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On my last day in the Southern Sierra, I wanted to do a longer hike into the Domelands Wilderness, tagging a handful of peaks I had identified on LoJ and so far had left unclimbed. They turned out to be quite a handful and I only managed one of them. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had hiked all the trail sections I did today back in 2006 with Matthew Holliman when we visited Stegosaurus Fin. I suppose if you wait long enough, old routes look new again. I'm not sure if this is a plus or minus as I get older.
I started at the Manter Meadow TH on the east side of Big Meadow just before 7a. The trail heads due east, over a low pass in the first mile, then several miles to Manter Meadow, dropping 1,200ft in the process, a little discouraging since it would have to be reclimbed at the end. There are several trail junctions in the Manter Meadows area, the first where one encounters the old ranch building on the western edge, a second at the northern end. I took both left forks, finding the trails in good condition and sufficiently traveled that I never had trouble following them. The route across the northwest edge of the meadow travels through forest and more open terrain, the actual meadow about a quarter mile southeast through the forest that I only got a glimpse of during this outing. The area was heavily burned in the 2000 Manter Fire, and almost 20yrs later, there are very few new trees. There were plenty that survived the fire, but large areas that were once forested are now heavy with buckthorn and other brush and very slow to recover. I imagine these drier parts of the range may take many decades to recover lost forest, but the increasing frequency of fires may preclude it from reaching a mature forest state again.
The trail heading north from the second junction begins to climb gently to higher terrain where the abundance of granite outcrops, pinnacles and interesting formations becomes quite evident. The climbing opportunities here are almost limitless. Greg Vernon published a guidebook on Domelands back in the 1990s but it is now out of print and there seems to be little climbing development going on anymore, probably due to the long approaches that have fallen out of favor. Several miles north of Manter Meadow the trail begins to drop into the Tibbets Creek drainage, an easy gradient. Soon after, a third trail junction is reached with one fork going north, the other northeast. I left the trail here where I was almost due west of Peak 8,484ft and wandered up steepening slopes towards it. I probably should have stayed on the lower trail a bit longer to avoid some of the brush I encountered in the lower reaches, but it worked well enough. I made my way up a gully on the northwest side that goes to a saddle between the peak and a lower subsidiary to the west. The formation is impressive and rather frightening upon my first approach from the northwest. It did not get better as I wandered around the base of the massive feature, maybe 100-150ft in height. The north and east sides were vertical or overhanging, the south side no better. The only possible way up seemed to be a slabby groove/ramp going diagonally up the west side right to left. I got maybe 1/3 of the way up this way before halting. The next move I was going to make was going to be a little scary and it didn't look to get any easier if I kept going. Imagining that my wife would appreciate my coming home that evening, I backed off. This one needs climbing shoes, a rope and friends that are more skilled than I.
Dejected, I decided to climb the lower east block as consolation. This was an easier class 3-4 effort, but it was evident from the summit that the eastern formation was indeed the highpoint. I returned to the trail at Tibbets Creek, continuing on to the next two peaks. The trail goes conveniently between them, about half a mile apart. The first of these, Peak 8,340ft, I came to find later in the guidebook, is called "Bart Dome." At the same time I found I had pictures of it from that earlier trip through the area when Matthew identified it as "Bart Rock." From the southwesterly direction I approached from, it looked to be a non-starter as a scramble, and looked no better from the east or northeast as I passed it by. Unable to see any possible scrambling route, I never even left the trail to investigate it closer, giving it up as hopeless. Later I learned that the easiest route is the 5.7 Aquaman on the east side.
I was now oh for two and had one summit left to try, Peak 7,940ft. From the trail it, too, seemed to have a forboding summit block but at least it was unclear enough that I needed to get an up-close look to evaluate it. I left the trail where it goes over the saddle between the two, finding the cross-country easier than it had been on that first summit, with both less brush and less elevation gain to reach the base of the peak. Some class 3 scrambling got me to the base of the large summit blocks, perhaps 40ft below the summit on the south side. The westernmost block was huge and overhung on the sides I could see. The adjacent block to the east was even larger with a vertical gap between the two. A fun chimney climb with a rope, perhaps, but nothing I was going to do on my own. I turned right, walking northeast along sloping slabs to investigate further, but not really holding out any hope for getting up the thing. I passed by a chimney with a water groove leading to it, but it looked hard. I contined further east but ran out of room as the slopes became too steep to scramble along and the rock above looked even harder. I returned to the chimney to size it up again, studying it for a few minutes before deciding maybe I could get up the thing safely. I left my pack below in the groove, then walked up the steepening upper part of the groove to reach the chimney section. Here it goes vertical, about 20ft up, but the width of the chimney seemed well-sized to hold a body securely - not too narrow that I couldn't move my legs, but not too wide that I felt like I could fall out easily. Thus nicely sandwiched in the thing, I wiggled my way up in a couple of minutes to find myself on safer ground above. The summit I thought I'd be standing on was really a ridge about 100yds long. The LoJ point I'd been following on my GPSr had the summit west of the chimney, but it was immediately obvious that the highpoint was at the far northeast end. It had been completely invisible for the entire approach. It looked hard but doable and I wandered along the slabby ridgeline to investigate further. Some exposed class 3 had good holds and got me to the second crux, a vertical section about 15ft high. There was a less-vertical option on the left side of this but it had a wildly exposed drop into nothingness below it. I opted for the harder but unexposed face climb on poor holds that went straight up. A fall here would probably lead to no serious injury, but I was happy not to have to prove that. Above this, the rest of the route is easy class 3 scrambling, leading to an open, pock-mocked summit block. Having success on a summit this hard made the other failures seem minor - I would happily be satisfied with this 1-for-3 day. I was a little nervous about reversing the moves, making it hard to relax until I had gotten back down. I took a few pictures from the loftly perch around the Domelands area, identifying Stegosaurus Fin to the east and Rockhouse Peak to the southeast. Finding no register, I got out one of my own, but found no rocks with which to build a small cairn to house it out of the sun's exposure. So instead I scooped up some of the sand and gravel from one of the pockets and used this to mostly bury the small tin up against the edge of the pocket.
After only a few minutes aloft, I went back to carefully reverse the moves. The upper crux I found the most difficult, but felt better knowing I could probably jump down if I started to slip, probably landing hard but to no serious consequence. The chimney proved to be easier than I anticipated. It's a lot easier to lower/slide down a chimney with friction than it is to go upwards against gravity. I found the needed holds with little trouble and was soon back down retrieving my pack. It would take another 2.5hrs to get back to the trailhead, most of that along the same trails I had taken on the way out. It was 1:20p by the time I finished up, more than 14mi of hiking and some 3,700ft of gain. There had been a single truck at the TH when I'd started in the morning, but that was gone now and I had the place to myself. I took a refreshing shower there before heading back to the main road and starting for home. A most enjoyable long weekend, and now I have several more reasons to come another time...
This page last updated: Thu Oct 24 14:12:44 2019
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