The Weekenders

Rock Climb Near Mammoth Lakes

Jul 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

The spread-eagle shuffle: rock climbing at its finest

Yosemite is the obvious California climbing choice. But for a change of rock—and an atmosphere that's welcoming for climbers of all ages and abilities—try the Mammoth Lakes area. Clark Canyon, with its 60-plus midgrade climbs, easy access (most routes are a ten-minute hike from the parking lot), and jaw-dropping views of the nearby Sierra, is a choice spot for families. No wafer-thin geological hiccups here; the rock in Clark Canyon is volcanic tuff, so your kids will have plenty of solid holds to wrap their fingers and toes around.

Ellie Hawkins, owner of California Rock, has been guiding and teaching in the region for 30 years, with clients from rank amateurs (dads who don't know a carabiner from a carburetor; kids who've skipped rocks, but never climbed them) to the totally rock savvy. Arrange to meet Ellie at Mammoth Mountaineering Supplies in downtown Mammoth Lakes on Saturday morning, and then it's off for the 40-minute ride, most of it on dirt roads, to the spectacular orange canyon with 200-foot walls.
Hawkins knows climbing and she knows kids. "I go slow and let the confidence build," she says. "But kids never cease to amaze. In no time they're ready for Lil' Squirt [5.7], then Rock Candy [5.8]." Because the climbs are all one-pitch, turns in the family climbing rotation come satisfyingly quickly.

At night, you'll camp under cottonwood trees just outside the canyon and listen to Hawkins weave her climbing tales around a crackling fire—if it's not too dry, of course.

WHO CAN GO: If the kid can walk, the kid can climb. Hawkins's youngest client was three.
COST: $100 per person per day for overnight trips, gear and instruction included. Pick up groceries at Von's market in town before you head out.
CONTACT: California Rock, 760-366-2301;