No visit to the Emigrant Wilderness Area is complete without an ascent of Granite Dome. Granite Dome is a massive piece of granite in the heart of the Emigrant Wilderness. It is the predominant mountain in this area with a smattering of picturesque lakes that provide both excellent camping and fishing opportunities.
There are ample climbing routes for all technical abilities, ranging from easy class II scrambles to more technical class V ascents.
Some of the easier routes originate from Wilson Meadow Lake (Southern Route), from Upper Lewis Lake, and from the west end of Ridge Lake.
Numerous technical routes lead up the shear granite cliffs on the south side of Ridge Lake. Caution is needed towards the southeast side of Ridge Lake due to frequent rock falls.
The domed summit offers spectacular views in all directions. On the northern horizen, the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness Area is visible with Round Top and Mokelumne Peak. Just below that we see Upper and Lower Relief Valleys, with Relief Reservoir, Iceland Lake, Ridge Lake, Sardella Lake and the Lewis Lakes.
Looking east we see the volcanic summits of Leavitt Peak, Relief Peak, Molo Mountain and Grizzly Peak. Turning slightly southward, Bond Pass and northern Yosemite come into view, with Hawksbeak, Forsyth, Quartzite and Tower peaks, the Saurian Crest and Bigelow Peak. Further south, Mts Dana, Lyell and Florence are visible in the Cathedral Range, as well as Haystack, Michie and Kendrick peaks. Below that are Long, Coolidge Meadow and Wilson Meadow lakes. The view westward is of Burst Rock, Cooper Peak, Three Chimneys, East Flange Rock and the Dardinelles. Be sure to bring your camera. There are no shortage of pictures to be taken!
On July 8th, 2001, a US Navy helicopter crashed near the summit of Granite Dome on the cliffs above Ridge Lake while participating in a search and rescue operation. The crew was setting up radio repeaters to allow comnmunications between the SAR teams when the accident occurred. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. The full story and photos of the crash can be found here.
Granite Dome is most easily accessible from the Huckleberry Trail. Begin at the Kennedy Meadows trailhead off of Highway 108, just west of the Sonora Pass. The base of the mountain is about 9 miles from the trailhead, with ample places to camp on all sides of the mountain.
The trailhead is located at the end of the parking area for the Kennedy Meadows Resort. Overnight parking at the resort lot is $10/night and can be paid at the resort lobby. Alternatively, free parking is available at the signed forest service "trailhead" parking lot, which is located about 3/4 mile from the trailhead.
Kennedy Meadows also operates a pack (horse) station. They will let you park overnight for free (and shower for free upon return) if you pack in with them one-way. They also have rental cabins, a supply store, small restaurant and saloon.
Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays in the Emigrant Wilderness Area at no charge. Call the Summit ranger station at (209) 965-3434 near Pinecrest ahead of time and they will prepare a permit for you in advance.
The climbing season varys each year depending on how much snow the area receives during the winter months. Hwy 108 closes during the winter, making winter access more difficult. So typically the most popular time to climb the mountain is from June through October.
There is excellent camping at Lewis Lakes, Sardella Lake, Ridge Lake, Iceland Lake, Wilson Meadow Lake or Lunch Meadow. You can also camp on the summit, though water is only available from seasonal snow melt. There is usually some not too far from the summit all year round. A free wilderness permit is required for overnight stays within the Emigrant Wilderness Area.