Adventure / Rock Climbing / Travel

Rock Climbing Donner Summit

rock climbing

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing has been on my adventure list for the last few years. I have been interested in learning to rock climb and Donner Summit is only 45 minutes from my house in the mountains of Northern California. I always see people hanging on for dear life from the rocks (or so I thought) when I drove by, and I  wondered if it would be something that I could accomplish.

It took me a while to get up the nerve to do the necessary research to find a reputable company to work with which would suit my needs. As I researched Aplenglow Expeditions, I saw they offered a variety of packages, starting with an Introduction to Rock Climbing Class. I knew the class would be perfect for me, as I had never even climbed a rock wall before!

Alpenglow Expeditions offers a small group class which was perfect for my daughter Celeena, my friend Jennifer, her son Benton, and myself. With only four of us in the group, we had very specialized attention for the entire day!

Our Guide Nolan

Nolan and Jennifer belaying Benton.
Nolan and Jennifer belaying Benton.

We met our guide Nolan at 8:30 a.m. on a warm Tuesday morning. He introduced us to the Nursery Slabs, which is a huge slab for beginners. It is rated 5.3 (5.0-5.4 is a steep section with good holds). He taught us about the technique we would be using that day called Top Roping. First, he would secure a rope at the top of the rock with anchors. Then, we would climb up using the rope as our teammate was belaying us from the ground below. He taught us the figure eight knot and how our harness system worked. We were each taught the skill of belaying. It’s a critical responsibility, and requires some technique. We needed to keep the rope comfortably supportive for our climber, for if they fell, it was up to us to apply the brake and keep them from dropping.

Nolan taught us that rock climbing really involves placing the feet properly, so we didn’t need to use so much strength in our arms and shoulders. I had been under the impression that it would be more about pulling my body up the rock with the strength of my arms, so it was a relief to know I was wrong!

Climb #1 Nursery Slabs

rock climbing
Nolan giving us instruction on belaying and climbing.

Climbing the first wall was so much fun, as it had some good options for placing our hands and feet. We had to learn to trust our climbing shoes. They had excellent traction on the wall. Also, because they were tight and narrow we could fit our feet into small crevices.

After we felt comfortable with two different routes on the Nursery Slabs, Nolan felt we were ready for something more difficult.

Climb #2 School Rock, Kindergarten Crack Right Side

rock climbing
I may look like a starfish climbing the crack.

We gathered our gear and backpacks and took a short hike to another set of rocks called School Rock. He took us to the right side at Kindergarten Crack, rated 5.6 (5.5-5.7 indicates steep vertical with good holds).

By this time it must have been about 11:00 a.m. It was blazing hot and we were all sweating like crazy. Nolan taught us about crack climbing, and explained the technique we would be using with our hands and feet. This involved turning the foot and placing it in a crack as a wedge and anchoring it. We were then able to put all of our weight on that one anchored foot.

This climb was a lot harder for us. Well, not for Benton. He scooted up that face of rock and made it look easy! Celeena, Jennifer and I took a bit more time and really had to focus on the placement of our hands and feet. Jennifer and I even got stuck at the same place for a while. Even though we wanted to give up, we didn’t! I only needed to move my foot up six inches, but it felt like six feet. All of my muscles were shaking and I had to use every part of my body to hang onto the wall. I even used my face to press against the rock and Celeena said I looked like a starfish!

We ended up all making it to the top of that climb. It was so challenging and felt like a crazy accomplishment!

Break Time

We were exhausted and ready for lunch, so Nolan found us a nice shady spot in the trees to eat our food. He told us about some of the different climbs in the Donner Summit area. There are 22 climbing sections with hundreds of routes. He explained they can accommodate all levels of climbers. The solid granite slabs and cracks are easily accessible for the most part, and there are no fees or permits needed to climb there.

After we re-hydrated and had our meal, Nolan asked us what we liked so far and what we wanted to do next. We all agreed that our second climb was so hard and maybe we could try one that was not quite as technical.

Green Phantom

rock climbing Donner
Celeena climbing Green Phantom.

We hiked back to our cars and drove one minute down the road to Rainbow Bridge. We hiked just below the bridge and Nolan set up our top rope. Then, we hiked down the hill and around the rocks to our starting point at the bottom.

This climb was called Green Phantom and our section was rated 5.6. We took turns climbing this route which involved some challenging crack climbing near the top. It didn’t seem as difficult as the previous climb, maybe because we had more energy after lunch. The views from above Donner Lake were spectacular. It was such a beautiful place to be spending the day. I couldn’t believe I was finally one of those people climbing on the rocks! And, I wasn’t terrified!


rock climbing
That first step back is a tough one!

At the end of our day, Nolan taught us to rappel. This is where we had all of the control of our rope and could go as slowly or quickly down the face of the rock as we wished. Jennifer really had to be mentally  strong to make herself step backward off that ledge. I was so proud of my friend for conquering her fear that day! There was definitely more of a fear factor involved by starting at the top!

rock climbing
Jennifer rappels down.

As we packed up at 3:30 p.m. to head home, we talked with Nolan about how the day went. Rock climbing was so much harder than we had imagined, and a lot more technical. He said we picked up on it really well, and suggested we spend some time at an indoor rock climbing gym to improve our strength and technique.

Hopefully we can take another lesson from Nolan. We learned so much from him that day and are ready to learn more!

A huge thank you to Alpenglow Expeditions, as I was their guest. As always, all opinions are my own.

To find out more about the many adventures they offer, please visit their website.

You can also find them under #adventuredoneright on social media.



14 thoughts on “Rock Climbing Donner Summit

  1. I love rock climbing! I haven’t gone in years, but this post brought back some wonderful memories! I would love to do the Green Phantom climb sometime…those lake views sound amazing! Your pictures are so much fun too! 🙂

  2. Yes, it was amazing! Donner Summit is in the mountains of Northern California near the town of Truckee.
    Thank you for pointing that out, it needs to be clear where this is. 🙂

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