I first heard of Calaveras several years ago from a guy I met while climbing at Phantom Spires. He raved about the size and quality of the granite, peaceful camping along the Mokelumne River and lack of people. But it was Fred Beckey's book that really hooked me. I gave my wife a copy of it for Valentine's Day (yup, I'm smooth as sandpaper) and was promptly accused of self-gifting. Oh well, I guess that means we're even for the Learn-to-Speak Spanish CDs she gave me for my birthday the other year (I already spoke Spanish).
In his book Fred profiles Sands of Time, an incredible 5.9+ line up the prominent hour glass feature in the center of Calaveras Dome. It had a bit of everything - hands, fingers, offwidth, squeeze, thin face - and I couldn't wait to get on it!
We arrived on Saturday and decided to warm up on Old Smokey, a 9-pitch 5.9 on the far right side of Cal Dome.
The first four pitches were stellar! Unfortunately, the quality of the climb deteriorated rapidly at this point and I don't think the pitches above get much traffic. I was basically wiping the grit/gunk off my shoes with each step...which added some spice to the climb!
Through the roof system, up a very dirty chimney and a bushy gully (definitely adventure climbing territory!), we reached the big dead tree at the top of the route.
Feeling warmed up and acclimated to the climbing at Cal Dome, we set our sights on Sands of Time for the next day. In our excitement we completely missed the approach trail and ended up bushwacking our way up a gully to the base of the wall, trying desperately to avoid the poison oak that guarded the cliff. We found the start and eagerly jumped on it.
Pitch 1 got the blood pumping for sure! It was strenuous climbing with an awkward offwidth section leading to some great jams and stemming. Geoff did a terrific job leading and I was sweating profusely when I reached the belay. P2 was my lead and it didn't let up...
The roof had an undercling and a crack to the left, both of which were caked in moss! My jams held however and it went easier than I expected. A wasp nest somewhere on the ramp leading up to the tree provided another interesting obstacle but I was soon in the clear. After that, Geoff led a short P3, traversing right and around a big block crossing the neck of the hour glass. And then it was back to me. There was a gnarly looking 5.7 squeeze or (supposedly) a 5.9 crack further out on the face. Beckey recommends the crack, so I traversed right onto the face...and made a big mistake.
If there was a 5.9 crack on the face, I didn't find it (maybe its that flake I'm holding in the picture). Anyway, I kept traversing right and up, looking for the crack and thinking the slab didn't look too bad... Soon enough I found myself about 40 feet right of the belay when the wall went blank. To make matters worse, I was at least 10 feet above my last piece of pro (which wasn't a great piece). I glanced down and left...reversing seemed pretty ugly. I looked up...and saw a massive chicken-head about 15 feet above me (salvation!) but nothing in between (f*ck!) The slab was steep and looked totally smooth, interrupted only for a brief section by a tiny vertical dike. My feet were on tenuous dimples in the wall and my calves were pumping. I kept running my fingers over the small dike, trying to find sufficient purchase and figure out how to position myself to side-pull on it without blowing off. I think I was frozen there for about 20 minutes, silently contemplating the sequence of moves to get to the chicken head. Finally I saw it come together - at least well enough to give it a go - three or four very thin moves followed by a lunge and my left hand gripped the chicken head! From there it was a straighforward line up the face and a groove to the base of an incredible finger crack - the pièce de résistance of the route.
Another pitch and we were at 12 0'clock ledge, the top of the hour glass. After pausing for lunch on the ledge, we decided that we weren't ready to descend. So we tacked on the Tibetan Towers - two pitches of fun but dirty climbing up the right side of a pair of massive flakes above the hour glass.
We reached the top of the towers and at this point the day was getting on and the climbing above looked less fun and more run out. And the risk of rapping down an unfamiliar line in the dark was not one that we wanted to take. So we dropped down the Silk Road (~7 or so double-rope rappels), grinning the whole way from an awesome day of climbing!
We wrapped up the trip the following day across the river at Hammer Dome. Gemini Cracks is a really fun 3-pitch 5.9 that ends with a superb finger-crack.
With that, it was time to go...Gemini was a solid way to wrap up the trip and I'd highly recommend it (though the start was a bit tricky to find).
We were stoked to have explored a new area and done some excellent climbs. I'd summarize climbing at Cal Dome as stellar though unpolished granite, with definite rough edges, some thin pro, quite clean down low but getting progressively dirtier and becoming adventure climbing as you ascend. And very lightly traffic-ed: we saw one other party on our first day and nobody else the rest of the weekend...unbelievable! We imagined this might have been what Yosemite was like long, long ago...
We're already plotting next year's adventure for Bros Trip 4. September can't come soon enough!