Sun, May 24, 2020
Bart Dome had first been brought to my attention back in 2006 when Matthew pointed it out as we went by it on our way to Stegosaurus Fin deep in the Domeland Wilderness. I more or less forgot about it for 15yrs until I happen to find myself going by it once again last Fall while on a solo outing. Unable to find a scrambing route to the summit, it simmered in the back of my mind as a rope climb for which I would need to find friends. TomB had planned to spend the Memorial Day weekend in Big Meadow and this seemed a good opportunity. Iris and TomG were among a handful of others to join us and would prove the key to success. Between our party of four, we carried two ropes and two sets of gear, intending to have two rope teams. There are a number of developed routes on Bart Dome's SE Face, but the only one I had any chance of climbing was the 5.7 Aquaman that follows a series of water grooves up the 800-foot face. The approach is on the longish side, 6.5mi to the base of the formation, starting at Big Meadow.
We started from the east side of Big Meadow at 7:30a, taking nearly three hours to reach Bart Dome. The route goes over a pass between Big Meadow and Manter Meadow, the pass marking the Wilderness boundary. At Manter Meadow we turned left, following the Domeland Trail through the burned area (from the 2000 Manter Fire) and past several trail junctions. It wasn't until nearly 10a that we first got a look at Bart Dome and our impressions from a distance were not encouraging, at least to TomB and I. Far more skilled than us, Iris and TomG were more cavalier about the project. Even as we reached the base of the SE Face, the route - now obvious - did not look much easier. The route looked to go nearly vertical after the first two pitches and my confidence was is in short supply. I was doubting I had the skills to lead this thing. TomB was having even more doubts, his first comment, "I can't climb this thing!" He hadn't realized this was a 6-pitch climb. "I've never done a mult-pitch climb and haven't even climbed anything since we did Church Dome [in 2017]." He gave it some more thought while TomG and Iris offered some encouragement, but in the end he decided not to attempt it. This left us in the unfortunate position of having to switch to a slower 3-person rope team instead of two teams, but that was a blessing in disguise for me. By the third pitch it became clear that I would not have been able to lead the first 5.7 section, and TomB and I would have ended up retreating, probably leaving some gear behind.
TomB hung about while the three of us went about gearing up for the climb. TomG decided the best course would be for him to trail two ropes and then belay both Iris and I simultaneously as we followed one behind the other. This is by no means an easy feat, but TomG's skills were clearly up to it as he deftly handled all the leads, placing all the gear and working his arms overtime hauling up both ropes. Our ropes were 50m and 60m in length, so the shorter rope would be our limiter in how high we could reach on each pitch. The route is an old one (all bolts were quarter inch) put up when 50m was the standard rope length, so this proved no real hindrance. Iris followed just above me, cleaning gear (I had little to do other than breaking down the belay station before starting up), and once the two of us had hand joined Tom at the next station, we merely had to reorganize the two ropes before Tom could begin the next pitch. It took us a few pitches to work out the details efficiently, but we had plenty of daylight and time would never really be an issue.
The route description in Moser and Vernon's Southern Sierra Rock Climbing: DOmelands is succinct: "Third or fourth class the first pitch, then swim up the deep chimneys and grooves to the top." As suggested, we scrambled the first pitch to a good starting ledge just above a bush of pink penstemons growing out of the rock. This was a little dicier than it had looked at first, but we managed it without losing anyone. The first roped pitch goes at 5.6 and makes for a good warm-up. Though the route description mentions "deep chimneys" it's mostly deep grooves and what I would term shallow chimneys - it was not the sort of route you could squeeze your body into places. The first two belay stations had a collection of old bolts with hangers easy to find, but not so easy to use - these were uncomfortable positions, especially for three persons. The second roped pitch goes at 5.7 and I thought this the crux of the route. The handholds are lacking here and I was more than happy to have a toprope above me. The second belay station was the weakest, so much so that Iris and I switched ropes, putting me on the longer one so I could wait 15ft lower on a better stance. Pitch 3 was also 5.7, but the holds were bigger and the climbing more enjoyable. The 3rd belay station was larger and the most comfortable yet, easily accomodating the three of us. There were no more bolts above the 2nd belay station, but this was hardly problematic with the better ledges and shelves and plenty of places to take pro. The 4th pitch is a little easier at 5.6, especially after the previous two 5.7 pitches. At the top of this, we considered 4th classing the rest of the route since it looked to get significantly easier (5.1). We decided to let Tom run ahead trailing the ropes in case it turned out to be harder than it looked. Probably a good thing, too, as it turned out to be easy with a belay, sketchier otherwise.
It was 3:15p by the time we reached the summit, a little over four hours for the roped portion - no record to be sure, but we had a fine time and all enjoyed the route a good deal. We spent about 40min at the summit, wandering about the large area, peering over one side then another looking for rap stations. With the two ropes we had options on how to get down, but in the end we settled on the safer route described by the guidebook off the South Shoulder that can be done with a single 50m rope. We eventually figured out there were no rap stations in sight because it wasn't necessary to rap from the summit. In fact, the descent had some pretty good class 3 scrambling that adds to the enjoyment of the route. I used one of two possible chimneys we identified off the top, Tom and Iris using the other. Then another 15min got us to the first of two rap stations. One of the more unusual raps, it drops into a deep crack barely shoulder width. At the bottom, dark and cool, it's necessary to work east out of the crack, followed by another scrambling episode to the second rappel station. This rappel is shorter and more standard fare, but still the scrambling is not done. Tom ran off ahead to retrieve our stuff from the base of the route while we paused to coil the rope one last time. After getting off the granite apron at the base of Bart Dome, we scrambled down through some trees and rock, eventually reconnecting with Tom back at the trail. We took about 20min to reoganize our packs and eat the lunch we'd forgotten about until now. It was 5:30p, much later than we had originally assumed the climb would take, and we had to leave the second project, nearby Peak 8,484ft, for another time. Still, there was more than two hours of daylight and we could afford a more relaxed return.
We had been concerned that it would be hot in the afternoon as we returned to the burned zone and Manter Meadow, but the lateness of the afternoon and a good breeze kept temperatures quite nice for the entirety of the return. It would be after 7:30p by the time we returned to the trailhead at Big Meadow. Much like the previous day, the TH was packed with cars, the same motorcycles were obnoxiously cruising up and down the roadway, the campsites still packed to the gills. Our Wilderness experience over, we headed back to our own camp on the other side of the meadow for showers, dinner and campfire, in that order...
This page last updated: Sun May 31 12:01:12 2020
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