South Face 5.8

  • Currently 5.0/5

Charlotte Dome

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
South Face of Charlotte Dome (III, 5.8) (Photo TR)
Tuesday October 16, 2012 4:09am
I'm surprised to see the beta post that said this route was not very good. I've climbed a lot of declared 'classics' the past couple of years in California, and I figured yeah, this would be a nice 5.7-5.8 classic, but probably forgettable rock, views, and moves among the numerous other 5.7ish classics in California. Boy was I wrong! So I'm giving the route some props. The rock was interesting, the climbing varied in both type and difficulty, and the views were spectacular all around. The quality of the rock was also pretty unreal for a High Sierra trad climb. Nothing loose anywhere! It was almost like being in Tuolumne Meadows.

However, this route is not for the fledgling 5.7-5.8 alpine trad leader. You should have your alpine skills pretty dialed, including routefinding and comfort with runouts. I found the climb overall to be much harder than the Regular Route on Fairview Dome, and much more committing, even though the technical crux was easier on Charlotte.

South Face of Charlotte Dome route annotation according to SuperTopo.
South Face of Charlotte Dome route annotation according to SuperTopo.
Credit: PellucidWombat

May 27, 2012

As a last minute Memorial weekend "Plan B" climb, Scott Berry and I seized an opportunity to climb together and experience a route that we both had at the top of our lists: The South Face of Charlotte Dome (III, 5.8, 12P). This "50 Classic Climb" turned out to be a stellar outing, with pitch after pitch of immaculate rock, varied climbing features and ever increasing exposure. Scott & I managed to extend & link pitches such that we brought it down to 9 LONG pitches.

We waited until after the Saturday snow storm had passed before heading up late Saturday night-err Sunday morning? This snow storm did leave the route in rather unique conditions for us as the Furrows were shedding ice all day. This was trivial lower down where the chunks had a chance to shatter into small bits, but closer to the headwall, one was aware of climbing through a firing range! We hurried through that part to get under the cover of the steeper headwall.

It turns out my friends Chris Terry & Dominique & their friends also had plans to climb the route, and we ran into them at the base and climbed it as 3 teams of 2. They let us go ahead of them with the idea that we could do the routefinding work. This worked out well, though some of the belay anchors got a little crowded.

Charlotte Dome seen from the approach slabs. From here we could see there was still some snow and ice in the cracks and furrows high on the face. Route topo shows how we pitched out the route (yellow dots) vs. SuperTopo (gray dots)

First sighting of Charlotte Dome at the Charlotte Creek-Bubbs Creek junction.

Fresh dusting of snow on West Vidette.

Farquhar & an intriguing big-ish wall.

Farquhar Panorama.

Nearing the base of the route.

Nearing the start of the climb (by Scott Berry).

Start of Pitch 1. Climb to that little tree on easy ground. You really could simul-climb the first 2-3 pitches.

Chris lost her helmet in the river. This was my solution, courtesy of my pack hood. Despite the rave fashion show reviews, Chris declined to use my idea on the route.

Cindy and Scott getting serious atop P1.

Pitch 2 scrambling.

Pitch 2 scrambling, with fresh icicles.

The rest of the party arriving at the P2 belay.

Scott leading off into slab land on P3. Pro was sparse, but the climbing was very easy & secure.

Looking up P4. The runout traverse was pretty easy, just watch out for the dribbling water!

P4 5.5 chimney. There be ice in them thar cracks.

P5 5.7 corner.

Party at the P3 belay.

Brewer, North Guard, and Farquhar.

West Vidette, Mt Stanford & Mt Ericsson.

Pitch 6, The Slot Pitch (5.8). This was supposed to be the crux, and had interesting mixed face, stemming & crack climbing.

P6, straightforward crack above the slot. Sustained 5.7.

Pitch 7 traverse. Very easy, but make sure to go far enough to access the hidden 5.6 crack. It's very exposed and very hidden.

The wide corner of P8 looms above (5.8).

Weeping furrows. Watch out for the falling ice!

Starting out on P8 (by Scott Berry).

P8 wide crack. This went on for over 100' (5.8). SuperTopo was spot on that it was more awkward than hard. Bring your #3 & #4 Camalots for this pitch.

Deeper inside the P8 wide crack

Scott nearing the end of P8.

