Access Fund Conservation Team Tackles Dire Issues at Lover’s Leap

This summer, Access Fund and Climbing Resource Advocates of Greater Sacramento (CRAGS) broke ground on a comprehensive restoration of the Lover’s Leap climbing area just outside Lake Tahoe, California.

Lover's Leap in Strawberry, California, ancestral lands of the Central Sierra Miwok and Washoe.

For years, Lover’s Leap has been deteriorating under a dramatic increase in climber traffic. The area draws droves of climbers from the San Francisco, Sacramento, and South Lake Tahoe climbing communities, who visit to enjoy the many traditional, multipitch routes in a beautiful forested setting. However, no formal trail system was ever developed for climbing access, and visiting climbers have created an unstable system of access trails across the mountainside, trampling sensitive vegetation and causing severe erosion.

As climber impacts reach a tipping point, Access Fund has deployed its Conservation Team West crew to lead a comprehensive restoration effort to stabilize trails and belay areas. The crew worked alongside CRAGS volunteers and Eldorado National Forest staff until the area was closed due to wildfires, but they will be back when the snow melts to finish the job.

“The current conditions at Lover’s Leap are critically unsustainable,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund’s stewardship director. “We’re excited to get our Conservation Team working before these impacts are beyond repair.”

To complete this highly technical trail work, the Conservation Team crew will set up a series of highline systems to ferry large stone blocks from surrounding talus fields to more than a dozen different work sites across the mountain. These blocks will be cut to size, providing the essential natural-stone material for critical stabilization structures, like staircases and retaining walls.

The Conservation Team and volunteers will complete stabilization work across the entire Lover’s Leap climbing area, with a special focus on the popular and heavily impacted Lower Buttress, including the staging areas around Surrealistic Pillar and The Groove. They will work to stabilize the access trail leading to the top of the formation and to Dear John Buttress. The crew will then focus on building a sustainable access route on the north side of the Lower Buttress, improving access to the Main Wall. They will build a series of stone staircases and retaining walls to keep climbers on one, easily followed, hardened path.

Small groups of volunteers will provide essential labor to the Conservation Team’s efforts, while giving locals the opportunity to learn the necessary skills they’ll need to maintain Lover’s Leap well into the future. An AmeriCorps youth crew from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) will also assist in this effort. A crew of six young adults, invested in conservation and service, will contribute to the success of this project, giving the Conservation Team crew a strong, well-prepared, and committed workforce.

Access Fund, CRAGS, and the USFS are dedicated to providing a safe working environment for crews and volunteers and will be following all best practices and appropriate COVID-19 protocols. All three organizations are monitoring COVID-19 conditions and are preparing appropriately for any necessary changes in volunteer involvement or field operations.