Climbing at Courtright Reservoir

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Let's go climbing this weekend. Yeah man, cool, How about Lovers Leap? The campground's closed, hmm, what about the rest of Tahoe? nah, couldn't be bothered, the Valley? Yeah sure, why not, even if we were only there two weeks ago.

And so it's on. The valley this weekend. And then there's a suggestion to go and climb the Obelisk. Hmm. Sounds cool. Not really sure if we can do it in just two days though. We do want to do something other than the valley though.

Courtright Reservoir. Scott hits paydirt, and remembers that he has the Sequoia/Kings Canyon climbing guide. Courtright sounds super. Slab, trad, bolts, no people, beautiful setting. We're in. It'll be a bit of a drive, but no biggie.

We get away at a not too terribly late hour, and head off to Fresno to pick up some backpackers beer. We play with the GPS a bit in the car, and are eventually at Fresno. Butterfields doesn't do the backpacker cubes of beer anymore, and their beer has gone to shit too. Bit of a shame really. Makes fresno suck even more than it normally does.

Follow the highway to nowhere, and up into the hills of shaver lake, and then more hills, more windy roads, passing through the McKinley Grove of giant sequoias, standing huge and silent in the night. Suddenly we're there. We can feel the lake, but can't see it, and drive up the road to the Trapper Springs campground. Set up a tent in a highly civilised site, and go to bed. This sure beats dirtbagging in C4.

Rise and shine, and we can already see marmot dome. I realise I've left my cup, bowl, and all my cutlery behind. Damnit. Not as well organised as I'd like to be at all. We consult the guide. First stop, Trapper Dome.

Trapper Dome is close enough to walk straight from camp. We wander over and run into a nice pair of gents from Fresno, Lon and Dave. They are pleased as punch to have some people here to show their crag to. They are leading Tao when we get there, which looks cool, but we run up Drill Instructor/Good Deed/whatever to the right of it first. Which was really easy, and served only to warm us up nicely. Which was a good thing I guess. We rap down and I lead Tao (5.7), which is much more interesting, with some nice balancy traverses. A bit short though. We try and toprope the direct start, which we can't determine if it has a name and is a unique climb or not. I need to interject here and say that the kings canyon and sequoia area climbing guide, (vernon, moser, hickey) is fairly sucky. Not real great topos. Very vague. Good for having detail on lots of areas, lots of ideas, and I'm sure it preserves the sense of adventure, but when you're looking at a wall of clipups, it's nice to be able to work out which is which. Maybe I'm just soft.

We got some beta from Lon and Dave about climbing Little Nukey on Power Dome, which was one of our goals, so we go to have some lunch, and mull it over.

We eat, then rack up and hop in the car to drive over to the approach for Power Dome. Scott and Karl, already done two leads for the day, and retired to camp to have lunch, and here they are talking about climbing again? And climbing four pitches? With two 5.9 pitches? Wow. We drive off the road and park out on the granite by the tents pitched out by the dome. Courtright has many camping options. You can camp for free anywhere off the road. Or you can pay $16/night to stay in trapper springs. We like supporting the campgrounds, at least while we have jobs. Not everyone else does. And $16 for pit toilets is pretty damn steep, so I can't say I blame them.

So now we have the approach to Power Dome to deal with. The guide is kinda vague, and has pictures and directions that don't seem to correspond to reality very well. Here's how to do it. Follow the fairly obvious gash descending down and towards the river side of the dome. There were cairns there at the time. Basically, follow the most obvious way down (easy, not even third class) from the carpark, heading towards the front of the dome. You'll fairly quickly (5 minutes tops) get to the end. A nice big ledge atop some death slabs. Don't consider downclimbing or looking for sneaky ways down. Rap. Walk out to the end of the ledge, and you'll find two bolts with chains. Just rap. You'll get down to another pair of bolts shortly (we suspect a single 60 would reach these second bolts, but we were rapping on double 50s) From there we rapped 50 metres to the base of the slab. We also suspect that you could rap 30m and downscramble the lower portion of the slabs. We also suspect that you should always use double ropes, and rapping in on a single 60 might not be the wisest thing you could do. But we try to be helpful :)

From here, you will be at the remains of a cable car? that used to cross Helm's Creek. It's a very easy slab walk down stream (and then some upscrambling) to get to the base of all the climbs on Power Dome. Water level might change this, but we didn't see much evidence of anywhere we walked being seasonally under water.

Allegedly the other way of getting there (described in the guide) is to walk around the back of power dome, and come upstream from the slabs on the far side. Seems like a waste of time to us. The rap was straight, smooth, and quick.

Oh yeah, we climbed some too.

