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 from there, crossing the half-mile width of the meadow to reach the start of the Manter Meadow Trail 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 Wilderness boundary at 8,300ft. The trail then drops to Manter Meadow over the course of almost two miles, dropping to 7,000ft at the meadow. An old homestead and corral 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 Manter Creek Trail which continues heading east, though now the trail is harder to follow. It is marked periodically with orange flagging, ducks, and white diamond-shaped plates nailed to 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 cross-country portion 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 west side, Aunt Tower is a fun class 3 scramble. Similarly, the higher Uncle Tower to the west 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

White Dome is still another 1.3mi to the southeast 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 its summit 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. To the south, the high country drops away some 4,000ft to the Kern River Valley 10mi in that direction. Church Dome rises prominent on a ridge 3mi to the west. Time to play around on the other towers just north of White Dome.

The rest of the Tower Family

All the towers north of White Dome 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. Baby Tower has a 15' near-vertical wall 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). Mama Tower is the most impressive of the towers, looking impossible from almost any angle. The key is a keyhole (naturally) found on the south side facing 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. Papa Tower is climbed from the west side, with excellent holds going up steeply. I took an alternate descent off the east side of Papa Tower that went through some brush and a steep groove. I 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 the bottom. 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 Dome of Mystery 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 class 5 crack running up to the top. I then tried another where I went through some brush, through a tunnel 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 left my pack 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 around the summit area 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 Dome of Mystery, I headed north cross-country, roughly following the west side of Manter Creek back to the Manter Creek Trail I'd come in on. From there it was another six miles back to the start 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...


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