Sawmill Mountain P500
Indian Rock P500
Basket Dome YVF
North Dome 3x YVF

Jun 17, 2013
Indian Rock
Basket Dome
North Dome
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
North Dome previously climbed Nov 2, 2002

In what was becoming a regular habit, I was back in Yosemite for a couple mid-week days of peakbagging. My routine extended to the place I bought gas in Oakdale as well as the preferred lunch or dinner - Jack in the Box tacos. Though undoubtedly one of the least healthy food choices on a menu not known for having any healthy choices, these babies have bucked nutrition trends for more than four decades now, little changed from when I first sampled their deep-fried flavors while plying my paper-route as a kid. Who was the insane genious who thought of dunking a taco in a vat of vegetable oil? Though purportedly of beef origin, the meat filling has a consistency resembling toothpaste and runs the gamut of the color wheel from orange to brown. And how they bring back those childhood memories! Four of them usually suffice, and thus fortified I found my way to the outskirts of Yosemite where I took a whack at Sawmill Mtn. For several weeks I had seen a side road off SR120 touting, "Sawmill Mtn Area." So I did some research and found this 5,200-foot summit had more than 700ft of prominence. In Southern California it would undoubtedly be on the HPS list, but in the Sierra it is just a small bump on the western slopes of the range that one passes to reach Yosemite and the surrounding High Country.

The road is paved, albeit poorly, for several miles off the main highway to the northwest side of the mountain. It passes by a host of private inholdings in the National Forest, some with summer cabins, others less-developed. On the north side of the mountain are at least two dirt roads that traverse the slopes on this side. I first tried the upper one, but found it had a deep rut running up the middle at a steep section and I decided not to try it with my low clearance van. I next tried the lower road which I found in better condition, though with several rocks and a small tree that I needed to clear from the road in order to make progress. I stopped northwest of the summit where the road appears to get closest according to the GPS. I parked at a small clearing, really just a wide spot to park in the weeds (I had to check to make sure my catalytic converter wasn't going to start a fire), and started up from there.

The slopes are forested with some brush and downfall, and moderately steep. It took about 25 minutes to cover 2/3 mile to the summit ridge. I didn't really expect any views or much of a summit, but was surprised to find a climbing crag. One can drive nearly to the summit with a sufficiently burly vehicle, and more than one climber apparently has (no self-respecting climber would bother to whack their way to the summit the way I had). The south side of the mountain has a 100-foot granite wall that sported some shiny bolts and a cozy campsite tucked under one of the summit rocks to avoid rain or excessive sunshine. One of the summit rocks sported a small cairn atop it and no obvious way to surmount it - in fact this was my first clue that climbers had visited the site and it was only after following a narrow use trail further east that I found the climbing crag. The highpoint itself was not one of these class 5 blocks, but an easier class 2-3 scramble on a rock tucked in the trees. No register and poor views from the summit, but there is a nice one looking south from the bivy site. There are several other summits in the area with more than 500ft of prominence including Ascension Mtn about a mile and a half to the east. I initially planned to follow the ridge east to a saddle and then up to this second summit, but upon starting out found that it was more bushwhack than I cared to deal with and quickly abandoned the project. I dropped down onto the higher road that I had passed on the way up and followed this back until I was once again above the car and then dropped cross-country back down roughly along the route I had taken up. In all I was about an hour on this little adventure - not really worth recommending. An online search later found nothing to describe the rock climbing opportunities here.

I returned to Hwy 120 and continued into Yosemite. I picked up a pair of hitch-hikers at the Crane Flat junction. Calvin and Jesse had left their car in the Valley and were planning a ride to hike down from Tenaya Lake over Clouds Rest and a visit to Half Dome. They had a permit and overnight gear and were in high spirits on this college graduation celebration. I gave them a ride to the Porcupine Creek TH about eight miles short of their destination. We had a nice chat on the drive up to the High Country and last I saw them they were smiling and hoping for a quick pick-up for the last leg of their journey. I was at this particular TH in order to pay a visit to a few Yosemite summits between SR120 and the Valley, namely Indian Rock, Basket Dome and North Dome. I had been to North Dome on several occasions, but up from the Valley. The Porcupine Creek Trail offers the easiest way to reach these points with only modest elevation gain. Having never been on the trail before, I was eager to explore new territory within the park. It made for an enjoyable afternoon outing.

