Key climbing area at Donner Summit purchased by land trust

Climbing routes on Donner Summit offer stunning views of Donner Lake and the Sierra Crest.
Climbing routes on Donner Summit offer stunning views of Donner Lake and the Sierra Crest. Truckee Donner Land Trust

Faced with the closure of an iconic granite wall at Donner Summit, Truckee-area rock climbers banded together to raise $300,000 to purchase and manage nearly 12 acres of private land prized by the climbing community.

The acquisition, announced last week by the Truckee Donner Land Trust, protects the craggy, 400-foot Black Wall, the largest rock formation at Donner Summit in an area with wide vistas of Donner Lake and bracing stands of pine and alder.

“This land is just too big and too important and too iconic of a climbing area to leave it at risk,” said Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.

The land west of Truckee has been privately owned since the 1800s and has been popular among beginning and advanced climbers. But access to Black Wall and the surrounding rock faces was threatened in 2013 when San Francisco-based landowner Rusty Davenport expressed liability concerns, Norris said.

The climbing community raised $300,000, spending $160,000 to purchase the land and devoting the balance toward an endowment for management of the property. Much of that money will pay for installation of trails and trailheads, Norris said.

“I believe that it was mostly unknown to many climbers that these crags were on private property,” said Reno-based climber Erik Moore.

The Black Wall is Moore’s favorite climb at Donner Summit, a testament to past decisions allowing climbers access to the land.

“If the landowners had restricted the land ... it would have inhibited the history of Donner Summit as a climbing area,” he said.

Two local gyms in the area, Planet Granite and Touchstone Climbing, were instrumental in raising money. The land acquisition also will protect trail access to popular climbing areas such as Space Wall and Stealth Wall.

But the purchase will benefit more than just climbers, Norris said.

“With this purchase, we’re hoping to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly trail system,” he said.

As part of the acquisition, the Truckee Donner Land Trust will convert paths forged by climbers into more hiker-friendly trails.

“Climbing trails tend to take the most direct path between A and B,” Norris said. “These kinds of trails are often way too steep and prone to erosion.”

In acquiring the property, the Truckee Donner Land Trust will add 11.9 acres to the more than 300 acres it owns in the region. Access Fund, a Boulder, Colo.-based national climbing advocacy group, will maintain a permanent conservation easement on the Black Wall property. That group sees the land purchase as one of the key land purchases for climbers in the West.

“This may be only 11 acres, but it’s important because it also includes climbing walls like Peanut Gallery and Road Cut,” said Joe Sambataro of Access Fund.

The Black Wall face is a prime destination for climbers with its approximately 50 climbing routes. In total, more than 75 routes will be preserved for climbers as a result of the land purchase, Sambataro said.

Edward Ortiz: 916-321-1071, @edwardortiz