It all started with a tale of a grand route on Basket Dome. I went on a run, to check it out, and see what gems were hidden in the Yosemite backcountry. I found the mega-route, Milestone, and explored the surrounds for other potential lines. I ended getting a bit lost, and took something like the blue line in the photo below, which is not recommended. On the plus side my run took me past the small dome on the right, that I have come to call Acorn Dome. Acorn Dome had a few cool looking lines so I knew I would be back to investigate later in the summer.
It’s hard to describe all of the reasons I seek out First Ascents. Perhaps it is the dream of establishing the perfect multipitch route with tricky cruxes and spacious belay ledges. I have only done a small number new routes and I am still learning what makes them exciting and meaningful. The draw of natural features is obvious and I saw a soaring dihedral on the right side of Acorn Dome. It begged to be climbed! Unfortunately further inspection showed that inside of the dihedral was sealed and would not take any gear. On the left side of the dome I had seen a long dike feature on xRez which appeared to be continuous and potentially climbable. Over the following weeks, and months I took many trips back to Acorn Dome and established a total of seven pitches between two routes.
The most obvious line, and first to be climbed was the five pitch Miwok Dike. This route follows an obvious golden dike for two mega pitches, surrounded by easier slabby climbing. The route is steeper than it appears in photos and you often end up laybacking and pinching the dike to make progress. The majority of the climbing on pitches two through four is bolt protected with a few gear placements on the third pitch. The third pitch requires a full sixty meters of rope and has a gamut of movement from easy friction and an exciting mantel to dike hiking. Pitch by pitch beta is at the end of the post.
During my time equipping the Miwok Dike, I noticed a line of large knobs leading up to the pitch two belay. I followed these down and found an exciting series of scoops, flakes and crystal features that continued for 70 meters back to the base. This stretch of climbing was much harder than the Miwok Dike. With occasional gear placements, this crystal streak turned into a two pitch direct start for the Miwok Dike, called the Staircase of Frozen Tears.
Perhaps the best thing about climbing on Acorn Dome is the scenery. You are surrounded by huge cliffs and the vertical relieve down into Tenaya Canyon is massive. I think you can occasionally make out people on the cables of Half Dome, but don’t expect to see any other people in the area or on the route. It was a sweet adventure exploring the unknown and spending time figuring out these two lines.
Neither of these routes are perfect but they helped me understand the life-cycle of how bigger routes get established. Without a crack-line to follow, some of the route direction is up to the developer. In some places the sequence is obvious and too cool to skip, like the mantel in a photo above. Other times it is tricky to find the line of least resistance when faced with blank slab. There are divided schools of thought in regard to adventure routes, versus mellow ones and bolting these climbs made me think a lot about climbing style.
Perhaps my next routes will have a bit more spice, but for now I’m happy that I can recommend these routes without hesitation. Both routes are perfect for people trying to break into slab climbing, and are not yet comfortable with huge runouts found on many Yosemite and Tuolumne slabs. Getting to Acorn Dome or Basket Dome is an adventurous and well off the beaten path. Once you start climbing you will find that both of these routes are well protected and do not require bold-school talent.
Go have a look, I doubt you will be disappointed!
Acorn dome is a slabby apron of rock that resides between Basket Dome and Mount Watkins. It is close to the East Face of Basket dome and best approached via the North Dome Trail from Porcupine Flat.
It should take 1.5 to 2 hours to approach the top of Acorn Dome. The first three miles are on the well maintained North Dome trail. The final .75 miles are cross country travel downhill to the top of Acorn Dome.
From the three mile mark, which is the first uphill after the split for Indian rock, head left across a sandy meadow. Continue into tall trees and walk parallel to a marsh/creek. In Late Spring/Summer/Fall the stream bed is dry and offers direct and fairly easy passage downhill towards Acorn and Basket Dome. You can also try to link up the various clearings, but I found the creek bed to be the fastest route.
After 20 or so minutes following the creek bed, at steep section, cut left directly towards the NW Face of Half dome (which is occasionally visible through the trees). This point is hard to find and perhaps needs a cairn. If you are unsure, the best solution is to hike further since the creek bed eventually becomes impassable. Follow the path of least resistance, directly towards Half Dome, through occasional manzanita, until you reach a nice sandy meadow with a very large fallen tree, and some sawed off tree stumps. You should have a spectacular view of Half Dome and the East Face of Basket Dome should be on your right.
Go towards Basket Dome and descend a steep section of logs and manzanita, dropping about 100 feet. From here you can see the top of Acorn Dome. There are a few trees on the summit of Acorn dome and some grainy white rock.
There are two options to get to the base of Acorn Dome.
Recommended Option: With two ropes you can rappel the Miwok Dike (4 Raps). Two anchors will need to be built so you will need, a cordelette, some slings and a few extra cams (1-2 finger sized plus #.75, #1 camalots). These anchors will be retrieved on your way back up.
