of the largest rock formations on Donner Summit that holds advanced and expert routes. Other popular rock climbing areas within the parcel are the sport climbing zones of Peanut Gallery and Road Cut. Sport climbing utilizes anchors that are permanently affixed to the rock, as opposed to traditional climbing where climbers attach temporary anchors on each climb.

Michael Plapp, a local climber who has been in the area for 17 years, said the area is a great resource because it’s so easily accessible. “It’s convenient, the routes are good, and there is something for everyone up there,” he said.

In 2003 the two groups began working with the landowner, who wishes to remain anonymous, on a potential purchase. Efforts fluctuated for 10 years before strengthening in 2014, when liability protection was provided by the TDLT to the owner, which helped lead to the final contract in March.

While climbers have used this area for over 50 years, there has always been concern over issues of liability, privacy, and trespassing that could limit access to the area under private ownership.

“The landowner has been very climber and public friendly,” said Perry Norris, the executive director of the TDLT. “He has allowed climbers to use the land that he could have easily blocked off.”

With the opportunity for purchase came the opportunity to create permanent access. “You never know what could happen with the land,” said Joe Sambataro, the national access director for the Access Fund. “You take the opportunity when you have it. If they sold it to somebody else the new landowner may decide something else for the area.”

The land has been appraised for $135,000 and the TDLT has started a fundraising campaign with a goal of $280,000. The additional funds above the purchase price will go to future stewardship efforts as well as the associated acquisition costs such as the appraisal, legal fees, and environmental assessments. At the time of press, $50,000 had been raised for the campaign, which will end on Dec. 1, 2015.

“The support has been phenomenal,” Norris said, noting that it has come from local retailers, climbing gyms and groups in the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Reno.

Norris would also like to work with the U.S. Forest Service to create a recreational management plan to address issues of sustainable trails, trailhead parking, trail signage, and sanitation. He hopes the area can be used as a recreational haven not only for dedicated climbers, but also by the outdoor community at large.

“This is a pretty historic, popular, and well-known crag in an epicenter of outdoor recreation,” Norris said. “It would be great to see local climbers come together to form a coalition to represent, take responsibility, and advocate for the future of climbing in Tahoe.”

Visit savedonnerclimbing.org to learn more about the area and to make a donation.

 
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June 9, 2017