Jim leading Great Circle on Daff Dome
Jim leading Great Circle on Daff Dome
Cloud’s Rest during storm
Our first day in Tuolomne, my son and I hiked in to the Coyote Crags in hopes of climbing there. We mostly bushwhacked through spiny shrub, but eventually reached a summit with tremendous views of Tenaya Canyon and Cloud’s Rest.
“Wow, what’s that?” Tristan asked.
“Cloud’s Rest,” I replied.
“I want to climb it!” he announced.
Great. Now I was in for a huge approach, 18-pitch route that no one I knew had climbed (or knew where it went), and then a long hike back to the road at the end. Although I’d always wanted to climb Cloud’s Rest when I was in my teens and climbing in the Valley, but found no one else deluded enough to attempt a fairly remote, very long, and totally unknown climb.
However, heading back from the store during the big storm, Cloud’s Rest presented a very different picture. Streams now coursed down the very rock we’d be climbing up. Getting caught here during a storm looked to be about the worst possible place to be, second only to Via sin Aqua, the Yosemite Valley climb that goes up right where the water fall runs in spring (but goes dry in fall).
I’m going to consider that climb very carefully before we get on it!
Hal on Dixie Peach, Stately Pleasure Dome
One Saturday morning, as I was lazing around my campsite, Hal walked in.
“Your mom sent these shoes up for you!” he said.
Wow, what a deal. I’d had my favorite granite face climbing shoes resoled as I was leaving Colorado, then mailed to my mother’s house in the Bay Area, and hoped she could mail them to Tuolomne, general delivery, and that I’d see them eventually. Instead my mother cleverly called my late Dad’s various climbing partners and found one heading for the Sierra.
Not only did they bring me shoes, but they also invited me to climb with them! My last partner had left a day earlier, so this proved a pleasant surprise. Jim and Hal didn’t object to a third climber tagging along, so we headed for Dixie Peach, a climb on Stately Pleasure Dome directly by Tenaya Lake. I’d never done this climb, which shares the first pitch with South Crack (maybe why I hadn’t climbed it, as South Crack often has a line of climbers waiting to climb this ultra-classic, but fairly run-out, Tuolomne route.
After the belay at the end of the short first pitch, Dixie Peach heads straight up on flakes with liebacks and then onto 5.9 and easy 5.10 friction, while South Crack follows the right-angling crack. In the photo, Hal has passed the belay for the first pitch and is heading up the flake toward the friction just below the belay. A second pitch of friction climbing on slabs leads to another bolted belay, and from here a third pitch runs to the top.
Erin Paik, age 5, on the Honeymoon Cracks
After storm number two set loose a mudslide that closed Tioga Road, the rangers directed all eastbound traffic to Porcupine Flat, the campground where I’m the host. As I was leaving the now very crowded campground, a man from a van coming in stopped me and started to ask,
“Are there sites avail…?”
Which he changed to a surprised shout of “Sibylle!”
Imagine my surprise at seeing Leo Paik, with wife and three daughters in tow on their return trip from Half Moon Bay, California, to Colorado. Two of Leo’s daughters are on the cover of my book, Fun Climbs Colorado, taken when they were seven and nine. Here was my big chance to take Leo’s daughters climbing and get photos of the youngest, Erin Paik, age five.
After I ran through the options of where to take the girls, we decided to head for the Honeymoon Cracks (also called the guide cracks) on Daff Dome. Four cracks with two rappel anchors would offer the widest range of opportunities for the three girls, ranging from Erin, age five, to Kira and Jackie, ages 10 and 12.
We climbed the easiest crack, the right-most, a 5.6, which gets progressively easier as one gets higher. It’s about 80 feet to the anchors, from which one can also toprope the adjacent 5.8 crack. Erin had never climbed a crack, so all of us tried to imbue a little jamming technique. As you can see from the photo, she deftly avoided the crack and instead used the adjacent face! Fortunately the Tuolomne knobs graced both sides of the crack and provided plenty of holds to hang on to.
The entire family cheered to see Erin climb her very first 5.6!
The Alimony Cracks on Daff Dome
We headed up to Daff Dome (which imaginatively stands for “Dome Across from Fairview” – they obviously didn’t have climber’s naming those formations!) to climb shorter one to two-pitch routes, since we’d been fiercely hailed on a day earlier and feared a repeat performance.
On the south side of Daff Dome, a collection of both easy cracks and less easy face climbs entices the climber to try them. We started on a face climb called Great Circle with a 5.9 first pitch and a second pitch rated 5.10a. Hal led both pitches together, but you need either two ropes to rappel or need to do two rappels to get back down. Great Circle starts up a thin crack, with nuts and small cams for protection. When the crack ends, the climbing continues on friction and thin edging on orange glacier polish. The crux, in the second pitch, involves edging on thin polish.