It was after 3p when I started out, the trail at first following an old paved road no longer open to vehicular traffic. Downfall across the road that hasn't been cleared ensures this. Less than a mile in the Wilderness boundary is reached and the trail soon becomes an actual trail as the old road ends. The trail travels through mature forest over easy terrain - little in the way of views, but a pleasant enough stroll with a few minor creek crossings. In 1.7 miles the trail reaches a four-way junction atop an indistinct saddle between the Lehamite Creek and Snow Creek drainages. The saddle also happens to be just 6/10th of a mile northwest of Indian Rock, so I left the junction to head cross-country over easy terrain up a modest slope. Some ducks had been left by someone to mark an otherwise obvious route, so I knocked most of these over to better help sustain the illusion of the Wilderness experience. The true summit was found a short distance above and behind a false summit along the route, the top crowned with class 2-3 granite blocks that provided a modicum of scrambling. Better, it provided some actual views where I thought none would be had. Trees partially block the view north to Mt. Hoffmann, but to the southeast and south can be seen Clouds Rest and Half Dome. To the southwest a plume of smoke was rising from a fire on the western end of the park. A smaller smoke plume could be seen to the west in the Yosemite Creek drainage, likely a managed fire set by the NPS.

I scrambled off the summit and headed south over open country, picking up a use trail that leads down to Natural Arch. This interesting formation is somewhat small, about five feet in height and maybe 20ft across. It is easy to scramble atop the arch and one can use it to frame a picture of Half Dome through the trees to the south. The arch is depicted on the 7.5' topo map and a maintained trail leads to it off the Indian Ridge trail the heads south towards North Dome. I followed the trail south for 3/4 mile until I was above and northwest of Basket Dome. I could just make out the top of Basket Dome through the trees as I started down the lightly forested, sandy slopes through modest brush to Basket Dome. At the notch north of Basket Dome I peered down the steep, east-facing gully before starting up the easy granite slabs to the summit. I had worried a bit beforehand about getting to Basket Dome because the routes to reach it appeared brushy on the satellite view, but this proved unfounded.

The expected views, however, were far from unfounded. Though the top is greatly rounded, blocking views below, a short stroll off the south side (no more than class 2 and not all that steep) yields some spectacular views of Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest, and perhaps the best view of Half Dome available anywhere. I was mesmerized by this latter view, directly across Tenaya Canyon from Basket Dome. The cliffs and slabs under Half Dome make the NW Face of Half Dome look almost puny by comparison. Up the middle of this is the Slabs Route, often used by climbers to access the NW Face from Tenaya Canyon near Mirror Lake, a far shorter and more interesting route than the standard Half Dome Trail. I've been up and down the Slabs Route many times, but this was the clearest view I'd seen of it. There appears to be a number of other interesting scrambling routes on the right side, nearer the Valley, that might make for some future fun. Later, I found that Roper's description of the most prominent of these ends with, "This is one of the most worthless routes in the Valley." Ok, maybe not so much fun.

Getting from Basket Dome to North Dome proved unexpectedly easy. After dropping down the south side a short distance for the views, I continued west on acres of slabs into the shallow gully between the two domes, made a short jaunt through the forest and then continued on slabs heading southwest up to the summit of North Dome, taking about 25 minutes between the two formations. North Dome offers the better views of Yosemite Valley, though again it is necessary to drop some down the slabs to the south in order to obtain the best views. Cars dotted Southside Drive at Leidig Meadow near Yosemite Lodge. Others could be seen at Stoneman Meadow near Curry Village, directly below Glacier Point. Illiloutte Fall was tucked into the gorge just east of Glacier Point. Red Peak in the Clark Range could be seen in the distance to the southwest over Half Dome's SW Face. A zoom to Half Dome's visor revealed a lone hiker visible at the top, a distance of more than a mile and a half. Indian Ridge, leading to Natural Arch and Indian Rock was behind me, to the north.

Back at the summit of North Dome, I picked up the trail leading back to Indian Ridge and followed the main trail down to Lehamite Creek. There are some views along this route, including a nice one of Sentinel Rock, but for better views one needs to continue for several miles around to Yosemite Point. As I got a late start in the afternoon, I would not travel out to the rim, but instead turned right at the next junction and followed the trail back up to the Porcupine Creek TH. I had seen a few hikers shortly after starting out some hours earlier, but saw not another soul the rest of the afternoon. I did come across a campsite where a hiker or two were staying. A fire appeared unattended, but the backpackers were likely nearby in the tent or getting water. Or maybe just avoiding nosy passerbys such as myself.

I returned to the TH at 7:30p, less than an hour before sunset. It had been a very enjoyable four and a half hours, time much better spent than that earlier visit to Sawmill Mtn. I drove back west along SR120 to the May Lake turnoff. On the south side of the highway is a large paved area, partly secluded, that I used to park while I showered, ate dinner, and watched a movie as the sun went down and evening came on. Later I would drive up to the May Lake TH where I spent the night uninterrupted by passing cars or inquisitive rangers and bears. At almost 9,000ft elevation, the temperature was in the low 50s, excellent for sleeping well in the back of the van. I planned to head to May Lake in the morning for the start of a tour around the Mt. Hoffmann area. Good times...


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