Although dwarfed in sheer size by some of the other massive domes in the Tuolumne Meadows region of Yosemite National Park, including Medlicott Dome, Polly Dome, & of course the steep & intimidating monstrosity that is Fairview Dome, Pywiack Dome is still one bad mother. Its main wall rising 600 ft. above tranquil Tenaya Creek, it captures the attention of all who pass it on directly adjacent route 120. Unshielded by forests or other features, it is one of the most prominent granite monoliths in the Tuolumne Meadows region.
Its prominence, & the proximity of the climbers scaling the dome, invites a great deal of roadside gawkers, from old-school RV drivers, to inquisitive European tourists, to cultural icon Harley Davidson riders whose amazing & awe-inspiring machines can be heard from miles away, to obnoxious teenagers tying up climbers’ walkie-talkie bands. In most cases (Half Dome cables route aside), one can escape these hordes of freaks by venturing a few miles into the backcountry. As Highway 120 goes about 100 ft. from the base of Pywiack Dome however, it is virtually impossible to do this here. Though you might try climb away from them, many of their voices have powerful lungs behind them, overcoming attempts at escape & necessitating nerves & a measure of patience beyond the already high amount required for rock climbing alone.
As with the majority of the formations in and around Tuolumne, Pywiack Dome’s main face has some classic rock climbing routes. These range from the moderate & well-protected (for the uninformed, an extremely rare combination in the Meadows!!) Zee Tree (a 5 pitch YDS 5.7), to the more conventional Tuolumne-style (great yet runout) Aqua Knobby & Dike routes (the Dike Route is rated YDS 5.9R, & has a sphincter-clinching 150 ft. potential fall at one point), & even to a handful of 5.13s. For those climbers who spurn the stereotypical serene 'wilderness experience' & delight in the aural bliss & nirvana generated by the melodious tones of unrestrained & unmuffled Harleys ridden by their rebellious owners into the sunset, this is also the place to climb.
As is the norm in the region, the rock quality here is phenomenal. Solid, grippy, & with ever-present knobs, climbing here is a delight. For locals, this is evident as one frequently encounters other climbers who have come from hundreds of miles away, if not from across the country, to climb here for a week or two.
Something to be kept in mind when planning a trip to the area is that unless your access includes snowshoes, snowmobile(s), &/or skis, you’ll fit your schedule to that of the seasonal opening times of route 120 (see the “When to Climb” section), generally from May/June to October/November.
Reno/Tahoe International Airport:
From Reno, take US 395 south approximately 140 miles. Go through Lee Vining (CA). Half a mile after leaving town, take the US 120 exit west towards Yosemite. Go to the toll booths at Tioga Pass (the highest driveable pass in California), ushering you into Yosemite National Park. See “From Tioga Pass.”
Eastern Sierra Nevada (California):
Take 395 to its junction with 120, shortly before reaching Lee Vining. Hang a L, & head for Tioga Pass. See “From Tioga Pass.”
San Francisco Bay Area/San Francisco or Oakland International airports:
From either Oakland or San Francisco, take Interstate 580 east. When you get to the split with Interstate 205, take the 205 east, passing through Tracy (there is an In ‘n’ Out Burger here- good to know for both the approach or the return). You’ll eventually merge with I-5 north. From here, the road will split. Take the one that says 120 East. Take this for approximately 8 miles. Make sure you’re in the L-hand lane now as the road splits & highway 120 briefly merges with 99 going north. Very shortly after this (stay in the right-hand lane), take the 120 East exit. From here, you’ll drive through Manteca, then countless (well, maybe 20 or so) miles of 2-lane agricultural road before finally reaching beautiful Oakdale, California. Take a left at the 3rd light, at which point the 120 merges with the 108 (there’s a fairly large sign shortly before the intersection, but you’ll be on the lookout). Go through Oakdale, & get gas (“petrol’” for you folks across the Pond), as it gets a lot pricier from here on out (it’s cheapest at the far end of town). This will also be the last resort for cel’ phone reception for most. Once through Oakdale, go approximately 23 miles on the combined 108/120. Take a right here, where the 120 now splits from the 108 (a sign indicates Sonora straight ahead, & Groveland/Yosemite/Chinese Camp to the R). Take this straight all the way to the Yosemite National Park entrance station. See “From the western Yosemite National Park entrance station.”
From the western Yosemite National Park entrance station:
Once through the fee collection station, keep going straight. Take a left where the road splits after 7 or so miles (staying on highway 120) to go towards Tuolumne Meadows. If traffic is light (this is a big if), you’ve got probably half an hour’s drive from here. After passing Tenaya Lake (there are restrooms here if you need them), you’ll briefly drive through the forest. After emerging, Pywiack Dome will seemingly erupt from the valley floor to your right (.8 mile after the far shore of Tenaya Lake). Park at one of the many pullouts, & figure out a convenient place to cross Tenaya Creek (stick to the established climbers’ trails if you can).
From Tioga Pass:
Drive west to Tuolumne Meadows. From the Tuolumne store, it's approximately 6.4 miles. To the left will be unmistakable Pywiack Dome. If you somehow drive too far & reach Tenaya Lake, turn around & drive .8 mile. Park at one of the many parking pullouts, and figure out a good place to cross Tenaya Creek & gain access to the base of the cliff. Use established climbers’ trails when possible.