The runout Pitch 9 (5.7R). I placed 1 #2 camalot in a flaring crack 3' above the anchor, then had to climb 40' on sloping hand & footholds to the first piece of pro, somewhere up and left. Don't get lost!

Pitch 9, looking back at the belay from my first piece of pro. I don't like face & slab climbing, so this was spooky!

Leading runout P9 (by Scott Berry).

Pitch 9, getting higher. Not as hard, but plenty of smaller runouts and questionable gear. 4 of my nuts popped out from rope drag. All of my cams held and I was happy to have C3s to use.

Nearing the end of P9. Well, at least the end of my rack and rope. No anchor-worthy cracks in sight, so I climbed into the furrows hoping to find a spot to belay.

Climbing the furrows on P10. No cracks! Although the climbing was very steep, at least it was very solid & easy, like climbing a ladder or jungle gym. I got one piece of pro, a tied off horn, before stepping left around a corner to a ledge with an anchor-worthy crack.

Salvation! I anchored here, and Scott continued up this wide corner and back into the furrows as our P10.

Looking down P9. Getting crowded at the P8 belay!

Looking down P9. Cindy ran low on small gear, and based on my reports of not finding an anchor, she stopped short on the pitch where an anchor could be made. She's climbing the last half of the pitch just as Chris Terry is reaching their anchor that is at about mid-pitch.

Mt Ericsson & Ericsson Crags (by Scott Berry).

Mt Farquhar.

North Guard (by Scott Berry).

Bubbs Creek area, with Brewer, North Guard, and Mt Farquhar in the distance.

Getting a little cold in the shade (by Scott Berry).

Scott leading P10 to the left of the furrows before crossing back into them.

P10-P11 furrows (5.7).

At the big ledge, looking at P12 (5.7), the last pitch. I went far right and then back left, though there seemed to be many ways to go.

Topping out on the summit ridge.

Charlotte Dome summit block. Pretty cool spot!

Window view from the summit ridge.

Scott following up the summit ridge.

Summit shot in the clouds (by Scott Berry).

A "glory" (halo) and "broken spectre" (shadow) atop Charlotte Dome. Scott & I are the spectres!

We were having a good an relaxed enough time on the summit that we decided to wait for the others to have a social hike down with them. We thought they were right behind us on the final pitches . . .

Ridges north of Charlotte Dome.

Ridges north of Charlotte Dome.

Sunset on Brewer, North Guard & Farquhar.


Cindy got to us just before dark. Apparently some of the clustering on the slab pitch slowed them up a lot, as well as just slowing down as the day wore on. Chris and Dominique still hadn't summitted by sunset. We eventually managed to get into contact with them, about a pitch below, and after giving some assistance (I lowered Cindy down on rope), we were all on the summit at midnight.

We picked our way down the exposed 4th class ridge. The weather had cleared up, but it was pitch black, making the routefinding difficult. I was going into auto-pilot mode as I hadn't gotten much sleep that week and was now pushing nearly 39 hours with virtually no sleep since Friday morning (I think my brain decided to clock out at about midnight as I had been expecting to be asleep by then!).

We reached a spot where the ridge seemed to cliff out, just about 100' short of the saddle, and as I was investigating a reasonable way around the impasse, the others decided we were close enough to the gully that maybe we could rappel into it. Normally I would have been very resistant to this idea as I don't like to rappel unless it is absolutely necessary (It usually is not the quick and guaranteed escape that many people tend to think it is). But I was so tired, I just followed along. So Scott offers to take the blame for this one while I was mentally AWOL :-P (Actually, Scott only offers 95% responsibility. Some of the others offered various percentages as well for themselves, and naturally my passiveness with the rappel factored in to things. How shall we proportion responsibility among 6 people? . . . eh, let's just say it was one big cluster that led to the bivy).

One rappel led to another, which led to another, which led to another, which led to another, and then the rope didn't reach any more anchors. Hmmm . . .

We were at a small, sloping ledge beside a tree, the weather was nice, and we only had a few more hours until sunrise by now anyways, so we decided to bivy and work out how to get down in the morning when we could see better.

