Yet another long drive to the Southern Sierra. Matthew and I had planned a few months earlier to make a long hike to Angora Mtn and Coyote Peaks, two of the more remote peaks on the SPS list, and some off a short list that Matthew had yet to climb in the area. It wasn't expected to be a spectacular outing scenery-wise, but as part of our quest to dayhike the SPS peaks it was obligatory. Today would be a warm-up/acclimatization hike, and Matthew kindly consented to return to the Domelands to climb several easy peaks he'd climbed a year earlier. Mike decided to join us as well for the weekend, and so we had three to head out to Rockhouse Peak and Taylor Dome.

We stopped by Mike's parents' home in Wofford Heights near Lake Isabella to pick him up on our way. We'd been on the road nearly 5 hours and still had over an hour to drive to our trailhead at Big Meadow - these peaks were not easily reached! The roads to Big Meadow are mostly paved, and the dirt roads were in good condition - any passenger vehicle should be able to make the drive. Mike had had a report from the FS rangers (via his parents) that Big Meadow had 2 feet of standing water. That seemed unlikely with little precipitation of late and most of the snow melted, and so it was that we found no trouble negotiating the roads to the TH. There were a few pools of standing water, but most of the meadow was lush with green grasses and wildflowers. Damp, but hardly inundated. The weather had been questionable for the entire drive. We had had sprinkles in various spots in the Central Valley, and clouds covered much of the hills and peaks as we drove into the Southern Sierra region. Even if we didn't get rained on, it seemed we might have no views at all from the summits. As we reached the trailhead it appeared more optimistic with large patches of blue sky, particularly to the east. It wasn't until just after 8a that we headed out.

It was a delightful hike on the trail east through the Domeland Wilderness. The trail was in great condition, the weather continued to improve rapidly, and there were no clouds left before the first hour was up. It was windy, but this was more a blessing than a hindrance - nary a mosquito was seen all day. We reached Manter Meadow in about 45 minutes, and were quickly taken in by the beauty and variety of the wildflowers that adorned the meadow. It was easy to see why Matthew had enjoyed the Domelands so much on his previous visits. We paused regularly to take pictures, and our quick pace of earlier became more of a leisure stroll as we made our way along the trail as it skirts the meadow's edge for a mile or more. At the far northern end of the meadow Mike spotted some cows lazily grazing, the only irksome feature of the entire day. The meadow should be left to the deer and other wild animals, and I'll never understand why we continue to allow grazing in wilderness areas (I know the reason given is "traditional use," but these should have been phased out in the first 25 years of the Wilderness Act).

From Manter Meadow we continued east, past Little Manter Meadow and then along the trail as it breaks away from Manter Creek and begins a climb to a saddle between Rockhouse Peak and a slightly lower unnamed peak to the south. The trail was thinner here and hard to follow in places. I got off the trail and ended up behind the others. While they continued up to the saddle before turning north, I decided to take a more direct tack heading cross-country up the slopes to the northeast. I found the off-trail route enjoyable with some fun class 3 climbing along the vague southwest ridge. What I thought was the summit of Rockhouse which I climbed via an interesting chimney, turned out to be just a rocky feature along the ridge. Once atop it I could see Rockhouse's summit still a good distance further. I had thought I would surely beat the others to the summit but now began to think they'd beat me by a good deal of time as I messed around on ridge. I bypassed a few rocky pinnacles on my way to the summit, interesting, but not enough to spend further time on - I was already concerned the others might wonder what became of me. Above Pt. 7,751ft the terrain leveled out some as I made my way to the west side of the blocky summit. I scanned the areas to east and southeast looking for the others heading up from the saddle, but saw no sign of them.

