Skip to content

Charlotte Dome, Red Rocks, Needles

October 6, 2011

West Coast

I did a pretty quick packing job before heading out for a 10 day climbing adventure. We still hadn’t crystalized our plans but I knew we’d be heading into the mountains.   Lino and I had this week blocked out for several months but were waiting to fill in the details.

September 19th:

I caught an early flight to Denver and after a few delays and gate changes was on my way to Oakland.  Lino and Anne Kern picked me up at the airport with the Subaru backed full and ready to roll west.  It was already after 3:00, closer to 4 and we had a long drive to make it to the East side.   John had already landed in LA and was driving to Lone Pine.   Even though we had a reserved camp ground it was unlikely we’d make it there.  We made a few stops for groceries and gas.

Anne, Lino and I hit up Priest’s Grade for dinner.  The food was good and the view on the porch was amazing.  Plus there’s a good bit of climber kitsch on the wall.  It was dark by the time we got into YOS. WE headed up through Toulumne, stopping to star gaze. We found a camp at Saddlecreak. We hiked our food into the bear box and threw our sleepingbags on the ground.  The air was cool and got colder through the night.

September 20th:

I woke up with a nice layer of ice on my sleeping bag, shoes, glasses.  We ran out pretty quick in the morning and headed straight for the Whoa Nelly Deli in Lee Vining.  The Breakfast was great.  We went to the Lee Vining Inyo visitor center and picked up a backcountry pass for the next 3 days.  We let them know we’d be parking at Onion Flats and hiking over Kearsarge Pass.  The drive was pretty short, passing other classic climbing areas such as Owen’s River Gorge and Bishop.

We met John in Independence, filled some water and headed on up to the long steep road to Onion Flats. The parking area was pretty busy but we found room I the bear box.  It was early afternoon by the time we hit the trail.  By the time we were at Kearsage Pass, high above the Kings Canyon National Park, the weather was looking fowl.  Storms are common and brief this time of the day for this time of the year.  The hike was all down hill.  By the time we got to Charlotte lake we were ready to call it a day. Although Supertopo suggests continuing on another 2.5 miles to the east skirt of Charlotte Dome we decided to set camp by the lake.  In hindsight this was a brilliant decision.  We prepped for an alpine start and were in our bags by 8:30.

September 21st:

We crawled out of our bags before dawn, made some breakfast and were on the trail just as the sun was peaking around 6AM.  The trail was difficult to find at points and we battled some Manzanita to the base of the Dome.  The four of us were the only ones in the area, isolated by miles.  Once below the dome we contoured around the base, passing a shoe and eventually identifying the true south buttress.

We identified the start of the climb, an obvious crack punctuated with shrubs just the left of a scoop feature and right of a larger amphitheater. There were some slings around the small tree up high (though out of sight).   We roped up to simulclimb the first 3 pitches.  Lino and Anne tied in together and took off. I packed up John and my shoes, jackets and water into the ropemaster.  I took the lead and joined Lino at his belay 300 feet up.  Swinging anchors and sharing belays made the climbing quicker and less lonely.   I think John and the Crux pitches but I found myself on some committing climbing far above gear.  I belive we followed the Topo well, I even found the #2 sized hole on pitch 8.  I’m not sure I found the right belay before the furrow pitch.  Lino some how got a bit further than me and I reached the end of my rope before getting to him.  Fortunately he dropped a line for me to clip into and aid me in a traverse to a ledge 60m above John.  Miraculously I was able to build a decent anchor.   The Supertopo in coordination with the Chris Owen sketch will kept us on track.

Despite the fluid climbing there were some snafus. Somewhere on pitch 5 Lino dropped a key piece of gear. One of his approach shoes unclipped from his harness and it cruised past John and I.  “SHOE!”  I saw the shoe coming down, insole twirling away in the wind. I tucked my head in and looked for gear to plug. Fortunately John kept a keen eye on the shoe.  At the belay Anne asked me for my iphone. I had the topo saved on the phone and was taking it up in lieu of a paper topo.  Apparently Lino believed himself to have dropped their topo too.  I entrusted my phone to Anne and Lino and they lead us up the rest of the climb.  The missing Topo was recovered from an unchecked pocket and retuned to me with the iphone.

Once we descended Lino and John ran back for the shoe. Anne and I searched for the trail back to camp. Assuming we’d make it back first we took what we could from the Recon team.  This was a false assumption.  While Anne and I bushwacked back we heard John and Lino passing above us on a trail.  I was battling a horrible headache at this point and we feeling exhausted as well.  Anne and I took our time and refound the trail.  We met up with Lino before crossing the river in the dark.  We got back to the camp under star light (with aid of our headlamps).

September 22nd:

We slept in (till sun rise!) an took our time at breakfast.  Lino tried to kill us by smashing the presumed empty fuel canister with a rock.  We ate an unsweetened toasted chocolate & peanut-butter wrap.  The hike out was longer than the hike in.  We ran into a few JMT hikers along the way and agreed to move their car to the Whitney Portal.  We stopped at a lake for a cold dip before getting back to the cars.  John loaded up the hiker’s truck and I took the helm of the rental.  We drove down onion valley and waited for the Subaru. 15 minutes later just as we decided to head back up, the Subaru appeared. Lino’s battery had died and he had to get a jump.