I was nice and comfy sleeping inside my backpack while hanging on a gear anchor and managed to get a good amount of snoozing (I was last down on the rappel and there was not enough space for me by the tree). The others huddled in a pile under a single space blanket beside a tree. Unfortunately they couldn't fall asleep while I was able to. Fortunately, I was far enough away that they couldn't take out any frustrations on me and my snoring :-)

Waiting to rappel from the bivy tree. Ugh. (by Scott Berry).

The next morning we could see better, and with 3 ropes tied together we were able to span the remaining slabs to get off. Some of the others learned how to pass knots on this rappel, and we left a large enough sling loop on the tree for the knot to pull through.

We regrouped, had a nice breakfast together, and stumbled back down to Bubbs Creek to a welcomed a nap and some IPAs that the others had left chilled in the river. It was a great way to end the trip!

Charlotte Dome descent. Yeah . . . we messed this up in the dark.

Dome-lett north of Charlotte Dome.

Dome-lett north of Charlotte Dome.

Charlotte Dome seen from the east.

Charlotte Dome and dome-lett seen on the descent.

The Sphinx.

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About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.

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Andrew Barnes

Ice climber
Albany, NY
  Oct 16, 2012 - 04:31am PT
That's a great trip, great photos. I wasn't expecting a sting in the tail with that bivvy. Great trip report.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Oct 16, 2012 - 04:48am PT
I wasn't expecting a sting in the tail with that bivvy.

Neither was I!

The others needed some assistance as they hadn't finished by sunset, then Scott & I were pretty much shut down from sleep deprivation, then the others didn't like the exposure of the descent in the dark and suggested rappelling, thinking the gully was just a short ways below (and I was in autopilot and just followed along against my better judgement when they started zipping down!) - the dark, downward spiral of the bivy . . .

Still, it was all good fun with happy friends and pleasant weather. Even the bivy and stumble down the next day was fun with the group :-D
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Oct 16, 2012 - 05:17am PT
looks like great Tuolomne-quality rock
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
  Oct 16, 2012 - 09:40am PT
Best rock I ever climbed. Very good report.

Trad climber
Davis, CA
  Oct 16, 2012 - 09:45am PT
I was a bit surprised by the negative comments about the route in the other post too. If you didn't like CD then you might just not like climbing! It is one of my most memorable routes. Loved the TR too!

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
  Oct 16, 2012 - 09:54am PT
Great TR and beautiful photos. Yeah, I read that beta post and couldn't quite believe my eyes. I thought this route was one of the best moderate classics I've ever done in the Sierra. We'd seen Charlotte Dome fleetingly from the John Muir Trail in 2004 and decided to do it on our next USA trip. We climbed it in early October 2007, coming in over Kearsarge and camping before and after the route. It's such a beautiful spot it seemed a shame to hurry it!
craig mo

Trad climber
L.A. Ca.
  Oct 16, 2012 - 10:53am PT
I climbed it last week approching from onion valley. A few years ago from Kings canyon. needed an extra day from the east.the main difference the return.
cool weather, great climb.

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Oct 16, 2012 - 11:24am PT
Cool pictures. It has always been one of my goals
Josh Nash

Social climber
riverbank ca
  Oct 16, 2012 - 11:37am PT
those pics are stunning. It seems you lucked out with that dusting of snow. one of these days I really need to plan a trip back that way.
mike a.

Sport climber
  Oct 16, 2012 - 11:37am PT
cool topo, looks super helpful for those who have not been there before, awesome pix as well :-) , but it looked a little cold with the ice on the rock, got to go do that some day, happy climbing, thanks for sharing!

  Oct 16, 2012 - 11:48am PT
Hehehe, 8 five star beta post ratings and one 2 start rating. Somebody had a bad day?

Looks like you guys had fun even with the bivy! That's how it ought to be done, if you're stuck you might as well enjoy it.

We had a great time on this a year and a half ago, it was nice to camp at the giant flat area mentioned in the Supertopo guide because you only have to descend half of the elevation from the summit back to camp and you can scope the descent from the approach. We didn't have to deal with ice on the route in August though. :-)

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Oct 16, 2012 - 02:01pm PT
NIce! Still need to climb that. Headed out there once and got smoked out so we just played around on big baldy.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Oct 16, 2012 - 02:13pm PT
I'm mailing you the forms to change your middle name to "bivy".

Maybe I can have two middle names. My middle name is Porter, and I do often lug large packs into the mountains . . .

