Nevada County offers choice Sierra rock climbing |

Nevada County offers choice Sierra rock climbing

Matthew Renda
Staff Writer

Mike Carville. owner of South Yuba Club and a local climber, pulls a move on a moderate route on the Candyland cliff in the Bowman Valley.

Shhh. It's still a secret … but not for long.

The Bowman Valley, nestled in a nook of the Nevada County portion of the Tahoe National Forest, affords some of the most varied and high-quality rock climbing in the entire Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

And relatively nobody knows about it.

Unlike Yosemite National Park, where queuing climbers remind one of amusement park enthusiasts waiting in line for roller coasters, the Bowman Valley is nearly always sparsely populated.

The Bowman Valley will give regional sport climbers an opportunity to ply their craft in a spectacular environment.

Mike Carville, owner of the South Yuba Club and a local climber, has enlisted a handful of his climbing compatriots to establish more than 100 sport climbing routes of varying degrees of difficulty that ascend a myriad of steep cliffs in the area.

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No guidebook exists for the diverse area — yet.

Carville said a friend who helped him put in bolts on the array of climbs in the area is busy working on a comprehensive guidebook, slated for publication in 2014.

Once published, Carville said the profile of the climbing area will be increased due to the existence of beginner and moderate sport climbs.

"There are not a lot of moderate sport climbs in the Sierra," he said.

Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that uses permanent bolts and anchors as a form of protection for the climber.

The protection pieces are permanently affixed to the rock face.

The climber, who is tied to a rope and belayed from below by a partner, clips his rope into the pieces, which prevent an extended fall in the event of a slip.

The sport differs from traditional climbing, where the lead climber needs to place specially designed pieces of equipment into cracks of the rock for protection.

Removing that need to place protection means sport climbing emphasizes the gymnastic-like movements of advanced rock climbing, whereas traditional climbing emphasizes a spirit of alpine adventure and self-sufficiency.

Carville said the Sierra Nevada range, particularly Yosemite National Park, is the cradle of traditional climbing, whereas sport climbing blossomed in Europe.

The Bowman Valley will give regional sport climbers an opportunity to ply their craft in a spectacular environment.

For practitioners of rock climbing who reside in western Nevada County, the news is welcome, as the spot will be the closest rock-climbing playground to the Nevada City/Grass Valley area.

Also, Carville noted that sport climbing is typically established to provide access to difficult climbs, most of which are only feasible for the most elite climbers.

In the Bowman Valley, a plethora of beginner and moderate sport climbs are available, meaning people just starting out in the sport can gain experience, confidence and savvy in a fun and safe environment.

"I take my kids here," Carville said.

Sport climbing is also easier on the pocketbook as it requires a significantly less upfront investment than traditional climbing.

A dynamic rope, a set of quickdraws, a belay device, a climbing harness, climbing shoes and a chalk bag is all that is required to begin. A helmet is also recommended.

To reach the Bowman Valley, head east on Highway 20 until you reach Bowman Lake Road. About 13 miles from the intersection, a chain of cliffs unfolds to the right. Climbers will have to eyeball which climbs seem compatible with their ability level until a guidebook is published.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call 530-477-4239.

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