We headed into Lone Pine and I bought some ice, Advil, and ice-cream as everyone went up to the Whitney trail head to drop off the truck.

The plan was to get climb in redrocks, traveling straight through Death Valley.  With night temperatures in the 80s (still in triple digits at sun down) we decided to push through the desert and find food in Pahrump.  We took our time in the desert and played in the white sand dunes.  We ate at Wuzzy’s and caught 2 rooms at the golden nugget.

September 23rd:

Las Vegas

We headed from Pahrump straight to Red Rocks (hitting one road runner flying low over the ground). I roped up with John at Dark Shadows (John took the odd pitches, I took the even). The climb was completely cool and shaded.  There was another party on the route and Anne knew them from back home.  Such is the climbing world.  We pulled our ropes into the pool below.  We hiked out and booked a room at Bonnie Springs. We made a stop in Desert Rock and Wholefoods.

It was going to be a late night for some of our party, Hanna was due in around 10:30.  John, Anne and I grabbed a whiskey at Bonnie springs’ bar and observed some wild life.  I crashed out on the floor between the beds and was asleep by the time Lino, Anne and Hanna returned to our room.

September 24rd

Stephen and I climbed Lotta Balls. I took the Balls pitch. It’s not so run out near the bolts, but definitely wild in the chimney. A few times I swung out onto the wild crumbly buttress to avoid the wide.  There is a nice ledge at the end of this long pitch.  John, Hanna, and Anne led Bruja’s Brew.

John and I then Lead black Magic. The first pitch is 4 stars, the 2nd is a meandering mess. John took the 3rd pitch through the roof. Fun climbing protected with a bolt.  We had dinner at Bonnie Springs. I went with the winner dinner of BBQ chicken.

September 25th:

Dreams of Wild Turkeys.

We took a predawn start and hurried out of the hotel by 6AM. John Drove the Subaru and we left Lino in bed.  John and I climbed as a team and Hanna and Anna ripped it up.  We were alone on the approach and climb.  The weather was perfect. I wore sleeves the whole way up, though it was hot when the sun peaked few for a few minutes.  The climbing was much more moderate than I expected. The crux of the climb should be approached from the right side of the bolts. The bolts are within reach of one another but the crux move is directly above/to the right of the last bolt.  The real difficulty is that you’re dragging nearly 200ft of rope at this point.  From here to the 7th belay, most of the climb is well bolted and the climbing speeds up.  The four of us rapped as a team, leap frogging the ropes. The Rap followed POD (glad I didn’t do that, all hanging belays).  We found our way back down to the wash and saw a few other climbers on different walls.  To our great fortune Stephen paid us a visit and left a cooler with beer and Gatorade in the Subaru.

We dropped John off at Guy’s and headed to NY Pizza and Pasta and I ❤ yogurt (an 80’s themed yogurt shop).  We missed last call at Bonnie Springs but I was tired anyway.

September 26th

Tunnel Vision

John had to get going early in the morning.  We had to make an early start too since Hanna needed to catch a flight out of LAS that afternoon.  We walked through the sun to the climb and temperatures were already soaring. Fortunately Tunnel vision is mostly shaded, in fact going through a cave like feature.  The pitches I lead involved some serious runnout through easy terrain.  The cave itself was pretty exciting. I headed up and went too deep too soon.  Needing to make some exciting moves back to the route.  There are indeed pockets in the back wall for gear (.5-1). Halfway through the traverse ledge there is a tie off.  From there you’re on your own squeezing through a tight chimney to the exit.  We made the long winding walk off.   I think I lost my harness pouch around here.  There were some bones and lots of sun.   We had lunch at a picnic table and Hanna packed the car for her curb side sendoff at the airport.

After leaving the airport we headed back east, making it as far as Ridgcrest/China Lake.  We had dinner at Kristy’s and found a Best Western.  Anne, Lino and I soaked in the hot tub and talked to some Canadians passing through.

Septemeber 27th:


Stephen tackled the winding road through Kern Valley.  We resupplied at the Southern Point of the Sierras and found our way to the campsites at the Needles. We set up our tents, had lunch and hiked in.  We climbed Igor Unchained.  Without a doubt one of the best climbes I’ve done.  Pitch 1: Continuous fist size crack in a corner. I walked the #2.  A piton and a perfect #4 make a hanging belay. Anne lead the second pitch, tackling an awkward roof and a tricky face/section.  She found a brand new #1 with matching biner, a prize worthy of her efforts.  I took the 3rd pitch and it was super fun. Plentiful gear, good stances, fun moves and amazing exposure.  This pitch is about 200ft to the rap chains.  We got down in 2 raps and Stephen ran back for our shoes.  We wondered out in the dark, but this was just a great chance to stare at the stars under the blackest of skies.

September 28th:

Needless to say we slept too late and needed to hit the road.  We drove back to Oakland, stopping in Fresno for lunch.  We made it back and had pizza and beer for dinner.  Anne took off I crashed on Lino’s couch.

September 29th:

The painters arrived right after we woke up and began scrapping away while Lino handled work calls.   I read some Early Bird and outdated Climbing Magazines.  I made use of some Continental drink vouchers and Emily met me at the airport at 1:00AM Friday.

Still not sure what happened to the fish we packed for John….


From → Climbing

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: