California’s Lover’s Leap On The Brink

Lover’s Leap outside Tahoe, California has been deteriorating under a dramatic increase in climber traffic. This popular granite climbing area saw its first ascent in 1950 and is now home to over 180 climbing routes, including Travelers Buttress—one of the 50 classic climbs in America. The area draws droves of climbers from the San Francisco, Sacramento, and South Lake Tahoe climbing communities who appreciate the many traditional, multi-pitch routes in a beautiful forested setting. However, climber impacts have reached a tipping point.

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

“The lack of infrastructure and heavy use at Lover’s Leap have led to impacts that are nearly beyond repair,” says Samantha Heacock, former Executive Director of CRAGS. “The only way to get ahead of this situation is by bringing in professional trail crews.”

No formal trail system was ever developed for Lover’s Leap, and visiting climbers have created an unstable web of access trails across the mountainside, trampling sensitive vegetation and causing severe erosion in the loose granitic soils. Haphazard belay areas are also crumbling and becoming highly unstable. These issues not only threaten the ecosystem within the Eldorado National Forest, but they frustrate visiting climbers and have potential to hinder emergency response teams who need quick, direct, and stable access to the area.

“The current conditions at Lover’s Leap are critically unsustainable,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund’s Stewardship Director. “We’ve reached the tipping point and we need to act now before these impacts are beyond repair.”

The restoration needs at Lover’s Leap are extensive. The most pressing need is to establish a formalized and sustainable trail system, with hardened surfaces, retaining walls, stone steps, and erosion control measures. Multiple sections of trail need to be rerouted and redundant “social” trails need to be closed and revegetated. Wayfinding signage needs to be installed to keep climbers on trail and minimize impacts to the environment. Belay areas also need to be reinforced, hardened, and stabilized to provide safe and sustainable access to the climbs.

Access Fund and CRAGS created a detailed stewardship plan to address the critical issues at Lover’s Leap and have been working with the US Forest Service (USFS) to secure necessary environmental clearances through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, a requirement on all Federally managed lands. This restoration plan was approved by the USFS last fall.

Access Fund will be investing significant resources starting this year to address critical stability concerns at Lover’s Leap. The Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team will lead the initiative to restore trails and staging areas, working closely with the US Forest Service and CRAGS. But we need climbers’ help.

Restore Lover's Leap

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to address these critical stewardship needs and restore Lover’s Leap. Access Fund is shovel-ready, but we need the community’s help to raise $100,000 to cover trail crews and supplies.
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What’s Wrong With This Photo

This photo at the base of Lover’s Leap shows the extreme erosion and degradation caused by concentrated use. The organic matter, known as “duff”, that once covered this area has been completely pulverized, allowing the sandy soils beneath to be continually displaced by rain and foot traffic. Notice the white color at the bottom of the cliff face—we call this the “bath tub” ring—and it shows where the ground/soil level was before people began climbing here.

Right now, the exposed tree roots and large rocks that you see in the photo are the only things preventing further loss of soil. However, these exposed roots will eventually rot and break, allowing rapid soil loss that will send those large rocks down the hill. Whatever soil was being held by the rocks will also slide down the slope, leaving the staging area several feet lower than it is in this photo. To avoid this ongoing cycle, the staging area needs to be stabilized with retaining walls and back-filled with soil. And stone stairs need to be constructed to direct climber traffic onto durable surfaces to avoid continued damage