Tahoe Daily Tribune — A Side Walk in the Sky

Chris takes in the view on a stroll throught the sky

“Hey dude, what are you doin’ Sunday.” That’s how the conversation started.

“Sleepin’ in,” came the gruff response through the phone.

“You sure you don’t want to go climbing?” I bounced back. “When’s the last time you were on a rope?”

I knew he hadn’t climbed for over a month and that he was working long hours. But, I was hoping that a little prodding would soften my brother’s resolve. Besides, I had a climb in mind I knew he wouldn’t want to miss – no matter how tired.

I argued the merits of my plan and he negotiated for a later departure time. The hook was set. We finally decided to leave at 10 AM.

“Good,” he said. “Then I’ll be ready at 10:30 since you’re always late.”

This sort of back and forth isn’t at all uncommon while in the planning process. Whether it’s a bike ride, a climb or just where to go swimming, there is always some level of debate and compromise that transpires between the interested parties. That’s just the way it goes with these things.

I have employed and endured harsh tactics in the efforts to recruit a partner for an adventure. Guilt-trips are cast over the uncommitted with statements like: “Oh come on! We never get to hang out any more.” Or, insults like: “You getting soft on me old man?” Worse yet is the “you should have been there” tactic of rubbing a great time in a friend’s face after the fact. That one really hurts, but is none-the-less quite effective under the right circumstances.

Luckily these base manipulations were nipped in the bud. I had for some time wanted to climb the North Ridge off of Eagle Lake Buttress and this is had I proposed. The thought of traversing a long, fifth-class granite ridge top, high above the lake was just too appealing for petty squabbles.

Eagle Lake Buttress and N. Ridge

This type of climbing, known as ridge traversing, is somewhat unique to California due to the geology of our mountains. The rock of the the Sierra is predominately granite. As such, the rock is often fantastically solid and reliable. This allows one to move laterally across the long fins of blocky rock that connect peaks together in technically moderate, yet lengthy routes.

Simple and continuous, ridge traversing is probably the most efficient way to push one’s limits of endurance. However, that is not its only appeal. Often described as sidewalks in the sky, these routes essentially keep a climber on the apex of the feature all day.

Peter Croft, a prolific climber, guide and writer who makes his home in Bishop, CA, is known for his passion for ridge traversing. In an interview for Fifty Favorite Climbs, by Mark Kroese, Croft says: “Normally, you do a route, get to the summit – the prettiest place of all – and then you just go back down to the valley. But when you do a ridge traverse, it’s like being on the summit all day.”

And so it was that my brother and I made our way up the Eagle lake trail in search of an all day summit. At the lake we turned north and headed up towards Eagle Lake Buttress. Still moist, benches in the granite were bursting with wild flowers. Shortly we found ourselves at the base of the buttress – the gateway to the ridge route.

A couple of vertical pitches and we were at our first summit. We took a short break and looked across the knife edge ridge that stretched out in front of us. Towers, fins, blocks and diving board-like features give the ridge it character. Too excited to sit idle for a moment longer, we shortened the rope and started simul-climbing.

The ridge runs for around a half mile and at its end, we had had our fill. Once we made it down to the parking lot, we looked back up the canyon at the route. What a feature! Peter Croft describes it best: “Its about the most basic type of mountaineering you can think of. To a nonclimber who is trying to understand what I’m doing, I can say ‘see that ridge of jagged mountains there? That’s it. I start at the beginning and go to the end.’”

Next time you drive the west shore of the lake heading north on the narrow road between Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake, look up Eagle Creek canyon’s right side and the beautiful North Ridge will immediately draw your eye. That’s it! Tahoe’s own sidewalk in the sky.


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