Guide to Bay Area Climbing Groups

When I first started climbing in 2004, I knew no one that climbed and all my friends thought I was completely insane.  I relied a lot on guided trips to gain skills and experience, but that was expensive and the fabulous people I met on those trips were scattered around the country.  In the years since, I have slowly built a network of great climbing partners, many of whom I have met through local organizations.

As I often get the question “How can I meet climbing partners?”, I thought I would write this brief guide to Bay Area climbing organizations and provide my personal perspective on them.  I welcome others’ perspectives on these groups as well as any groups I may be missing.

American Alpine Club Sierra Nevada Section – this regional section of the AAC is chock full of super experienced climbers who are also very social.  It can be difficult to break into the AAC community as you need to attend one of the periodic events such as the Pinecrest Climb In or the ice climbing weekend at the Lost Trail Lodge, but as a climbing groupie, I appreciate the opportunity to meet legendary climbers such as Royal Robbins, Jack Tackle, and Allen Steck.  They also have a great annual holiday dinner at Spengers in Berkeley.  The AAC offers many other great member benefits such as Global Rescue insurance for the nominal $75, but you can sign up and attend most of the events as a non-member as well.

Legendary Fred Beckey and Allen Steck at the annual holiday dinner

Annual ice climbing weekend at Coldstream Canyon near Donner

American Himalayan Foundation – although not a true climber organization, the AHF is increasingly reaching out to the climbing community to raise awareness of the issues faced in the Himalaya.  I never miss their annual AHF dinner as a chance to meet others, both climbers and non-climbers, who are passionate about the Himalaya.  They typically put on a good show with interesting speakers and this year they’ll be featuring Ueli Steck, Alex Honnold, and Jimmy Chin.  The dinner price is steep at $200; however, you’ll get a receipt for the portion of your dinner that is tax deductible (it was ~$135 in 2011).

Everest summitters John Gray, Tom Burch (former AAC SNS Chair), and Apa Sherpa (world record holder for # of summits) at the AHF annual dinner

Jim Wilson and author Emilie Cortes with Sue and Phil Eshler, the first couple to climb the seven summits together

Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit  – a mountain rescue unit for climber networking?  Indeed, if you are interested in putting your climbing skills to good instead of evil, consider joining BAMRU or another mountain rescue team.  The trainings will keep you fresh, you will meet lots of other civic-minded and technically competent folks while building positive karma by helping locate lost hikers and climbers.  If you don’t want to join, don’t forget to donate in case you need their help some day!  Membership is $40 (yes, you pay for the honor to rescue others!), but the community is priceless.

Personal Rock Skills training in Tahoe

Rock Rendezvous – I have been a member of RR for a few years, but truthfully have failed to take full advantage of their benefits.  They are focused more on technical rock climbing, offer a monthly slideshow meeting, and priority camping in high demand locations like Tuolumne Meadows.  I have met some other great partners that were members of RR.  Their membership fee is very reasonable at $35.

Sierra Club Peak Climbing Section – this activity section of the Sierra Club focuses on non-technical peak bagging, although technical rock, snow and ice trips may be offered as private trips.  They hold a monthly slideshow meeting the second Tuesday in Palo Alto which gives you a chance to learn about a new region or climb, get to know other members, and hear about upcoming trips.  Amazingly, membership and trip participation is free.  It’s a friendly open community and most of the members are extremely active climbers.

Peak climbers at the annual PCS BBQ & Gear Swap

At the top of Mt Morgan with PCSers

Sierra Club Snowcamping Section – since when was snowcamping considered climbing?  Well, having mad snowcamping skills is critical on a snow or glacier climb, and could just save your butt if you ever get stuck out in a freak winter storm.  Many of my best friends and climbing partners have come from my involvement in the snowcamping section.  Seems like folks that have a penchant for suffering also have a lot of patience, tolerance, and are easy to get along with.  They offer an annual snowcamping training series for as low as $100 (Sierra Club members early sign up) to $125 (regular sign up for non-members) and alumni trips for a nominal fee of ~$25 (note: you may be able to attend alumni trips if you can demonstrate mastery of skills elsewhere).

Snowcampers on Echo Peak summit during record breaking low temps

A few others I know exist, but haven’t had much direct experience with, are Rock Ice Mountain Club in Santa Rosa, Bay Area Mountaineering Meetup, Berkeley CHAOS, and Stanford Alpine Club.

I hope this helps you on your personal quest to form a great group of climbing partners.  Don’t forget though that the responsibility goes both ways – you need to be a great climbing partner in order to foster lasting partnerships.  You don’t have to be the strongest or fastest climber out there, but you should 1) be at your personal best, 2) accurately represent your skill level and fitness, 3) consider the needs of the team/group as well as your own, and 4) follow through with your commitments.

Happy and safe climbing!!!