Rock climbers on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore have united to form a new organization aiming to address local access, land stewardship and sustainability, among other issues.
The Tahoe Climbing Coalition, previously known as SLACk (South Lake Association of Climbers), formed late in 2018, with board members being named and official launch following this spring.
The absence of a local climbing advocacy group came as a surprise to Michael Habicht, 45, when he moved to South Lake Tahoe eight years ago.
After climbing and developing new routes locally, 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 and climber of nearly 30 years 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 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 government agencies and land managers to ensure that climbers have a sustainable future and remain an important part of Tahoe’s recreation scene.
“We’re getting ready to launch and start hosting events like adopt-a-crag,” Habicht said. “And we’re also working on our nonprofit status.”
Other board members include Doug Robinson, Gianna Leavers, Josh Welch, Jen Dawn and Alyssa Krag-Arnold.
For the time being, 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.”
The group does not plan on revisiting the Cave Rock access issue, according to Habicht. The Forest Service banned rock climbing there, while allowing other recreational uses, due to its sacred status in the Washoe Tribe.
The issue was contested in court over several years.
The Access Fund, a national rock climbing association based in Boulder, Colorado, filed the lawsuit in 2003 arguing that the Forest Service plan was unconstitutional.
In 2007, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Forest Service’s ban.
Local climbing legend 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.”
Regardless, Sell is thrilled with the creation of the new coalition. And, as he noted, there is no shortage of issues to address, including a lack of parking, managing crags, trash removal and insufficient signs and information on closures for birds.
“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 in 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 that could be used year round for backcountry travelers.
“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.”