Looking west from Daff Dome I saw climbers on the adjacent Alimony Cracks, which we climbed next. The route involves very enjoyable hand jams with one short crux move and goes in one long pitch at 5.8. From the anchor it’s possible to toprope another 5.10a face climb. The descent requires either two ropes or two rappels.
While climbing today, a huge storm drove us down off the rock and back to the shelter of our cars. Soon after I’d reached the safety (and comfort) of my van, thunder and lightning pealed simultaneously and hail pounded the roof of the car. I was sure happy to be inside, and not out in the weather.
Close to an inch of hail fell in a very brief time. I’d driven to the Tuolomne Store after the climb, and when I left the store parking lot, I noticed about a mile’s worth of stopped cars on the road (luckily heading east, whereas I wanted to head west. The torrential downpour loosed a rockslide across the Tioga Road - the only east-west road to cross the Sierra Nevada for miles in either direction.
I headed west, back to Porcupine Flat where I hopes my tent withstood the assault of wind, rain, and hail. The day before, when I returned from climbing with friends, I noticed that a bear had visited my van and left a large footprint on the window. I took a photo, but don’t know how well it’ll show up.
Penstemon bloomed along the roadside on the drive from the Big Oak Flat entrance to Tenaya Lake. Lupines bloomed along the road beside Tenaya Lake and Stonecrop grew along the cliffs.
We’ve moved into our new home for the coming month – a campsite in Porcupine Flat campground in Tuolomne Meadows. Our tent sits beside a small brook with burbling water that drowns out any traffic noise on busy weekends.
Our nearby neighbors include a juvenile marmot that lives in a hole under a tree beside the bathrooms (and trash can). The campground only opened for the summer on July 3, so Mr. Marmot has had a long winter (since mid-October) without human visitors. He doesn’t seem very shy and I can get pretty close to take photos.
I’ve noticed a lot of European visitors, all of them happily telling me about how cheap the dollar is for them today and how much easier it is for them to travel around the US in the large motor homes they’ve rented. The German couple across the creek moved in on July 3 and saw a bear their first day here. I haven’t seen the bear yet, but it’s gotten a lot busier in the campground.
We left the City of Rocks, Idaho and drove to Tuolomne Meadows in California. We’ll be here about a month while I’m the campground host at Porcupine Flat campground. We’ll rock climb here about four days a week and hike, swim (if not too cold), and visit spectacular nearby places like Mono Lake on our rest days.
The snows that pummeled Colorado and the Sierra this past winter left a legacy of more wildflowers in Tuolomne than I’ve seen in years.
Stonecrop grew along the cliffs and what I think may be wild Buckwheat grew in sandy areas.
The sun hits the west side of Site 18 shortly after noon
On Sunday, we headed to site 18. With temperatures hovering near the high 80s, shady crags like Morning Glory Spire, the east side of Parking Lot rock, and other east-facing crags teemed with climbers on every moderate route and a waiting line behind them.
Getting to site 18 involved a hike (nearly 40 minutes, since we weren’t sure of the way), but when we arrived, we had a shady crag with a flat sandy base and a nice cave to ourselves.
With five bolted climbs, we started in on our first route, rated 5.7. Tristan rushed upwards at less than his usual speed, even occasionally stopping to figure out the move. When I cleaned the climb, I could see why: though rated 5.7, the moves proved more challenging than I had expected and at the crux, I couldn’t have clipped the bolt and could barely reach to unclip our long draw. A few pumpy moves on steep rock got me to better holds and a good stance, but the climb was by far the hardest seven we’d climbed and harder than some of the 5.8s, like Rye Crisp and Delay of Game in the City, or It Takes Two at Castle Rocks.
Tristan commented that the climb has a hard start, especially for shorter climbers, and a steep hard move at the third bolt but then eases off after the fourth bolt. With only six clips total, the climbs are short but stiff.
We then climbed the adjacent 5.8, which also seemed hard for the grade. A face climb on rounded knobs, with some discontinuous thin seams scattered about to use as sidepulls, it provided enjoyable climbing with well-placed bolts. Both routes have excellent chain anchors.
After a short snack, the sun was approaching the cliff. With shade until 12:45, if someone got up earlier (not easy with a teenager), they’d have four hours of climbing before the sun hit the rock.
Feeling lazy after climbing three days in a row, and hot in the sun, we headed back.
Our laziness soon ended. As I desultorily ambled along the trail, a flash between my legs followed by fierce rattling caused me to jump and run. I’d missed stepping on a rattler in the trail by inches. Horrified, I watched as the big snake, about 2 inches in diameter, lazily crawled into the bushes. I wasn’t fast enough to get out my camera, since I’d been busy running and screaming. The rattler was loud enough that my son heard the rattling even over my screams, and the snake continued to rattle all the way over to the rocks, where he disappeared into a hole.
I volunteered Tristan to walk first on the remaining way back, but he declined.
“Snakes are more likely to bite the second person anyway,” he explained. “The first person just riles them up, and they bite the next.”