Scaling new heights Local experts share tips for safe and fun rock climbing adventures around Tahoe

Rock climbing season is fast approaching in North Lake Tahoe-Truckee and is, arguably, one of the scariest and most gratifying sports around; a truly life-changing experience.

From indoor gyms to outdoor rock faces, climbers of any age and skill level have several options to take their technique to the next level in a safe, controlled environment that allows them to push their boundaries.

The Sierra Sun caught up with local experts from North American Ski Training & Climbing (NASTC) and from Alpine Skills International (ASI) to learn the best practices to safely climb your way to new heights.


Participating in a guided climb is the safest and most cost-effective way to get your feet wet. Each of the schools has highly trained, professional guides who ensure a safe, fun and smooth progression through rock climbing.

"You want to hire a guide for your first lesson if you're climbing real rocks, and the reason for that is there's a lot of equipment involved," said Jenny Fellows, who founded NASTC in 1994 with her husband, Chris Fellows.

"Before deciding to dive into the sport you can test it out with a guide school, rent the harness, slippers, chalk bag, group gear and helmet and the school provides all of the ropes, hardware and everything else needed."

NASTC brings climbers to Donner Summit, one of the world's top rock climbing areas featuring beautiful granite rock faces. Fellows emphasized the importance of safety when learning to climb.

"I'd say a step-by-step progression is important when learning; we firmly believe the progression plants the seed for safe and fun rock climbing," she said.

Fellows said kids naturally make fantastic climbers and NASTC recommends climbing for kids starting with a half-day adventure. Guided climbing activities allow people to enjoy the outdoors while motivating and supporting family and friends.

ASI brings climbers to local climbing zones as well as rocks all over the world. They believe that though accidents can happen they are completely preventable and echoed the same safety and cost saving perks, "I think people should be introduced to it correctly with a guide or an instructor because it can be a dangerous sport," said Mimi Valdasz, owner of ASI since 1979.

"Once you're outside and don't have someone who knows how good an anchor is you're trusting someone who doesn't have that knowledge and anything can happen; but if you're trained properly you'll safely be able to have fun and keep others safe," she said.

Another important component of learning any new sport is building confidence through doing. Guided tours offer people the chance to slowly attempt new challenges.

"It's a supportive environment," Valdasz said. "You can see if climbing is something you like, rather than scaring someone away. Saying 'let's just go hang off a rope' is like saying, 'let's just go hike up the Palisades, you can do it!' …No, you need to build up to it and gain confidence, you get better, feel better and look at life differently."


"For those who climb, we teach multi-pitch climbing, learning to lead clinics, anchor-building clinics, women-only clinics and other advanced, specialized climbing programs," Fellows said.

NASTC understands the popularity of rock climbing in North Lake Tahoe, so their guides know where to take climbers of any level to help get them away from the crowds.

ASI also offers additional clinics in anchoring, aiding, multi-pitch climbing on Mt. Whitney and self-rescue programs.

"We like to be in the mountains; our philosophy at ASI is skills-oriented, more of a global picture," Valdasz said. "We teach our clients so they can apply their skills anywhere; it really opens the world to them because they know what they're doing."


The primary focus of outdoor activities especially in this region is to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility for natural resources. When people learn a new skill and accomplish goals in a natural setting, they become environmental stewards doing their part to keep the area pristine.

"Our ulterior motive is to make people environmental stewards," Valdasz said.

The secondary focus of outdoor activities is to build confidence and be part of a community.

Valdasz said her team treats newbies the same as seasoned climbers, "It's not about what you've climbed, but the support and beauty of learning the sport and being outside, being proud of yourself; [you'll find yourself saying] 'I can't believe I did that, I'm going to ask that girl out!'"

Rock climbing requires just as much mental focus as it does physical stamina. NASTC and ASI encourage people to learn correctly, challenge themselves and become part of this trusting, supportive community.

"We have a lifestyle, we've been in it forever and it's just wonderful," Valdasz said.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.

Photos courtesy of North American Ski Training & Climbing (NASTC) and from Alpine Skills International (ASI)


Photos courtesy of North American Ski Training & Climbing (NASTC) and from Alpine Skills International (ASI)

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