Walk/scramble down about 200 feet from the top of the dome until you can sling a large boulder (seen just to the left of Casey in the photo above and described in the photo below).
1. Rappel ~40 meters to a fixed nut on the skiers left (i.e. towards Mt. Watkins). Build a gear anchor.
2. Rappel 40-50 meters to the skiers right to a bolted anchor atop P3 of the Miwok dike.
3. Rappel a FULL 60m to the P2 anchor (still trending to the right).
4. Rappel a FULL 60 meters and swing right to a small stance. 20-40 feet of easy 5th class down-climbing leads to the base. A full 70 meter rappel will put you on the ground. This rappel skips the P1 anchor of the Miwok dike since it is far off to the side, and not equipped for rappelling.
Second option: Skirt around the east side of Acorn dome (towards Mt. Watkins). This gulley is fully of manzanita without a clear or continuous trail but requires only one rope. Once you reach the toe of Acorn dome, traverse 500′ further along the base. Eventually you will need to go up about 50-100 feet to a higher tier where you can start the Miwok Dike or the Staircase of Frozen Tears.
GPS Approach Beta:
Rack: Single set of cams from yellow alien to #2 Camalot. 18 draws/slings
P1. 5.8 – 25m – 0 bolts
From the ground climb a left facing corner past the start of the Staircase of Frozen Tears, a bolted crystal dike. Traverse left until you reach a short chimney/slot with a few tricky moves. Mantel up onto a small ledge with a two bolt anchor. This pitch has no bolts unless you clip the first bolt of SoFT before traversing left.
P2. 5.10c – 50m – 18 bolts.
Slab and dike climb up from the anchor following the obvious dike feature, 5.9. When the wall gets steep you can continue up the dike at 5.10c or you can step right, past a shiny bolt to climb an easier flake. This keeps the grade at 5.10a and protects with a finger sized piece.
Keep climbing up the dike past one more hard sequence before the angle lessens. Scamper up the corner past ample protection until you must step right across the face to a small ledge with a two bolt belay.
P3. 5.10b – 60m – 13 bolts
Easy moves off the belay past a few bolts lead to a gear placement and a steep wall. Clip a high bolt and do a cruxy mantel to gain the dike. Walk the dike to the right, past a flake for gear, until you have to make another tricky bolt protected move. The climbing quickly eases in difficulty as you gain a huge horizontal dike that you traverse to the right. Leave the dike and slab climb another 30 feet to a sloping ledge and a two bolt belay.
P4. 5.7 – 40 m – 9 bolts
Easy slab moves off the belay lead to a short crux on steeper terrain. Push on up the slab past increasingly spaced bolts until it is best to traverse right across to a corner and a gear belay at a fixed nut.
P5. 5.8 – 40 m – 0 bolts
Climb the easy corner and then a slab up to a 6 foot stretch of manzanita, 5.4. Fight your way through the “jungle” and walk up until you hit a steep face. Chimney up a crack on the right side. Eventually you will be stemming and need to step right to a very short handcrack. A awkward mantle, protected by a #2 camalot, leads to easier ground and a belay with a cordelette around a large boulder.
Staircase of Frozen Tears:
Rack: Two each Blue and Green Alien plus single set of cams from Yellow Alien to #2 Camalot. 15 draws/slings
This is a two pitch direct start to the Miwok Dike. It shares the first 10 feet with Miwok dike before shooting straight up the face for ~70 meters in two pitches.
P1. 5.10c – 40m – 15 bolts Easy crack climbing leads to a tricky sequence to get established on the face. Its best to climb up to the left and then traverse across at the first bolt. Crimp and slab your way up the crystal covered dike until the holds run out below the arch. Move right initially past a bolt before cracks open up for thin finger sized gear (you can place between 1-4 cams). Continue traversing right with difficulty, 5.10c, until you reach another streak of crystals that allows you to gain elevation. A sequence of easier moves past bolts leads to a slab crux, 5.10-. The pitch ends at a poor stance with a two bolt anchor.
P2. 5.10c – 30m – 15 bolts Very closely spaced bolts lead off the belay and protect the crux of this pitch. Pulling through on the bolts is possible if you can’t work out the tricky slab moves. Follow a rising traverse to the right past small knobs and divots. Once past the slick water streak climb up and link the various large knobs on the face, sometimes climbing off to the side and then back to the bolt line. Once the knobs disappear work back to the left and up the slab and occasional edges to the P2 anchor of Miwok Dike. Rappel the route or continue up Miwok Dike to the summit.
If descending with one rope a 70m is mandatory and you will need to swing left at the bottom and down climb 5.2. Both anchors are equipped for rappelling, unlike the P1 anchor for the Miwok Dike.