No page about anything Yosemite National Park would be complete without this section. As great as the national park of Yosemite is, the BS that goes along with enjoying it can be overwhelming at times.
I. Getting in: Just to have the privilege of setting foot (or tire, as the case may be) in Yosemite National Park, you’ll have to:
a) cough up a wallet-emptying $20, which will allow you in-and-out privileges for 7 days,
b) buy an expensive-but-worth it National Parks Pass- currently (June 2004) $50, which will get you in and out of US national parks for a year, or
c) sneak in- this means entering the Park before the rangers can drag their asses out of bed & to the toll booths (while this varies, we’re probably talking before 6AM in the summer), & leaving after they decide to call it a day (you’re probably safe after 10PM). Have cash, check, or (now- yippee!) credit card ready in case your timing is off.
II. Food storage: On 5.11.2004, the Park Service announced that bear canisters are required in the backcountry within 7 linear miles of a road, as well as above 9,000 ft. Here is a map of required bear can' areas in YNP
III. Check out this Yosemite fees website (including the dough you'll shell out for the honour of tying the knot here).
When To Climb
Route 120, which provides access to Tuolumne Meadows, is not plowed in the winter, so most climbers must wait until it opens each year. The road is usually closed following the first major snowstorm of the season (late October to mid-November) until the powers that be determine it fit to be opened (usually late May to mid-June).
The Tuolumne Meadows campground is 50% first-come first-served. The other half is reserveable from July to September. The cost is $18/night per site (each site can have up to 6 people). Check out the website for Yosemite campgrounds. Find the link to the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Warning: there are many merciless mosquitoes here.
There are also multiple campgrounds before entering Yosemite National Park, both coming from highway 395 & coming from the west (look for the little tent signs). Also keep in mind that one can camp free in National Forest lands (outside of established campsites). Here is a page showing some campgrounds outside of the Park.
To camp in the backcountry around Tuolumne, a wilderness permit must be obtained. One can get a wilderness permit from the Tuolumne Wilderness Center (open 9.00 - 17.00; tel: 209.372.0263), off of route 120, slightly east of the actual meadows. As stated in the "Red Tape" section, a bear canister is now required within 7 linear miles from the road, as well as above 9,000 ft. This includes anywhere you're likely to stay while climbing Pywiack Dome. Here is a map of required bear can' areas in YNP.
As elaborated on in the “When to Climb” section, the Tuolumne Meadows area during the winter, like the rest of Yosemite & much of the Sierra Nevada, gets a lot of snow- enough that they don’t feel it worth plowing the road to keep the area open. So conditions that probably concern you are gonna be during the late spring/summer/early fall.
Some of the routes in Tuolumne are veritable waterfalls, either in a thunderstorm, or due to snow melt (one of the routes on Pywiack Dome is “Aqua Knobby”). Keep this in mind both in early season when the snow is still melting and when considering potential climbing conditions, should clouds build while you’re climbing & decide to expunge their contents onto you.
The weather in Tuolumne Meadows during the summer is known to be excellent- frequently sunny & warm, but not hot. Many climbers who spend their time in Yosemite Valley during other times of the year retreat to this haven to escape the oven-like temperatures that are common in “The Valley” in the summer. Having said this, storm clouds can & do build up occasionally while climbers are in the middle of a climb. As Pywiack Dome (as many of its brethren) has little vegetation on its steep granite slopes, you will be without much competition come a lightning storm. Thus it is advisable to start early, climb fast, & keep escape options in mind.
Though lower than many of the surrounding formations, the views from the top of Pywiack Dome are nonetheless phenomenal. Right at one’s feet lies tranquil Tenaya Lake, with the impressive granite monolith of Tenaya Peak rising proudly from its shores. In the distance, the unmistakable profile of Half Dome is easily discerned. The masses of Mountaineers Dome & Polly Dome are directly across the valley. The Lamb is discerned slightly farther away, also right off of 120. The classic W Ridge & SW face of mighty Mt. Conness are far off in the distance. The top of great Fairview Dome can be discerned behind the bulk of Medlicott Dome, while the sublime lines of Cathedral Peak rise up above their great granite foundation on the other side of the valley from Pywiack Dome. In short, the scenery surrounding one on the summit of Pywiack Dome is jaw-dropping (if possible, catch a summer sunset here!).
“The north or Ten-ie-ya branch of the Merced, which comes down the North Cañon from the glistening rocks at its source, was called Py-we-ack, ‘the river of glistening rocks,’ or more literally, perhaps, ‘the river-smoothed rocks,’” (Bunnell, Discovery, 1911, 207) Both the creek and Tenaya Lake were called “Py-we-ack” by the native Americans. The BGN revoked that name in 1932 and approved “Pywiack.”
The Whitney Survey of 1863 remarked upon Pywiack Dome: “At the head of Lake Tenaya is a very conspicuous conical knob of bare granite, about 800 feet high, the sides of which are everywhere finely polished and grooved by former glaciers.” It was known early on by various names, including “Murphy’s Dome,” “Teapot Dome,” “Matthes Dome,” “Ten-ieya Dome,” & “Turtle Rock.” The actual name “Pywiack Dome” was recommended by David Brower in the early 1950s, and first appeared on the 1956 15-minute quad.