Like Yosemite granite but hate the crowds? Like gritty granite domes but hate logistics and having to pay for/reserve campsites all the time? Then Herring Creek Dome is for you. Granted, there are not nearly as many routes on this dome nor are there as many domes as in Yosemite, but it can still feel like a slice of paradise.
Herring Creek Dome is a large granite dome at least 400 feet high and is located near Herring Resevoir, Pinecrest Peak, and the miniscule towns of Cold Springs and Strawberry. The climbing is typical slabby granite and there are routes from 5.0 - 5.11 on the dome itself. One can also climb a gully to the west of the dome to reach the top. The routes can be up to 5 pitches in length, though angle at the top of the dome decreases considerably. Many routes are both trad and bolted. There is also bouldering in the area if that is your gig.
Herring Creek Dome is about 3 hours from the Bay Area. From Hwy 99, go east on Highway 108. You'll go through several small towns including Jamestown and Sonora. After about 30 miles, you'll reach the town of Cold Springs. Go another 5 miles and you'll get to Strawberry. 2.5 miles past Strawberry turn right on Herring Creek Drive. (It's a paved road.) Keep going 2.8 miles and then turn right on the forest road 4n27. (It's a dirt road but don't worry -- I drove it with my Honda Civic.) Keep going about 1.5 miles and you'll reach a locked gate just before a wide bridge. This is where you should park. This is also where you can camp. (See below)
If you are coming from the east side, you would simply head west on the 108 instead and cross over Sonora Pass. Turn left on Herring Creek Drive 2.5 miles before the small town of Strawberry. Then just follow the directions above.
Once you have packed up your climbing gear and stuff you'll need for the day, walk around the locked gate and take an almost immediate left in a wide clearing. You'll be paralleling Herring Creek and walking uphill. There should be some faint pink ribbons marking the path. You'll continue up this path with the creek on your left and the dome (eventually) on your right. It's about 1 mile to the base of the dome.
There is another way to access Herring Creek Dome from the top -- to go this way you would drive out to Pinecrest Peak but I am not familiar with this approach. Perhaps someone else can comment on this.
"Often laden with snow in the early season, it is possible to otherwise drive to the top of [Pinecrest Peak], and walk down and around to the base. 4x4 helps, but is not mandatory, at least some clearance is required. e.g. a Toyota Tacoma 2x2 can make it in most seasons after the snow melts."
From Brutus of Wyde:
"Due to a few steep and sandy sections, the road to Pinecrest Peak is best travelled in a 4WD vehicle. There is a nice small flat parking area near the summit. Just below the Pinecrest Peak is the Red Herring Dihedral area, a short section of overhanging cliff visible from below. Two routes have been establisher here, Red Herring (5.8, clean pro) and Lakeview Arete (5.10a, bolted to chains). Both feature strenuous overhanging face climbing."
Herring Creek Dome is located on the USGS Pinecrest Quadrangle.
As this area is somewhat primitive and undeveloped, no permits or other fees exist. There is, however, a designated hunting season -- it should be posted at a small bulletin board just before the bridge. For 2004: Sep. 18 - Oct. 31
If you want to have a campfire, you'll need a permit. Please see below, under "Camping."
When To Climb
Because of its elevation and remoteness, Herring Creek Dome is usually climbed from late spring - fall. At other times there will probably be substantial amounts of snow.
There are several unmaintained campsites near the parking area, just before the wide bridge. I understand that if you want to have a campfire, you'll need a fire permit, a bucket, and a shovel. You can get one of these permits at a Ranger Station.
From Dan ("Keema"): There are two ranger stations to get fire permits. Both are on Hiway 108. The first is in in Mi-Wuk Village and he second is at the turn off from 108 for Pinecrest and Dodge Ridge Ski area, about a mile before Strawberry.
A Climber's Guide to the Sonora Pass Highway
Brad Young, Hope Wolf and Jim Lundeen(2001) YoungWolf GP;
This is the only guidebook I know of pertaining to this area. However, it may be difficult to find -- Amazon doesn't seem to have it. You may be able to find it at some local climbing stores.
Addition from Mungeclimber -- you can get the guidebook at:
Marmot Mountain Works in Berkeley
Planet Granite in Santa Clara