Twenty years ago the Ski Mountaineers Section (SMS) used to be joint with the Rock Climbing Section (former RCS, now SCMA). Many skiers were also rock climbers. In this spirit I was delighted to accept an invitation to join an SCMA outing to Church Dome. It was lead by climbing veterans Greg Vernon and Bob Lindgren and attended by SMS & SCMA member Leslie Hofherr and five other participants.
Church Dome is located in the Domeland Wilderness of the Sequoia National Forest, near Manter Meadow and Taylor Dome. Although not the highest dome it consists of a group of impressive rock outcrops which all require technical climbing skills for an ascent. There are many climbing routes of various difficulties. The rock is stable and often pocketed with chicken heads. Although not too far from LA the drive from the Kern River Valley past Big Meadow to Taylor Creek is somewhat time consuming. But from the end of the 4WD road it is only a 30 minute hike to the domes.
On Sat., 9/24, on a beautiful fall day, we started around 9am with some warm-up climbs. Greg led a cl 5.5 ridge route to a sub-peak, followed by Leslie and myself. Bob took the others to more challenging 5.10 climbs. After the first climb, Leslie lead a pitch up a wall on the neighboring dome. We rappelled down and moved on to a neighboring 5.7 climb.
Greg set up a top roped belay and we had fun climbing and rappelling until about 5pm. Then we headed back to camp for a potluck in great style, which included a Dutch-oven dinner of beef stew and plenty of Merlot. A campfire was running till 10pm. Coyotes were singing in the night.
On Sun, 9/25, we headed for the highest dome, appropriately called the "Taj Mahal".
Due to time limited in the morning, Greg led three of us up the easier 5.5 route on the NW ridge to the 5.7 summit block. It was great climbing and a rewarding view from the summit. We were the first party in 2005 to sign the nearly 30-year old summit register, and it was Greg's 8'th ascent.
The descent was a 160' rappel on the nearly vertical south face. A double-chain rappel anchor provided some confidence but the airy descent over the lip followed by a free rappel still called for attention.
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