The Line (5.9), Lover’s Leap, California
“I wish some day to make a route, and from the summit let fall a drop of water, and this is where my route will have gone,” said Emilio Comici, the great Italian climber who later coined the term “direttissima.”
It seems The Line, at Lover’s Leap in the south Lake Tahoe region of California, formed from Comici’s vision; it defines “splitter crack,” rising without curving, until disappearing into the pines. After 15 minutes along the old Pony Express Trail, you’ll notice Lover’s Leap, a sheer granodiorite cliff stretching nearly one half-mile from end to end, blazened with a boxwork of horizontal dikes — or sills — on exceptional, surreal rock.
Aside from the first 15 feet of spicy face climbing (5.9), the route eats gear (up to 2.5 inches) for its entire three pitches, though these pitches are long and the rests are few. Stem, jam, and layback with an occasional dynamic move to jugs (protruding pizza-box sills) leading to the first belay stance. Save some small/medium cams or nuts for the anchor; in this era of retro-bolted routes, you must craft your own belays on The Line. Pitch two brings more stemming as you navigate a 5.8 bulge into steeper territory, still following gravity’s path. Pitch three (5.8), roughly 60 feet long, climbs through huge, horizontal jugs to the overhanging finish and a spectacular view.
When summitting this supernal route, you’ll undoubtedly feel overwhelmed, just as TM Herbert (the famed climber and notorious wordsmith behind Don Lauria’s “Letters from Herbert,” Climbing No. 119) and Doug Tompkins did when they plucked The Line’s first ascent, in 1966. (It was freed by Tom Higgins and Frank Sarnquist two years later.) Its quality of rock and singular path, extending 400 feet from cliff base to summit overhangs, is a true direttissima, just as Comici dreamt.
> Guidebooks South Lake Tahoe Climbing, by Chris McNamara; Rock Climbing Lake Tahoe, by Mike Carville
> Guide Services Lover’s Leap Guides; (530) 318-2939, loversleap.net
> Gear Tahoe Sports Ltd.; (530) 542-4000, tahoesportsltd.com
Five Classics Near The Line:
Bear’s Reach (5.7)Follow flake systems up the center of the East Wall through two belays (P1-good belay ledge, P2-Bushy Ledge belay), and finish via the dike, leading to a ramp to the top.
Surrealistic Pillar (5.7) Start to the left of Crud Gullly, following the big crack on the main pillar that leads slightly left into another big crack to a good belay. The next pitch will lead you up about twenty feet, then into a traverse that leads you around the corner to a bunch of sills and easier climbing. Belay off a smaller ledge above (look for a large knob). Easy climbing above finishes the route.
Traveler Buttress (5.9) Another must-do for the area, TB climbs the longest line at Lover’s Leap. Start on Tombstone Ledge, climbing the parallel cracks to some roofs. Keep to the left on this pitch, climbing up to Main Ledge for the belay. Next climb the tenuous crack, finding a belay at the ramp near the top. Climb into the arete, and into a belay ledge (up and left) near a prominent rib. Follow sills for two more pitches to the top.
Corrugation Corner (5.7) This climb has three variations: 5.7, 5.8, and a 5.9. The 5.7 version climbs into the large corner off Main Ledge, left through a ceiling then into a belay to the right in the main corner of the climb. Follow this corner for a little while, working left into some cracks that lead to the base of chimney. Get into the chimney, traversing right when it begins to spit you out on a sill to the corner. This corner will lead to a belay at a sill. Finish on easy climbing through steep terrain.
Haystack Crack (5.8) Just another classic for the area. This route starts far left on the East Wall following a beautiful, right-facing dihedral to a roof at the halfway point. Another long crack pitch leads to a good belay ledge. Run through the crux roof (stay in the corner) to the top. Pro: small to medium cams and stoppers.
East Wall (5.6) Uses smaller pro (up to 2.5 inches) to climb up prominent sills. Begin in the dihedral to the left of The Line at about the middle of the East Wall of Lover’s Leap. Pitch two belays on a huge ledge at the top of the dihedral. Work a large flake into a crack above it, finishing the pitch at a smaller belay at using a horn. Traverse left on more sills to the Bushy Ledge belay. From here, traverse right on good, obvious flakes to another good belay ledge. Finish up and left on sills to a ramp that leads to the top.
Rack Beta for The Line: small to medium cams, stoppers up to 2.5 inches, and slings.