The rocky summit is an interesting granite feature some 150 feet high, and more of a short ridge than a round summit. The south side of Rockhouse is fairly cliffy and difficult looking. From below, I spotted an interesting ledge high on the west side that looked to twist around to the south side. If a way could be found to make that go along the summit ridge it promised a most interesting route. Once I reached the ledge I followed it to the right as it went around the corner. There I found myself at an abrupt dead-end. Desperate finger cracks might make a traverse across the vertical wall possible and allow one to reach safer ground, but without a rope there was no way I was going to continue. I went back along the ridge and onto the northwest side of the peak where I found access to the summit far easier (class 3). In fact it would probably be possible to find a class 2 route up from the north side if one spent a little time looking for it. I did my best to attain the summit ridge as far west as possible (encountering a short class 4 section), and then found myself on an enjoyable traverse across the ridge. The biggest factor was the wind, blowing strongly and pushing me off-balance if I wasn't diligent.

It was 11:15a when I found my way to the highest point along the ridge, and Matthew was already there ahead of me by a few minutes. He was hunkered down as best he could out of the wind and I followed suit. We signed into the summit register (not the first visitors for the year) and took photos of the beautiful country around us. We were both surprised to find the area looking as good as it did after the "devastating" McNally fire in 2002. After about 20 minutes at the summit, I decided to have a look around to see if I could spot Mike. Poking my head over the southeast side I found Mike less than a minute from the summit. We stayed another ten minutes or so after he joined us before heading back down. I convinced them to try the route I'd taken, and we all headed off west along the ridge and then off the northwest side once we got to the end of the traverse. We got split up some after this, but regrouped again along the trail shortly before it joined Manter Creek.

Heading back the way we came, it was about 2p when we reached the west side of Manter Meadow. Mike had dropped back by this time and Matthew and I took a break for a snack and potty stop. When Mike caught up with us some ten minutes later, he decided to forgo the additional climb of Taylor Dome in favor of a nap back at the car. We hoped to climb Cannell Point after we got back from Taylor Dome, and Mike expected he'd probably join us for that easy climb of an HPS peak further to the south.

Matthew and I headed west along the trail for another half mile or so past Manter Meadow before leaving it to approach Taylor Dome from the north. This had been Matthew's idea since he'd already climbed it via the standard route from the west, and it turned out to be a good one. The climbing from the trail was steep but non-technical, and there was really nothing special until we reached the crest of the ridge marking the wilderness boundary a short distance east of Taylor Dome. We inadvertently climbed a lower pinnacle north of Taylor Dome without Matthew recognizing our mistake until we were atop it. Looking south we could see the correct summit and what looked like a pretty steep North Face. This turned out to be some interesting climbing as we made our way up a class 3-4 chimney feature that climbed some 50-60 feet almost to the very summit. A short bit of steep face climbing with huge bomber holds brought us atop the highpoint directly at 3:30p.

We stayed a short while at the summit before another interesting pinnacle just to the south caught my attention. The pinnacle was split by a chimney dividing the summit in two, and access looked even more difficult than the higher one we'd just climbed. Matthew was thinking it was impossible without a rope, commenting about it as I headed up. Before he had a chance to see which way I'd gone, I found a fairly easy route up to the east side of the pinnacle and had jumped across the gap. He was a little surprised to see me climb it in less than a minute. "Which way did you go?" he asked. I smiled and said he'd have to figure it out himself. Matthew climbed into the chimney, but instead of turning around to the east half, decided to climb the knobby face directly up to the higher west half. I had to admit it was a finer choice than my jumping across which seemed like a cheat by comparison. We took a few more pictures from the top, then decided it was time to head back.

It took almost another hour to get back to the car where we found Mike napping as expected. It was nearing 5p now and we were admittedly tired. Cannell Point was looking less attractive. The biggest problem was that it involved another nine miles each way on winding dirt roads, and the diversion might cost us another 2-3hrs. In the end we decided the long outing the next day shouldn't be jeopardized by a measly HPS peak, and we headed back to Lake Isabella.

Not finding any rooms available at the motels in the area, we decided to take Mike up on his offer to stay with his folks. This turned out to be the best choice of the whole weekend - Mike's parents were the perfect hosts, and despite our efforts to minimize our impact and disruption in their home, we were supplied with beers, appetizers, and Seinfeld on a projection screen almost as soon as we stepped foot inside. Life was very good indeed...


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