Punter's Paradise - A trip to Dome Rock

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Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
May 6, 2000
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Created On: Jan 17, 2004
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"How to dispose of old climbing gear"

[This trip report originally appeared on UseNet's rec.climbing newsgroup]

My friend, Mark, is an enthusiastic climber. He is a beginning leader. We've
done most of our climbing on simple routes, though he did get a good dose of
Eldorado multi-pitch routes a while back. Our work schedules are
"night-and-day" - that is, he is a gaffer (showbiz) trying to break into the
union, and I am a 9-to-5 programmer. Trying to coordinate for a trip has been
like spinning two roulette wheels and waiting for the numbers to match.

After hounding Mark for a couple weeks with constant phone calls with one urgent
question to begin the conversation ("Do ya hafta work this weekend?") we finally
had a match.

Friday, May 5, 2000:

"Do ya hafta work this weekend?"
"Great! We're goin' climbin'!!!"

Saturday, May 6:

We leave town late - 10:30 AM. I decide that the drive would be more
interresting if I take the scenic detour through Jawbone Canyon and Kelso Valley
to get to Lake Isabella. Scenic, but no shortcut...

We make a brief survey stop at Kernville Rock. I tentatively suggest climbing
here to maximize the time remaining today, but Mark expresses reservations about
the crowds and the small size of the formation. We move on.

McNally's for burgers!!! Did I hear a "mooo" coming from the kitchen?

Rafters are blocking the road in several places in the vicinity of Limestone. A
bus is parked on the river side of the road, and it's trailer is completely
blocking the south-bound traffic on a blind corner. Yikes!!

As we pass through Johnsondale, I make the decision to go to Dome Rock. A short
approach, and good camping are two of the stronger arguments backing the
decision. As we cruise along CA-190 we notice that most of the side roads are
still closed. The Dome Rock road is open, though. Whew!

The parking area is about half full - about a dozen cars parked hither and
thither. A few people are camped in rediculous spots, including one group that
camped in a small area sandwiched between the access road and the trail. To get
a feel for the location, we take a quick hike out the trail, then scramble out
on a ledge system to some orphan trees on the edge of the dome. The views are
hazy but grand.

Grab the gear and split! We head down the trail, following rubble-strewn
switchbacks and ledges. A flash of red catches my eye - a climber is visible
moving up a line on this edge of the dome. We then see the belayer at a small

The Tree Route is our chosen line. It's late, so we want something easy to
blast before dinner. The start of the route is dead obvious - find the big
ponderosa pine that looks exactly like it does in the Needles guide.

I rack up and get on the route. Within seconds I am attacked by ants! The
crack is a major highway for the little red suckers. I can climb the face moves
(the rock is not steep here) but when I go to place gear, they stream out to
defend the supply line. I climb fast. I place very little gear. I pass the
large ponderosa, then head up and right over dimples and edges up to the second
tree, a small cedar, and set the belay. I bring Mark up, and watch and learn.
Mark is a much more efficient climber, when following, at least. His balance is
much more natural, where I have a tendency to lean too far in on slabs.

It's 5:30 when we start the second pitch. Mark's lead. A nice hand-sized crack
cuts up and left from the belay for about 80' and disappears behind a bulge.
The climbing along the crack is so easy that I have to remind Mark to place more
gear, lest he fall and get clubbed by a big knob protruding from the face below.
He passes the bulge, then starts sending back negative signals.

"This cam is stuck! I can't get the f#(
The crack has ended, but another one starts just to the left...over that tricky
section of face moves. I babble because I'm anxious and excited. Mark yells
for me to shut up! He switches cracks and cruises the rest of the way to the
second belay - a small triangle of flat rock big enough for two human feet to
feel uncomfortable. We swap gear...

I start up the third pitch at nearly 6:30. A wide crack above the belay goes
quickly, but I do get my feet stuck in a narrow spot. Getting late...gonna be
dark soon. I reach a crossroads of sorts. The Tree Route continues left up an
easy 'corner' to two obvious bolts, then up for another pitch of face climbing.
To the right, maybe 30' away, is a two-bolt belay for another route. From this
belay, it looks possible to traverse right and escape. We hemm and hah for a
few minutes, then agree that an early escape is better than bivouacking 200
yards from the road. Besides, bivyig on a punter's route would be thorougly
embarrasing. I take the escape to the right. From my last piece, a #9 stopper,
I climb down a few feet and traverse on dimples, doing a hop-scotch routine
through a checkerboard of lichen. Two or three committing friction moves scare
me silly, then I get a 'thank God' hold to yard on. I build the belay, then
bring Mark up. I'ts 7:30. The weird lenticular clouds in the east are turning
pink. No more sun is shining in the Kern Valley.

Halfway up the pitch, Mark drops my retro-relic. I hear his "Oops!" followed by
"ROCK!!!" and a "tink-tink-tink" sound. I look down to see my #11 hex bounding
away into the darkness below. Sure hope nobody's down there!

We swap gear quickly, then Mark leads off along a flower-box ledge. The ledge
disappears, but he's able to step up over a small roof and pad his way over to a
tree. He manages to get in only one piece for the entire 60' traverse, and when
he gets within spitting distance of the tree, he slips...but recovers!! WHEW!!
I can barely see Mark in the darkness as he slings the tree and prepares to
bring me over. By now I'm whimpering about darkness and cold. I fear the dark
in situations like this, not for the monsters it contains, but for the forced
immobilization it brings. I quickly make the traverse, and we're done. A quick
class 2 scramble leads us over the shoulder of the dome and back to the parking
area. We manage to reach the truck before the last gloom of twilight fades

"Dad-burn-it! I want food!"