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Oct 16, 2012 - 02:41pm PT
I think the coffee table book "50 Wombat Climbs of North America" with companion paperback topo summary must be half complete by now :)
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Oct 16, 2012 - 03:04pm PT
How much more classic can you get? Rowell, Beckey, Jones.

"in Yosemite, the climb would be recognized as one of the best in the Valley."--Chris Jones

On the Supertopo, the TR would be recognized as one of the best in the bunch. One critique, though, lose the word "interesting" because it's not.


Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Oct 16, 2012 - 03:24pm PT
As usual, you've given us a great TR of a wonderful climb.

Thanks much.


Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Oct 16, 2012 - 03:56pm PT
I think the coffee table book "50 Wombat Climbs of North America" with companion paperback topo summary must be half complete by now :)

Heheh, and I'm behind in my TRs for that! ;-)

How much more classic can you get? Rowell, Beckey, Jones.

For sure. If I recall correctly, Rowell, Beckey, and Jones expected a much harder climb to get up this face? I love these sort of routes that look so difficult at a distance, but as you start up them a moderate, natural passage gradually reveals itself (Pingora's NE Face is another example of this that I thought was great).

One critique, though, lose the word "interesting" because it's not.

Aww, not as interesting as Teton gneiss or other rock forms in general, but I liked the colors and variations in how it cracked and eroded! At least this rock stands out in my mind compared to most climbs I have done on granite. From the strange series of parallel arcing grooves that widened into large rounded cracks, to the bumpy slabs, colorful rock (lots of orange in that granite). The Furrows were also very strange - they seemed as if they were sculpted out of the rock and climbing them felt like being in the gym.

Mountain climber
San Francisco, California
  Oct 16, 2012 - 05:13pm PT
In fairness, let me defend his Highness the Bivy King on this one: we summitted in good time and scoped the descent route while waiting for the other parties, but Some Who Shall Not Be Named were pretty uncomfortable with the ridge in the dark, even though it isn't very long, so I made the bad call to rap what I thought would be at most two shots into the treeline from our point on the ridge, unclearly recalling the severity of the terrain below the ridge walk-off option from the earlier scouting. the first rap led straight to a pile (literally a dozen) of slings and two rap rings around a tree, so i thought we were on the right track. The second rap had perhaps six slings, the third perhaps three....etc etc. The last ended in a shattered fixed line still hundreds of feet up deceptively steep and amazingly featureless (ie, un-protectable)slabs. So, long story short per the report, we awaited the sunlight for a few hours to finish getting out of town. It was a very bad call on my part, and I should have known better. In our collective defense, the last of the group got to the top after 1am, and we were all rather fried (Mark and I had slept an hour at Charlotte Creek) - of course, this is when we're all supposed to be especially on guard against making errors, so there you go...

On that note, let me issue a warning: we had zero wind all day during the climb and all night long while getting everyone on top and later at the Beloved Bivy Tree (3" diameter, five people hanging on it) and we all had puffies, rain gear, hats, food and a bit of water, gloves and lights. But the day before our climb the Dome was nailed in a storm and the forecast at 10k feet called for temps in the teens. An un-forecast storm could have made the uncomfortable but good-humored night into a nightmare, or a tragedy.

To state the obvious, take your storm gear on this climb, and unless you are extremely fast and/or solid at 5.9+, build in a generous schedule buffer. For the record, the summit proper has numerous very sheltered and comfortable bivy spots - so much so that, given the scenery and a perfect summer night, i would gladly spend the night on top purposely.

My two cents. This is a truly spectacular rock climb; highest recommendation and yes, save some time and simul pitches 1-2 at least.

  Nov 11, 2013 - 07:48pm PT

(As a reminder = BBST = donini for Bump for a Better SuperTopo)

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
  Jul 7, 2014 - 11:17pm PT
Bump for such an awesome trip report.

Heading that way in a few weeks. Any thoughts on the approaching from the east vs west?


Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Jul 8, 2014 - 12:00am PT
Looks like nice granite and a nice view!

Boulder climber
  Jul 8, 2014 - 12:22am PT
Mt Ericsson & Ericsson Crags
That arete emerging from the shadows is amazing looking.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Jul 8, 2014 - 11:09am PT
Hey Dennis,

Although I have only approached it from the West, my take on East vs. West is mostly balancing how much time you want to spend driving vs. hiking, and how much you're turned off by steep cross-country/use trail travel.

