I was supposed to meet Patrick this morning at Big Meadow, just west of Domeland
Wilderness, but he never showed. To be fair, there was only a 50-50 chance he was going
to, because his Grand Cherokee was in the shop and he was supposed to get
it back on Friday, but we all know how those things sometimes go. We were going to
drive south into Bartolas Country and climb some minor summits there, but that would
have to wait until another time since the van wasn't going to drive much past Big
Meadow. The road in had been horribly washboarded the last several miles to Big Meadow
and I thought my suspension was going to rattle itself apart. My backup plan was to
hike to White Dome out of Big Meadow from where we were supposed to meet. It turned out
to be great fun with lots of fine scrambling, some of the best I've found in the
Southern Sierra. In fact, one minor peak I called "Dome of Mystery" was in the top five
of all the Sierra summits I've visited, better than Stegosaurus Fin and Sugarloaf even,
a truly hidden gem in the backcountry. The location is not a mystery (you can find that
by clicking on the map), but I will leave the details rather vague so as not to keep
others from enjoying the exploration and discovery that made this so much fun. I also
gave some names to some of the interesting towers I explored on the way to White Dome.
Jenkins describes them as class 4 & 5, but all of them are no more than class 3 if one
finds the easiest route. Jenkins describes a hike to White Dome in her book,
Exploring the Southern Sierra: East Side, starting from the east. That route is
no longer the shortest approach, as a gate has been permanently locked off the Chimney
Peak Loop Road, making it three miles longer each way.
It's still possible, but longer than the western approach I used from Big Meadow.
Uncle and Aunt Towers
I spent 2.5hrs plying the trails easterward. I was parked on the west side of Big
Meadow and started , crossing the half-mile width of the meadow to
reach of the which I could have driven
to (any vehicle can drive
to this TH, going around the north and east side of Big Meadow). From there, the trail
climbs about 300ft in about a mile to reach a saddle at the
8,300ft. The trail then drops to over the course of almost two
miles, dropping to 7,000ft at the meadow. An are
found here, an
inholding that appears to still see some use. Cattle continue to graze in Big Meadow
and Manter Meadow, though it was late in the season and I saw none during the day.
I headed cross-country across Manter Meadow to save the diversion the trail takes
around the north side of the meadow. This would be ill-advised in spring and summer,
but now the meadow is mostly dry and it wasn't difficult getting around a few swampy
areas. On the east side of the Meadow I picked up the
continues heading east, though now the trail is harder to follow. It is marked
periodically with , , and
trees, but I somehow still managed to lose it several times. For the most part, the
trail stays on the north side of Manter Creek and the one deviation it makes to the
south side can be avoided by some sidehilling where the old trail was washed out - in
early season it can be difficult crossing the creek, but in October it is pretty tame.
Not long after Little Manter Meadow, the creek turns south and the trail continues
east, climbing from 6,700ft to a saddle at 7,300ft. This is the hardest part of the
trail to follow, all but vanished from lack of use. Some ducks can be found here, but
essentially one follows the drainage up without leaving the dry creek bottom very much
on either side. Just before the saddle I turned right to begin the
to White Dome.
Steep at first, the top is reached in 1/2mi where several
interesting towers are found. The higher one has more than 750ft of prominence and is
the highest point on the ridgeline to White Dome. I climbed the slightly lower east
tower first, which I dubbed "Aunt Tower", in keeping with a family-themed naming I
gave to a number of others along the way. From its ,
Aunt Tower is a fun
class 3 scramble. Similarly, the higher Uncle Tower
is class 3 up its
east side. A few other lower towers nearby I left unclimbed, though they appeared to
be class 3 as well.
White Dome is still another 1.3mi and after descending
Uncle Tower I
started a downward traverse along the west side of the ridgeline. I was impressed by
the towers encountered on the north side of White Dome, but left them unclimbed until
I had first made it to White Dome. I skirted the base of these other towers on the
west side, and finally made the easy class 3 scramble up to
where I arrived
by 11:40a, 4hrs after starting out - about an hour longer than I'd hoped it would take.
There was no register, no cairn, but the views are pretty nice, taking in much of the
Domeland Wilderness from this fine perch. The summit overlooks the South Fork of the
Kern River, 2,300ft below on the east side, less than a mile away.
high country drops away some 4,000ft to the Kern River Valley 10mi in that direction.
Church Dome rises prominent on a ridge 3mi .
Time to play around on the
other towers just north of White Dome.
The rest of the Tower Family
All the towers
are lower than White Dome. The two highest I dubbed
Mama and Papa Towers. Between Mama Tower and White Dome is a smaller, squat tower that
I was going to bypass but turned out to be worth a visit.
near its summit that stays class 3 thanks to superb chickenheads
that made it quite fun, even in terribly windy conditions (I had left my hat and pack
below because of the wind and my hat was nearly carried over the eastern escarpment by
a strong gust). is the most impressive of the towers, looking
impossible from almost any angle. The key is a keyhole (naturally) found on
Baby Tower. Mama Tower can then be climbed from either side of the keyhole, though
the west side is easier. The crux is getting above the keyhole, after which it becomes
surprisingly easy. is climbed from the west side, with excellent
holds going up steeply. I took an alternate descent
off the east side of Papa Tower than went through some brush and
tried to squeeze through an exceedingly small hole to bypass a chockstone in the groove
but almost got stuck. Going over the top of the chockstone proved not as hard as I'd
first surmised. The lowest part of the groove opens up to what looks like a drop-off,
but some circuitous route-finding found a class 4 way off
. I'd recommend
going back down the west side. The furthest north towers are shorter but interesting.
They are climbed from the west via a series of ramps that cut across an otherwise blank
slab of granite. Tricky in high winds, this one. There are two closely spaced summits
to this tower, the eastern point slightly higher. I left it unclimbed though I did not
do a thorough job of investigating routes. It looked tough, but is left as an exercise
for future visitors.
Dome of Mystery
My GPS noted a minor, unnamed summit to the west, with more than 300ft of prominence
that I could count as a bonus. This turned out to be far more fun than I could have
guessed. I first had to drop almost a thousand feet to the west off the ridge and
down to Manter Creek, no easy feat, but some fun scrambling. I then climbed up to the
base of the
found just west of the creek. It looks difficult from a
distance and looks even harder close up. I tried one side, to be rebuffed where there
appears to be a fine
running up to the top. I then tried another where
I went through some brush,
and got stymied where I could not make a
critical mantling move to progress higher (I ended up coming down this way, dropping
the last few feet from my handholds). I was going to give up, but decided I should
check out the other sides to see if there were any other options. The only other place
I thought I could make it up looked to end in overhanging rock above. I went up to
check it out anyway. I found a suberb scrambing route: slabs, pulling up on
vegetation, tunnels, chockstones and caves in a most highly unprobably route. I
in one part of the cave when I couldn't progress further with it. Eventually
I ended up above in the bright sunlight as I scrambled the final distance to the
highpoint. No register, no cairn here either, it seemed completely untouched and I left
it looking the same. Before descending, I scrambled
to find other
partial routes and just enjoy the fine scrambling this summit offers - the best of the
season, to be sure.
After descending the ,
I headed north cross-country, roughly following
the west side of Manter Creek back to the
I'd come in on. From there
it was another six miles back
which I polished off in two hours, my
thoughts still engaged with how much I had enjoyed the day's scrambling. I saw other
towers and granite walls on my route, typical of the backcountry offerings in the
Domeland Wilderness - so many fine scrambling and climbing opportunities to be had for
those willing to hike in more than a few miles...