We hop in the truck and cruise over to the Ponderosa for dinner. I've passed
this place, but never been inside. We open the doors and are greeted by the
warm, alpine tavern ambiance. The 'hostess' greets us informally ("Oh...time
for the climbers, eh?"). We are seated at the Presidential Table - Lincoln and
Kennedy memorabilia under 1/4" of lacquer. Climbing and skiing guides hang from
a hook nearby, so we take down the E. C. Joe/Dick Leversee 1983 guide and marvel
at it's ancient look. We are also glad to see much more info than the Needles
guide contains, including a very funny "fear and loathing" cartoon about
trundling from the summit of Dome Rock.

As we wait for our food we sip Sierra Nevada stouts and read the list of
Lincoln/Kennedy assasination coincidences. Quite an impressive list!

"The name 'Lincoln' has seven letters. The name 'Kennedy' also has seven

Mark has the pork chops - two huge ones. I have the kielbasa and kraut. The
food is great! Halfway through my meal, the chef asks if I want anything extra
to put on it. He offers Jack Daniels mustard, horse raddish sauce, real horse
raddish... "That sounds great!" I say. He spends a couple minutes fiddling in
the kitchen, then hands me a tiny cup of freshly ground horse raddish. I dip a
chunk of sausage and take a bite...WHOOOOO!!! That's powerful good stuff!

The employees at the Ponderosa all look like they were just passing through and
were offered a job. The chef sits down to ask us how the meal is so far. We
both sing praise. He seems a bit sauced as he continues on to tell us about his
trip over the Sierra the day before...Tioga Pass was still closed, so he had to
detour south over Walker Pass. We yak for a bit, then an older, more familiar
patron wanders by and he leaves us to finish our gut-busting meal. We finish
dinner and discuss vodka with the hostess, then amble out the door and into a
chilly star-flecked night.

We return to the Dome Rock road, then hunt down a campsite. We settle on a nice
site down a side road, then set about building a fire. Mark produces a small
black case. What's in there? Camera? Radio? Nope! A pint bottle of
12-year-old Glen Livett scotch, and two 3-oz. silver cups. We sit around the
fire for a couple hours, enjoying Scotland's finest (wheeze...that's good) and
some of California's finest (cough...that's good). Soon neither of us can hold
up even a corner of a conversation. We stare into the fire, almost dozing.
Suddenly, I feel wet stuff falling. I look upward and get a face full of
drizzle. We call it quits and sack out for the night.

Sunday, May 7:

Six-thirty AM. I awake and look at my watch, realizing I've only been asleep
for 4 hours. I turn over and doze some more.

Nine-thirty AM. I awake and decide it's time to get up. It's a nice sunny day.
There's a breeze pushing puffy white clouds across the valley. Birds of a
thousand varieties form a musical, cacauphonous alarm clock. I dig in the truck
for the coffee apparatus.

I wake Mark, and we lazily sip coffee and yak. At about 11:00 we decide we're
wasting daylight.

There are only two other routes at Dome Rock that are within our punters' skill
level. They're on the opposite side from the Tree Route. We've settled on The
Last Dihedral because we both enjoy crack climbing, and it looks like it follows
a neat natural feature. As we pass the Tree Route, we see people on the route
as well as people lining up at the base. Fast movement on the face distracts
me... "Good Gawd!! That guy's soloing!" There is a guy working 'circles'
around the first belay of the route. I watch as the guy makes beautiful,
graceful moves, but I can't help but wonder how the roped climbers are taking
all this.

We reach the base of our chosen route and, after fiddling around on the rock,
decide to skip the 5.8 frictionless start up a black water stain. We scramble
up a slab and belay at a ledge that allows access to the dihedral above the
tough spot. Cheating, I know, but we're punters.

Mark leads off. Easy, grunting class 5 corner scrunches. The first hints of
trouble show when he reaches a bend in the dihedral, where the formation
overhangs. The crack expands. We have no gear that big. Mark reaches a bolt
halfway through the ascending traverse. He examines the moves forward...not
good! He makes an attempt to continue, but when he realizes that continuing
increases the chances of a pendulum back into the dihedral, he calls it quits.
I lower him from the bolt, and he cleans the crack on the way down. I expect
the carabiner to stay on the bolt, but he also informs me that he couldn't
retireve a #8 hex. I tell him not to sweat it, but I think "Hmmm...gaining
leader experience is expensive." I must have forgotten that.

We bail and decide to finish the Tree Route. We already know the first few
pitches, so it should be a breeze, right?

We arrive at the base at 3:30 PM. I'm doubtful we'll finish, but we start
anyway. Again, Mark leads off. He's going too slow. We'll never make it. I
don't tell him any of this because he's leading, and so dealing with a set of
fears that demand his immediate attention. After fighting the ants for
right-of-way in the crack, he reaches the belay. He brings me up, and we are
prompted by cooling temps and a spinning watch dial to call it quits. We rappel
and hike back to the parking area. We're both tired. It's not the glorious
return from shining victory, but rather the ponderous, dull glow of defeat and
acceptance. Nonetheless, we're satisfied, both quite happy to have a weekend of
climbing on such excellent granite.

As we load up the truck, another climber-type approaches with greetings...and a
purple REI carabiner! "Did you guys leave this?" "Um...yep. Thanks very
much!" (Yes, we're punters...cantcha tell?)

The journey home was nice. We took CA-190 out through Camp Nelson and
Porterville. As we entered Bakersfield we could feel the re-compression of city
life. The adventure is over...


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Punter's Paradise - A trip to Dome Rock

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