The amazing thing about being a climber is the Bay Area is the availability of places to get outside. If you’re looking to move from clipping bolts to placing your own gear, the Bay has some absolutely beautiful areas for you to learn these skills. But these aren’t just any old crags where you can plug gear into a wall; some are quite honestly world-class. So here are the top five I’d recommend, from just getting started and learning to place gear to getting your full-on multi-pitch adventure going.
It’s crucial when you’re learning to place gear that your first step is following an experienced partner to see how proper placements are made, and to get feedback on your own placements. I’d also recommend picking up your own copy of the “climbing Bible,” “The Freedom of the Hills,” for more detail. Then once you’re ready to go place your own pro on your own, here are my top five personal favorites near the Bay:
Stop one on our Learn-to-Trad Tour is Pinnacles National Monument (around 2.5 hours from the Bay Area), where the sheer amount of climbing available from bouldering to multi-pitch makes it a must-visit. While some folks find the volcanic rock sketchy, there are some beautiful and well-protected lines perfect for a new climber looking to plug cams and nuts into the wall. Discovery Wall has some beautiful single and baby multi-pitch cracks you can link to some bolted face climbing (it’s just two to three pitches). So you can lie back, get your jams in, and then pull on some interesting face climbing.
‘Swallow Crack’ 5.6 is where you should start. This beautiful beginner’s route takes you up a comfortable but long line to the top of Discovery Wall. Once you’re a bit more comfortable with your gear, ‘Ordeal’ is a beautiful 5.8 that has one fixed pin and a few bolts, but requires gear. It’s a fun lie back, and when you’re finished you can rappel off the bolts at the top of the pitch.
‘Jorgie’s Crack’ 5.9 is another phenomenal line, but can be a bit slick. You can also link to the top of Discovery Wall with a short 5.10b that traverses left off the anchors called ‘Jorgie’s Crack Continuation’ and provides a nice little bit of exposure as you top out with some technical face moves. The traversing is a bit awkward, but it’s an awesome line.
Check out Brad Young’s Pinnacles Guidebook in our gear shop for more route beta!
#4 The Grotto
About an hour short of Yosemite and two hours east of the Bay you’ll find the Grotto. It’s a beautiful little conundrum of a climbing area with the base of the climbs beginning in a small shaded pit. Huge basalt columns that look like they belong on an alien planet tower above you into an overhanging and gnarly face that’s bolted for several stout sport climbs. You’ve probably heard of the Grotto’s better-known sister ‘Gold Wall,’ right next door.
‘Table Manners’ 5.9 is a fun stem-y lead with easy placements. It’s a great leg workout that gives you ample time to nail your placements. ‘Go with the Flow’ makes another great lead at 5.9, with nice hands and easy rests and stances. After a long day, the view hiking out isn’t half bad either.
#3 Lover’s Leap
If you need an excuse to get to Tahoe, look no further than Lover’s Leap, which has a whole host of climbs for the new and enthusiastic trad climber. The unique granite dikes of the leap offer over 150 different routes to choose from, and that’s just roped routes. There’s a ton of bouldering in the area to check out as well.
‘Corrugation Corner’ and ‘Surrealistic Pillar,’ both 5.7 (though ‘Surrealistic Pillar’ has a 5.10a variation), are awesome three-pitch climbs with a variety of nice features and climbing. Up both to make it a six-pitch day and experience your first truly exposed hanging belay.
The beautifully exposed wall is an absolute classic and provides a ton of friendly and inviting lines. Planet Granite San Francisco’s Team Coach and routesetter Ryan Honda was happy to share his photos of these lines. Enjoy the view.
#2/#1 Yosemite National Park: Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley
This probably doesn’t surprise you, but for some strange reason, if you didn’t know, well, Yosemite is the Kingdom of Granite that every trad climber dreams of. There’s a reason why climbers from all around the world come here for weeks—even months—at time. The possibilities are endless.
The wealth of classic climbs, from beginner to finger-popping hard, combined with the sheer beauty of the valley itself and the beautifully alpine Tuolumne Meadows makes Yosemite National Park my easy number two and number one. I’m breaking it up into two separate areas because, frankly, there is just so much beautiful granite available. Let’s start in Tuolumne for our number two.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to throw yourself at the Dawn Wall to enjoy trad in the valley. Classics like Tuolumne’s Cathedral Peak 5.6 provide a great and forgiving climb with a beautiful alpine finish, but make sure you start early to avoid the crowds. The lines of beautiful cracks and spots for you to place make this climb a breeze. Just a little fun fact for you if at any point you start feeling squeamish—John Muir did this climb in some old boots without a rope.
Let’s head back to Yosemite Valley for our clear-cut number one. Sometimes the crux of your day is the approach rather than the climb, so part of the beauty of the valley is a lot of great climbs with little to no approach.
Bishop’s Terrace (5.8), is exactly one of those and wonderful first lead for a new trad climber. A five-minute walk from your car, with beautiful views of the valley, this 150-foot climb will leave you begging for more perfect jams. The views and the bomber hand jams make this a beautiful classic climb for newbie to veteran alike.
This is a one very long pitch, so you’ll need two ropes to rappel off.
And last but certainly not least, we head back to Tuolumne Meadows to add one of my personal favorite routes. ‘On the Lamb’ (5.9) is not exactly beginner-friendly, but once you’re ready for it, this aesthetic climb provides one of the most unique routes in Yosemite National Park.
Your first pitch takes you up class 4 to near the top of Lamb Dome. The last four pitches, you’ll traverse across the right face of the dome, completely exposed, along a beautiful and positive horizontal hand crack. It’s a popular climb for parties and soloers too and I’ve seen literal traffic jams on this route.
The climb is like no other in the valley and worth the wait. It’s also the spot for one of the most iconic soloing pictures of climbing legend John Bachar. Just make sure you wear shoes that smear comfortably. Not doing so is a mistake I’ve made in the past and regretted.
And with that I’ll leave you with the view that made me fall in love with Tuolumne Meadows. Get out there and get after it!
Warning! Rock climbing is dangerous and there is inherent risk in all forms of this sport. The comments in this blog do not necessarily represent the thoughts or ideas of Planet Granite. The information provided is one person’s opinion of how these climbs worked for them; treat it as such. The information provided may contain mistakes therefore we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided; it may be incorrect or misleading. This is not a substitute for a professional climbing instructor. This is not an instructional post; do not use it as one. If you have any doubts about your ability to climb this route, do not try it. You must use your own judgment when choosing, approaching, climbing or descending from this route and please seek a professional guide for instruction or information.
Words and Photos by Reinhard Cate. Additional Photos by Ryan Honda.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Reinhard Cate is a Planet Granite Instructor, graduate student, and a freelance multimedia journalist. His work has appeared in Alpinist Magazine, BBC World News, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, New York Daily News, and Santa Clara Magazine. He is currently pursuing a M.S. in International and Development Economics at the University of San Francisco.