There is no longer a great big tree at the base of Little Nukey. There is a very obvious stump though. The guide photo topos here do actually help to find the start, but it's not too hard. Look for the big block hanging on pitch three, and the line of bolts rising up into the sky. (or look at my photo topo below)

Scott won the lead, which for a change meant that I was going to get both the 5.9 pitches. At least it meant I didn't have to do the start, slabbing it up off the ground. The first pitch is well bolted, solid slab climbing to a semi hanging triple bolt belay. The second pitch is just as long, but only has half as many bolts, and has some harder moves. The bolts are very well placed, being just before the hard moves, but it means there is a bit of a way to go above the hard moves on slightly easier ground (read, easiER, not easy) to the next bolt just in time for another hard move or two. I ended up resting on the bolts a bit more than I'd like for this pitch. Oh well. I still did it all :)

I wasn't feeling to optimistic at this point, having barely made it up the previous pitch, and still having another 5.9 pitch to go. This pitch for scott didn't look that friendly either. A hairy looking traverse up and right for 20feet or so to the first bolt. I sucked it up and told scott if he lead this pitch, then I would definitely lead the next pitch, so we should damn well just keep going. It turned out to not be a big deal at all. The party ahead of us had been making this pitch look hard, but as it turned back into a trad climb up and around the block, we were right at home, and Scott was up on top of the block in no time. The end of pitch two also marks the end of the sport climbing for those not paying attention.

Pitch four looks highly improbable. The bolted belay on top of the block isn't actually the best place to start the next pitch from, but it's so much more convenient than a trad anchor to the right, under the bolts of the next pitch themselves.

I get Scott to lower me down a bit so I can climb back up to the first bolt. The traverse looked a little hairy, and the climb up wasn't so bad. The move off the second bolt is the climb's crux. The topo from here just says, "5.5, (holes)" which from below makes you suspect that the authors were even more rampant dope fiends than you'd previously suspected. You are actually proved wrong, the holes turn up quite nicely when you get above the second bolt. Interesting gear from here. The brown tricam getting a bit of work, and making wish for a second one. Some threads, and more small gear makes what looked highly improbably much more manageable. Definitely not a sport climb anymore though. Though I think the rap approach and slab traverse ruled it out of that category pretty much from the start anyway. The bolted belays kick arse though. The joys of trad and the convenience of sport.

Pitch 5 is marked on the topo as a wavy arrow and the word "up" Scott and I should no better about last pitches on domes. Herring Creek was the same. Scott leads off yonder, passing another triple bolt belay for a climb to our right. Eventually we end up simulling for what seemed like far too long before finally Scott finally yells that I'm on belay for real. Easy climbing, but taking out the fairly small pieces Scott had been leaving and not seeing where the next one was wasn't exactly confidence inspiring. I recommend going back leftwards when you skirt around the rooflet above the start of Pitch 5, and belaying by the tree? Either way, you end up on top of Power Dome. Congratulations.

Scott had started Pitch 5 in the last rays of the afternoon sun, and we got to watch the fading light over the reservoir from the top of the dome, which was simply divine. Courtright Reservoir is a magical place, so far removed from the crowds of other climbing venues, yet so close. A true delight.

The next day we drove around, thought about climbing, tooks some pictures, went to Dogma Dome to have a look (directions are surprisingly good) but decided it was all to death defying for us. I flat out refused to lead the easy stuff (because of it's cheese grater slab fall grounder potential) and Scott eventually decided that it was just his Ego saying to do it, and common sense really said there were other climbs to do. A couple of interesting looking routes, but the easy ones weren't on that list. A bit of retrobolting has gone on here, and a couple of the harder routes looked quite nice now. We retreated with no shame, and decided to go to Tollhouse to check out some hard topropes.

Scott had been here years before, but never actually got to the crag, but this time, we charged off down the dirt road in the suby, and then with a bit of walking, got to the top of Tollhouse. We met a couple of dudes in a more serious 4wd who had driven to the top, but I was quite content with how far we'd gotten. Saved a good 30-40 minute walk, and only left us with 10 at the end. No biggie. We climbed on Cap Rock, which was FAR shorter than we'd imagined. Pleasant change of scene. Then home again, home again, to look at pictures, write stories, tell tall tales, and eventually even post some of them on the internet.

Scott at Trapper Dome, with Dave and Lon leading Tao (5.7)

Scott on the approach to Little Nukey (after the rap)

Two guys at the end of the second pitch

Scott at the end of the first pitch

The other party near the top of the third pitch, and Scott at the first belay

Chillin at the second belay

Scott at the rest part way up the third pitch

Scott early on the fifth pitch