As the sun finally lifted over the horizon, the tall granite dome came into view. The cool air rose with the sun and I took off the beanie and down jacket I wore. Charlotte Dome glowed. The valley below was filled with silence.
Six of us set out from our backcountry camp before dawn that morning and hiked on a hard-to-follow climber’s footpath under the light of our headlamps. Only one of us had been there before, and in the dark it made no difference. With two shots of muddy coffee and an energy bar in my stomach, I felt excited—and anxious.
Charlotte Dome is located on the confluence of Bubbs Creek and Charlotte Creek deep in Kings Canyon National Park. We hiked nine miles over Kearsarge Pass from the Onion Valley trailhead and camped at Charlotte Lake the night before. April Mayhew, Alana Levin, Ali Feinberg, Megan Mahafey, Amber Fazino and I were headed to climb the granite dome that is considered one of the 50 North American classics.
I was the only rookie climber of the group, but when April called with the invite, I knew it was an opportunity not to be missed. She was training to climb Makalu, an 8,000-meter peak in the Himalayas. For her, Charlotte Dome was a laid-back adventure with some girlfriends, and a much need reprieve from guiding clients up and down big mountains around the world. For me, this was a chance to follow a more experienced climber and catch up on belly laughs with a friend.
After living in Mammoth Lakes for nearly 14 years, I only started climbing when my writing mentor, David Roberts, visited the area with his climbing buddies—the Old Gang. The region is a hotbed for climbing from the sport climbing routes in the Owens River Gorge to the high country granite in Tuolumne Meadows and everything in between. It’s a wonder why someone like me, who loves a good adventure outdoors, had not yet given climbing a serious go. The reality is: Mammoth Lakes has so many things to do, especially in the summer, that I just hadn’t got around it.
Learning the ropes, literally, from climbing pioneers who are now in their 70s, inspired me to take the sport on. I learned basic techniques from some of the best climbers of their generation. Climbing with the Old Gang was more about spending time with friends than anything, but I loved the thrill and challenge of learning something new.
A two-night backcountry-climbing trip with a group of girlfriends was yet another new experience that I was grateful for. We hiked over the pass to our base camp, had diner and an early evening dance party, and set our alarms for 4 AM.
Read the full story on Visit Mammoth’s Explore Blog.