Sat, May 23, 2020
While camped at Big Meadow just outside the western edge of the Domeland Wilderness, six of us set off to tackle a couple of unnamed summits on the edge of the Wilderness utilizing the TH at the north end of the meadow. It was Memorial Day Weekend and the Southern Sierra was filled with folks getting out for the first time since COVID-19 had started keeping us at home. We hiked up the trail leading to Sirretta Pass, intending to split into parties going left to Sirretta Peak and another right to the Domelands Wilderness HP. This plan was mostly in my head at the start and not well-articulated until four of us had nearly reached the pass. Patrick had been slower getting started than the rest of us, TomB falling back to keep tabs on him. The other four of us waited more than half an hour at the pass for the two to show, for naught. Eventually we guessed they had left the trail earlier to head for the SPS's Sirretta Peak more directly. Karl and I had already been to Sirretta and its higher northern neighbor, so we had no interest in heading that way. TomG and Iris had not been to Sirretta, but were happy to follow us in the other direction.
We left the trail to head southeast cross-country to the Domeland Wilderness HP, about 2/3mi in that direction. We stayed a bit higher than necessary on the east side of an intermediate point, finding ourselves scrambling across terrain that could have been more easily avoided by staying lower on the slope. Some easy class 3 scrambling is needed to reach the top of the large rock outcrop marking the Wilderness HP. We found the register left by Richard Carey in 2016 in his usual red can. I had visited it on the same day he'd left it, evidenced by my entry below his. Since then, there have been eight other parties to sign in, most of them from the usual crowd of highpointers. Karl had also been to this summit previously (in 2012), but it was pretty much a freebie on the way to the others I was more interested in today. While we sat at the summit, TomG pointed his zoom lens at Sirretta and picked out two figures near the summit that matched our lost compadres. At least we were able to confirm our suspicions about what had become of them.
We next turned our attention eastward towards the two unnamed peaks, one about a mile east, the other a mile northeast of the first. Three of us took the hard way off the east side of the Wilderness HP, while Karl used the easier route we'd taken on the ascent. I had been a little concerned that getting to these unnamed summits could be long, tedious rock scrambles, but they turned out to be enjoyable forest romps with open understory and pleasant weather all above 9,000ft. The first, Peak 9,620ft, was an easy scramble to an open, rocky summit. A register was left here while Iris played in a nearby tree. Later we learned that TomB and Patrick paid a visit to this summit along with the Wilderness HP before returning back to the TH. The second summit had easier cross-country travel but the summit turned out to have some real class 3 scrambling. Three of us approached it from the north where the scrambling was harder. Karl found the easier route up the west side which we would all use on the descent. The summit had the best views of the day, overlooking the many domes and other features on the east side of Domelands near Rockhouse Basin. In particular, there was a good view of Bart Dome below us to the east, our objective for the next day.
There was some discussion on how we might return. I had assumed we would just return back to Sirretta Pass and down the trail, but seeing as it was only noon, I suggested we might return via a looping route through Manter Meadow. I wasn't the only one that had thought of this, it seems, and we considered it more closely. I knew the Woodpecker Meadow Trail lay below, between our current location and Bart Dome, not all that far. It appeared that the 1,500-foot descent would go at class 2 without cliffs, but there was a good deal of brush that could prove a hindrance in the lower reaches where it wasn't clear exactly what we might find. I had an additional incentive for pursuing the loop - it would give us a chance to pick up another summit west of Manter Meadow that I had hoped to do as a second outing later in the afternoon. Doing it in combination with the morning's outing would be more aesthetic, in my thinking. And so that was the direction the decision headed and we all agreed to continue together. We descended Karl's side of Peak 9,536ft, then down the drainage through more open forest, eventually narrowing to a gully before opening again in the fire-scarred lower reaches. Here it was nearly as brushy as it had seemed from a distance, but with careful route choices, one could pick their way through the stuff. I got ahead of the others and ended up finding my own way to trail. Looking back I could see the three of them making their way via another route to the west. I hiked down the trail to meet them about the same time they reached it themselves.
The next hour and a half were spent plying the trails, first down to Manter Meadow where we briefly checked out the old ranch cabin now boarded up and signed as government property. A peek inside through one of the broken windows showed the place in complete disarray, much as its probably looked for decades. We continued west, heading uphill towards Big Meadow. Our last summit, Peak 8,460ft, was on our left about 1,000ft above the trail. I had our party go past the peak where the slopes were cliffy and rather steep, finally heading cross-country where the slopes were still steep but more reasonable. It took half an hour to make our way up towards the group of summit pinnacles that rise 40-60ft high. We'd gotten a good look at them an hour earlier as we were approaching Manter Meadow, enough to know the western one was the highest (there's actually another one further west that we hadn't seen from afar, but it is smaller and lower than the others). Our approach from the west and north was not encouraging as the rocky feature rose almost vertically on those sides. Once again I got ahead of the others and made my way around to the east side and the notch between the highest and next highest pinnacles. Broken granite blocks offered a way to the notch 20ft above the surrounding floor. It was only upon gaining this notch that a hidden class 3 route made itself known on the east side of the highest pinnacle. This was a most fortuitous find, and I eagerly clambered up the route without waiting for the others. I waved down at them from the top just as they were approaching the pinnacle on the north side and directed them to the hidden key. It turned to be the most interesting summit of the day, one of those lucky finds that occasionally pop up when chasing down obscure summits. The route had enough exposure to make Karl think long and hard, and in the end he decided to wait it out at the notch while Iris and TomG went up to join me. The three of us enjoyed a small summit celebration with candy and cookies Iris had been carrying around all day. It was certainly deserving of a register, so when we found none, we offered one of our own.
Our celebration and short break concluded, we carefully descended back down the way we'd come up (there might be another way up from the south side from what we could see from above, but we didn't give that one a try), joined Karl and headed back. Rather than descend to the trail where we'd left it, I led us on a traversing route across moderately steep slopes in the forest understory to intersect the trail shortly before it goes over the pass at the Wilderness boundary. I half-expected to run into brush or heavy downfall to make the others question my route choice, but it went off pretty well and looked almost like I knew what I was doing. It would be almost 5p by the time we reached the TH at Big Meadow, with another 15min of hiking along the dusty roadway to the northern TH where we'd left the jeep. There were noisy motorcycles and ATVs zipping along the road and almost any place along the road that looked like a campsite was occupied with families, dogs, vehicles and other signs of civilization. Our Wilderness experience had come to an end - time for showers, beers and a little civilization ourselves...
This page last updated: Sat May 30 08:05:04 2020
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