I sat down with Squirrel this last fall to find out a little bit about our favorite business owner in Strawberry and one
of our favorite Strawbillies. I recorded the convo and was going to transcribe it here, but first I wanted to give a little insight as to why I thought he would be such a great subject for a story.
My family has had a cabin at Fallen Leaf Lake forever. I have been driving up Highway 50 for as long as, well, I can remember. We would from time to time stop at the Strawberry Station to, well, you know that it’s hard for little kids to plan their bathroom breaks. It was super run down. I could also remember looking at the Leap’s face and wondering if people would climb up them. At a young age I was a climbing fool, so before I knew that there was such a thing as climbing as a sport, I would see rock faces and imagine climbing them. Fast forward years later and I was a climber, and Lover’s Leap was one of my favorite places to climb. I eventually ran into Squirrel who had just bought the Strawberry Station. An ex-climbing gym owner/manager had now become owner of a pit-stop for people on their way up to South Lake. He put a little gear shop on the side, and revamped the whole station into a beautiful little store. The Station was finally something befitting such a great climbing location. Squirrel has helped CRAGS in so many ways, from talking us up to newbies looking to get active in the climbing community, selling “Love the Leaps Tees” with a percentage going to CRAGS, donating gear for our raffles, and even hosting us for dinner after our Adopt-A-Crag event in 2014. The more I talked to him the more I was intrigued by his stories and life, so I took the time to sit with him and find out more of what he’s about.
So how did you get the Nickname?
“Just been my nickname since I was a tiny little guy, my parents gave it to me when I was five. Mostly just ‘cause I loved climbing trees, and being little, like a little crazy kid.”
So how did you get into Rock Climbing?
“I just started rock climbing the day after I moved to California, in 1986. I had moved to Davis and met a climber named Larry VonWald, and he took me climbing the second day I was here.”
Here at the Leap?
“Yup, yup. The first climb I ever did was Corrugation Corner. I tied into the end of the rope with a bowline on a coil in my sneakers.”
So your first climb is one of the Top 50 climbs of North America?
Did you get addicted from that point on?
“Yeah, yeah, I just wanted to do stuff, just really wanted to do STUFF. Then I ended up…when the hell was that? Like 86, 92…like in 1991 we heard about climbing gyms starting to happen in the United States, then in ‘92 we opened the Rocknasium.”
“Myself and my Friend Mark Leffler, we were partners on that.”
I heard from Dierdre Honnold that the first time Alex Honnold ever climbed was at Rocknasium.
‘Yeah, that’s what she told me, I met her here just like a year ago and she told me that story…and I did not recall any of that obviously. But she had a picture of me belaying him on his first climb.”
So how long were you there?
“Umm…til 2008, I sold it to Mark in 2008.”
Then straight up here?
“Yeah, moved up here in 2008…2009, hey hold on (Proceeds to go help a customer. Yeah, we have been shooting the shit all while the shop is open. Been talking/interviewing for like 15 mins just sitting in the little table he has right by the front door for people to drink their Joe, read the paper, and of course tell stories. He spends the next five minutes catching up his friend/local and getting him a package that was delivered there. In the same building as the Station is the local Post Office. I think to myself at this time, man this guy is living the dream! He comes back after getting himself and my daughter a Chocolate Bar to snack on, and we get back to interview.) “Bought the store 2012, Nov of 2012.”
For the next five minutes we talk about some gear and the new stuff coming out from DMM. The guy who had picked up his package had now tried on the boots he ordered. A group of 4 heading to State-line comes in as well as a couple of other friends. He helps the travelers and introduces me to his other friend and tells him about CRAGS, and we talk about a couple of people in common we know. I start to realize I have been there for almost an hour. Mia my daughter has been playing outside now for like 20 mins and I am not really interviewing him anymore, just hanging out. I decide I’ve got to finish this thing and get out of his hair.
So what would you like to see up here at Lover’s Leap? Would you like to see more development of the area, more trails?
“Umm, no…I mean I’m pretty happy with the way everything is here. I think there is some room for a couple more easier routes on Hog Wild as well as a new guide book for the area. I love the climbing community up here and all the people from around the world that come to climb here. It’s pretty fun, I don’t think I would change anything.”
By: Daniel Frederick – CRAGS Executive Director