Whether driving time really matters depends on where you are coming from. From the Bay Area, it is a much longer drive to the E approach, so while hiking distance and time is less, you're spending about the same total amount of time approaching, but more is in the car. While you hike more from the West, it is mostly very flat & easy terrain. I think driving time is same difference coming from LA?

Coming from the W has the other benefit of it being all downhill on the way out, vs. regaining over 1,000 feet after your climb to come out from the E approach. However, the E approach has less cross-country travel and it is mostly traversing rather than uphill. If you're overnighting, then you have more elevation gain on the morning approach if you come from the west (ca. 1,000 ft vs. a couple of hundred).

Two perks for the west approach are that you can see Charlotte Dome from a distance (and your camp! Sort of) and if you're used to E Side approaches, it is a nice way to see a new part of the Sierra.

A perk for coming in the E side is that Kearsarge Pass is a beautiful hike on a great trail. If you haven't been over this pass for other climbs, strongly consider the E approach just to see this pass!

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Jul 8, 2014 - 11:29am PT
Mt Ericsson & Ericsson Crags
That arete emerging from the shadows is amazing looking.

The rib below it is Vinland (IV, 5.9), as far as I could tell. It was put up by Fred Beckey. I think I read in his 100 Favorites book (or some other source) that he considered the route his best/favorite one put up in the Sierra. Seeing it in person, it sure looked juicy!

The arete you're eyeballing is on the skyline here:

As far as I can tell, it has not been climbed. Beckey did the FA up the gully between the two aretes and there is a III 5.9 route that goes up a dihedral to the right of Vinland. However, getting on to the arete looked to be the crux, and it wasn't quite as imposing as the line Vinland takes when you see it in person.

Too bad the approach to that one is so far! I hoped to do Vinland last summer, but had to settle for scrambles after lugging trad gear in all that way. Maybe next summer when I am healed I'll find my way back out there :-) (Note: The last few miles of cross country travel are the noticeable approach crux of the 17 mile, 7,000 ft gain approach. The trail marked on USGS maps no longer exists! You probably won't find the cairned use trail heading up, but we mostly kept on it on our descent, and recorded the GPS track).

Vinland is on the right skyline, that other arete is in the foreground, next one left of the skyline:

And a birds-eye view of the face. Again, Vinland is on the right, that arete in the shadow is the next one left (close to center):

BTW, from the above photos, the steepness of the face doesn't quite come across. Vinland is really steep! It takes the left skyline on the view below.


Trad climber
Reno, NV
  Jul 8, 2014 - 12:29pm PT
Great TR and pics, PW. I'm curious about getting the permit for the area. Which ranger station do you contact to get them? I don't see an option on the site and the guidebooks don't provide specifics. Any help?

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jul 8, 2014 - 12:30pm PT
Great TR, but all of yours are great. Well done climbing this firght after the storm, with the attendant wet and cold. Thanks you very much.


Social climber
  Jul 14, 2014 - 02:46pm PT
Great photos! Looks like a fabulous climb, with superb rock. Thanks!

On the list, for sure!

Love the atmospheric photo looking down the summit ridge, and your Brocken Specter photo is excellent.

Trad climber
Boston, MA
  Jul 31, 2014 - 03:32pm PT
Bump for awesomeness. Thanks for the approach beta! We are heading to the eastern approach tomorrow. Hopefully will post a TR when we return.

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Aug 1, 2014 - 04:12pm PT
Probably enjoyed this even more reading it this time around, and definitely intrigued by that Vineland area.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Aug 1, 2014 - 07:41pm PT
Vinland! No vines to be had there, but LOTS of mosquitos. On that trip I regretted not bringing a bivy sack with a real bug screen. 3 nights of that was a lot to bear. Lots to do back there, though! Next time, I need to stay longer.

San Diego to San Rafael to Sandpoint
  Oct 24, 2014 - 09:27am PT
I wanna get on this one...bump

Trad climber
  Oct 24, 2014 - 10:28am PT
4 of my nuts popped out

That must have hurt!
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Charlotte Dome - South Face 5.8 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from the approach.
Photo: Karl Lew
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