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What it's Like to go Rock Climbing with a Guide in Truckee

Siobhan Kenney
May 4, 2021
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I recently met up with Chris Fellows, the owner of NASTC, for a morning of climbing at Donner Summit to see what it's like to go out with a professional rock climbing guide. As I drove up the scenic Old Hwy 40, I took in the gorgeous views of Donner Lake and rocky outcrops. It was a perfect day - the temperature hovered around the high 60s and the sun was high in the sky. We met in the parking lot, gathered our gear, and headed down to Green Phantom, a crag below the iconic Rainbow Bridge, to try a few routes on the slabby granite.

The beauty of climbing on Donner Summit is access. Most of the climbs are just a short walk from your car, making it easy to get to multiple climbing areas in a day. We parked at the Donner Lake overlook and from there, it was less than five minutes to walk to the crag. Once there, Chris set up the anchor on our climb and added an extra piece of gear at the top for redundancy and safety.

After setting the anchor, he rappelled down to check that the rope was set up properly and met me at the base of the climb. Before I started climbing, we reviewed basic climbing knots and climbing commands, the safety language that serves as checks and balances before you step foot off the ground. It goes like this:On Belay?Belay On.Ready to Climb?Climb On!And with that, I was climbing. The face climb was tricky but Chris expertly guided me through the hardest sections, known as the "crux" to climbers, and reminded me to use and trust my feet. Many beginner climbers try to muscle their way up the rock, grasping at tiny holds and exerting too much effort with their upper body. If you're having a hard time on a route, it's always a good idea to look down and use your feet!

Much of the climbing on Donner Summit relies on friction between the rock and sticky rubber on your climbing shoes. This was no exception and although there weren't many prominent features on the rock, I was able to move through blank sections by smearing my foot against the wall. I realized that one of the many advantages of climbing with a guide was that I got to tap into his wealth of climbing knowledge and learn new techniques that helped me move more efficiently up the wall.

After a few hours of climbing at Green Phantom we packed up, Chris removed the anchor and we headed back to the cars. A successful day of climbing was on the books! Now it's your turn! Have you ever wanted to go rock climbing on Donner Summit? If you have been considering a climbing trip, a guided course is a great way to go! I had so much fun in a safe and encouraging environment.

Ready to Go Climbing?

Here is a list of rock climbing guide companies in Truckee.

  • Blackbird Mountain Guides: Blackbird Mountain Guides, founded by local IFGMA guide Zeb Blais, offers world-class trips and courses to help you develop the skills for adventures on rock, snow, or ski. Click here to see Tahoe Rock guided courses and trips.
  • NASTC: The North American Ski Training Center and Rock Climbing School (NASTC) is a local Truckee guiding company that has been in operation since 1994. They started out by offering immersion and adventure ski training clinics and expanded to rock climbing in 2002. The company was dreamed up by Jenny and Chris Fellows, two longtime Tahoe skiers and climbers who have adventured all over the world. Click here to see the rock climbing courses available through NASTC.
  • Tahoe Mountain School: Tahoe Mountain School was started in the winter of '13-'14 to provide professional education to the backcountry community. They offer low student to guide ratios with hands on experience and decision making to develop the skills needed to be safer in the mountains. TMS instructors and guides work hard to provide an enjoyable, educational, and safe trip experience. Click here to see the rock climbing courses available through Tahoe Mountain School.
  • Alpine Skills International: Since the beginning, ASI has made the commitment to blend the best from American outdoor educational values with progressive techniques of climbing and high mountain skiing that are practiced by the most accomplished alpinists throughout the world. To this day, now 30 years after the beginning of ASI, the educational ideals that the program was founded on remain paramount to work with people who are interested in becoming experts in the mountains. Click here to see the rock climbing courses available through Alpine Skills International.
  • Gateway Mountain Center: Gateway Mountain Center is where youth of all backgrounds Learn, Heal and Thrive. They foster a sense of wonder, connection and inquiry. With spirited, adventure-learning they help youth transform their self-awareness through connections with self, nature and community. Click here to see the youth summer climbing camps available through Gateway Mountain Center.
  • Alpenglow Expeditions: Alpenglow Expeditions was founded in 2004 by IFMGA certified guide Adrian Ballinger. With over 30 international expeditions per year and a full menu of ski and rock climbing courses in Lake Tahoe, Alpenglow Expedition’s core values are founded on providing a unique experience for each client who desires to explore mountains across the world. Click here to see the rock climbing courses available through Alpenglow Expeditions.

What Courses Does a Guide Company Offer?

These guide companies offer a wide variety of courses for climbers of all ability levels. If you’ve never set foot on a rock wall before, hiring a guide is a safe way to try out the sport and you don’t have to worry about having all of the gear or knowledge to get off the ground. If you're a beginner climber, sign up for an intro to rock climbing course. You’ll learn the basic skills and techniques to get moving on the rock. If you’re an expert climber, consider taking a self rescue course and learn how to keep yourself and your climbing partner safe in the event that something goes wrong. Advanced climbers can also work with an experienced guide to accomplish specific goals or refine their technique.

If you're trying to plan a fun group activity for a wedding, corporate team building event, birthday party, family reunion, etc., go rock climbing in Truckee! You can work out group dynamics and teamwork on the rock, facilitated by expert guides. It's the perfect activity to get your group outside and enjoy some of Truckee's most stunning scenery.

What Do You Need for a Day of Climbing?

When you sign up for a guided climbing course, your guides take all the extra work out of it so you can focus on climbing and having a good time. They provide all of the climbing gear such as ropes, anchor gear, harness, helmet, climbing shoes, etc. For everything else, stop by one of Truckee's outdoor gear shops for all your climbing needs. Here is what you need to bring:

  1. Climbing clothes - Truckee outdoor gear shops have a great selection of climbing apparel, everything from UPF protective sun shirts to durable, lightweight climbing pants. Make sure to bring layers because weather can change quickly in the mountains!
  2. Water - It's so important to stay hydrated when you're spending a day outdoors. The intense sun on Donner Summit coupled with the altitude makes a great recipe for dehydration. Bring at least 2 liters of water in your Nalgene water bottle or a Camelbak bladder for a full day climbing. And don't forget about electrolytes! Nuun, Skratch Labs, and Tailwind Nutrition are great for a quick energy boost.
  3. Sunscreen - You should always protect yourself from the sun anytime you head outside for an adventure. Never forget to use sunscreen when you're spending a day outside, especially at this altitude, where the sun is much more intense. You might not burn at sea level, but at 7000 feet it's a whole other story!
  4. Snacks - It's a good idea to keep a few snacks in your pack, no matter what the adventure.

This post was published on the Tahoe Mountain Sports Blog.

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