South Shore climbers band together to form Tahoe Climbing Coalition
by Bill Rozak
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Rock climbers on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore have united to form a new organization that will address, among other issues, local access, land stewardship and sustainability.
The Tahoe Climbing Coalition, previously known as SLACk (South Lake Association of Climbers), was formed late in 2018, the board members were named in March and the group will hold a launch party at 6 p.m., May 4, at South Lake Brewing Company.
Michael Habicht, 45, who has climbed for nearly 30 years, was surprised when he moved to South Lake Tahoe eight years ago that there was no local advocacy group already in place.
After climbing locally, and developing new routes since he’s been here, Habicht figured he’d try to get something started.
“I have friends who are advocates on the national level and I just threw out an email with some enthusiasm,” said Habicht, an emergency physician at Barton Health who was voted in as the TCC board’s inaugural president. “I don’t think I’m central to climbing here by any means — but I was surprised when 50 people showed up for the first meeting.”
The Tahoe Climbing Coalition’s stated mission is to protect and improve climbing around Lake Tahoe through land stewardship and local mentorship.
The group is planning to clean up local climbing destinations, improve existing equipment, such as replacing old bolts, and working with land managers to ensure that climbers have a sustainable future as an important part of Lake Tahoe recreation.
“We’re getting ready to launch and start hosting events like adopt-a-crag,” Habicht said. “And we’re also working on our non-profit status.”
Other board members include Doug Robinson, Gianna Leavers, Josh Welch, Jen Dawn and Alyssa Krag-Arnold.
As of right now, it’s a South Shore-based group, but it could expand around the entire lake.
“It is still up in the air,” Habicht said. “We will focus on South Lake Tahoe and branch out as resources allow. With the population center and the Forest Service here, it’s a great place to start. We are looking forward to improving climbing in Lake Tahoe, working with the local land managers and maintaining a world class climbing destination for future generations.”
Habicht said the group does not plan on revisiting the Cave Rock access issue where the Forest Service banned rock climbing while allowing other recreational uses, due to the Washoe tribe considering it sacred.
The issue was contested in court over several years.
The Access Fund, a national rock climbing association based in Boulder, Colo., filed the lawsuit in 2003 arguing that the Forest Service plan is unconstitutional.
In 2007, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal and upheld the Forest Service’s ban.
Longtime local climber Jay Sell remembers the whole back and forth and said it wouldn’t matter if a local coalition had existed back then.
“Some climbers are bummed that it’s closed, because it’s a unique kind of rock for Tahoe, but we have to respect the Washoe,” said Sell, 52, who’s been establishing routes and bouldering areas in Lake Tahoe since 1983. “It’s sacred to them and climbers have a lot of respect, so it’s good that it closed.”
Sell is thrilled climbers have joined to form a united front and is excited to start working on projects, like lack of parking at crags, signage and information on closures for birds among other things and garbage removal.
“I’m excited that we’ll have an organization that can work with other agencies,” Sell said. “We can start cleaning up the crags and get the garbage out of here. We have all kinds of ideas. There’s never been anything going on Tahoe like this forever. We can make climbing better and more sustainable.”
Five years down the road Sell hopes the group can rally for parking and accomplish some projects like putting in a bathroom near the Meyers slab, a popular area with limited parking as well, that could be used year round for backcountry travelers.
The coalition is inviting everybody to the launch party that will feature special guest Ethan Pringle, a world renowned climber.
Pringle will present a slideshow and answer questions about his expedition last summer to Greenland.
He’ll share stories from his mission to send one of the biggest unclimbed towers in the world, and all the heinous obstacles the crew of five guys encountered, including arctic black flies, sketchy rockfall, yawning crevasses, polar bears and getting stuck in sea ice for days.
The cost to become a member of the coalition ranges from $20-$60.
For information, visit http://www.tahoeclimbingcoalition.org.
“We have a core group of big name supporters right now,” Habicht said. “There are some access issues, we could be better land stewards and also do things to make it more sustainable, and nobody is doing it right now. Somebody has to spearhead this because if we don’t advocate for ourselves, nobody else will.”