Saturday, August 22, 2009

Charlotte dome fiasco

Author : Steve Adamson

The campsite that we stayed at the first night in the high sierras was also the trailhead for Charlotte Dome, which was one of the climbs we had on our 'to do' list. Therefore, we decided to head into the backcountry and try this climb rather than go into Whitney.

At the trailhead

The guidebook listed the approach time as 6 to 9 hours. It is a 13 mile hike that goes from 8,000' over a pass at 11, 700' and back down to 10,000'. We later figured out that approach times are for someone with a climbing pack only. If you have camping gear & supplies you should double these times.

The hike into the dome was beautiful. The High Sierras have some magnificent lakes and meadows. The climb to the pass was long and hot, but we reached 11,000+ feet in good time. The rest of the hike was downhill.
At the kearsarge pass
Just after the pass we were hit by a thunder storm. The clouds were very black and the temperature dropped. Luckily we were not on a high point at the time. It started to rain, and at one point we were hit by hail stones. One cut Peter on his knuckle.

After about 1 hour the storm passed and it cleared up again. We kept on trekking and trekking.

We reached charlotte lake; A beautiful deep blue
lake that was too far from the climb to stay at.

According to the guide book there was a perfect campsite near the dome. We followed the directions, and we know we were close. However, the directions were not very specific, and we were sore and tired. We found our own spot and set up camp. We were in bear country so we had to take precautions to save our food.

That evening our shoulders were in agony. Carrying heavy packs without any training was not a good idea. We had also seriously miscalculated how far it was to the climb. We had originally planned on climbing and hiking out the next day. However, we realized that was not realistic. We changed our plans to climbing the next day, and hiking out the day after. Unfortunately, we did not bring food for 3 days.

Big packs
We reorganized our food allotment, and figured we could squeak it out for an extra day. One supper consisted of a pop tart each and a granola bar. We slept painfully that night as the body ached every time we turned over.

We woke at 6 a.m. and had a quick breakfast before heading to the climb. It was another 1 hour hike to the climb with some scrambling over slabs to find the start. We located the start of the climb, roped up and started at 8 a.m. The climb is 12 pitches at 5.8
Peter started up the first pitch, and I leap frogged through. The climbing was straight forward, although we had to be careful with the route finding. I was not feeling great. We were at 10,000' in elevation, and the hike the day before was brutal. However, I kept quiet and we continued to climb.
Charlotte Dome
Pitch 5 put us just below the crux of the climb, and this was the last chance we would have to retreat. I had led the last pitch, and when Peter reached me, he said he did not feel too good. When I suggested we retreat he agreed. The retreat was not straight forward since there were no fixed anchors.

The first rappel was from a single nut jammed in a crack. It was a solid piece, but rappeling off a single piece, 500' above the ground is quite exciting. We finished the rappels only losing 3 slings and 2 nuts. We made our way back to camp for a cup of tea and a granola bar.

Sicne it was still early in the day, Peter wanted to start the hike out and possibly get over the pass before night fall. This would make the next day all downhill. We packed up camp and started off. The hike was a constant game to try and minimize the pain on the shoulders and back from carrying the packs. We again encountered a thunderstorm just before the pass, but we decided it was not too bad so continued on. We pushed on until 7:30 p.m when we arrived at a small lake. Again, our shoulders and back were in agony.

The next morning we slept in til 7 a.m. It was a great location for breakfast; A package of oatmeal each. That was the end of our food with the exception of a few gummy worms found in the bottom of the pack.

Even though it was downhill back to the car, it was a tough trek. We finally reach the trailhead at noon. Sore, tired, but we had a good adventure. We did not reach the top of the cimb, however we had retreated in good style. After a quick change of clothes, we drove down to 100 degree heat in Lone Pine where there was a subway.

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