Calavaras Dome was a place suggested by many people as a place to go for Yosemite style climbing with 1/10th of the crowds. After a Polish friend Tomac had suggested it for over a year and an article in Rock and Ice, I decided to give it a go. Calavaras is a wee bit south of Sacramento and about 3 1/2 hours from San Fransisco, just off of Hwy 88 on the west side of the Sierras.The drive in you are drive over the most bizarre ?aquaduct?. At the base of the Valley you drive pass numerous campsites next to a flowing stream. (note: the camping is free but bring in your own water)
Our first objective is the reknown "Wall of the Worlds", 5.10d. We park on the side of the road and follow the cairns unto the woods. As we get to the base of the slabs we spy a party in front of us. We hurry to the base of our objective only to find out that the only other climbing party in the Valley today has the same objective. Ok, we'll rack up as they start up the first pitch. After an hour or so they clear the first pitch and start the second. My wife spys the line and immediately declares it hers. Ok, I hand the rack over to her. She runs up the 5.9 start and slows down for the 5.10a section and stops at a ledge. Sheesh, we were going to run the first two pitches together as a single 165ft pitch. I get to to belay station on a 2inch ledge to find two green camalots in the belay and the next 25ft of reen camalot ringlocks. I finish the pitch in my usual wimpering style, 5.10b/c my ....... Its starting to feel like the inside of an oven so we rap he rute for some shade. Getting to the base we spy an arching crack immediately to the right, without a guidebook it looks beautiful but pretty hard. Again my wife claims its hers. As she leads through fingerlocks, handjams and a fingertraverse under a roof, she looks smooth but straining. After clipping a piton, sinking a blue cam and running it out, I hear sort of a wimper, slimmy feetand had climbing. I reassure my wife that if she falls now she probably wouldn't die, just break both legs. The assurance gives her strength and she motors to the anchors after plugging a green cam. She cleans the route and hands me the rack. Leading it was hard but the climbing atleast two stars (later recieved a beta version of W. Cottrells guidebook to be released in 2001 and gives the route, Fallen Angel a 5.10d.) Another partner spys a "wide crack and grabs he rack and launches into it/. After hearing Doug sqweell like a pig for about 20minutes its my turn toi give it a shot. Ten minutes later I find myself with my feet flapping in air as I pull into an overhanging offwidth slot. Let me go back to the Valley, this stuf is HARD. A tug on a piece of pro and wimper to the top. Its HARD (later found out that it is 5.10d offwidth called Finger of God: NOT recommended). One more route and we are bushed. We spot a crack to the left. A few minutes later and 80ft of easy, FUN finger crack leads to a pair of bolts. We figured it was 5.8 (later to find we were close its Lay'n on of Hands, 5.8+). Now its time for a dip in the river. Doug removes his climbing clothes and jumps in; I figure he was showing a group of nearby young woman his "gear". It was July, but God the river was COLD.
We later jump on Hammer Dome across the river, after making a detour because of the aquaduct (god- it goes straight through Hammer Dome). We jump on Gemini Cracks after hearing hat it was good clean fun. We scamper up the first pitch but the end has a sting inthe tail, a 4inch crack through an overhang, 5.8 my #ss.(we would later find out a 40ft chunk had fallen out forming the overlap). An uneventful 2nd pitch leads to the fun. The third pitch is a finger crack that starts ath the bolts. The beginningf starts out taking green aliens, leading to a crack that sucks your fingers and gear in. The crack is SOOO good, I forget to place gear. It may be the finest 5.9 pitch (crack or face) I've seen yet. We rap the route yet to see another party.
Strolling way to the right to Lunch Rock we see a flake system that cries out to be climbed. Only problem is the slab that stands in the way. Ok, this time a grab 3 cams, 3 draws and forget my sanity. the first three bolts yield easy climbing (3 bolts in 20ft?). The bolts soon run out a mere 25ft off the ground. Heck, the next section looks easy, so I scamper up, but after about 25ft past my last bolt, and seriously looking at decking, I think otherwise. God am I stupid to have volenteered. Only one way to go and that is up. Another 10ft yields a couple of bushes and 5 ft yields a ledge with a crack at the base of the flake system.Doug takes off up the flake, hollaring like a kid at christmas. A traverse like the mirror image of the second pitch of Serenity in Yosemite leads tonother crack system leads to the anchors. I follow as the sun starts to set. If this climb was in Yosemite, iut would have lines 10 parties deep on it, but here out and away it has no one even close by.
I've found Calavaras to be like Yosemite except compacted into a smaller Valley. Th density of quality climbs is huge, but without the crowds of Yosemite; and free camping to boot. Whats not to love except the poison oak. That is if you like an adventure since the guidebook is not yet out (unless you can get a beta copy from Will Cottrail), and many of the slabs as quoted from Will, were "developed by madman"