After dinner, the two crews had the entire evening to ourselves. A bunch of us hiked down the road to the store and then wandered across the highway to Lembert Dome. Lembert Dome is a popular stop with tourists. It’s right on the highway with a parking lot. The dome rises 800 feet over the flats of Tuolumne Meadows. Once out of the car in the parking lot, signs point the way to a trail around the west side of the dome to the rear that lets people walk up to the summit without doing any climbing at all. The side of the dome facing the parking lot, however, is steep enough to be popular with technical climbers. Climbers like it because they have a built in audience right here in the parking lot and along the highway.
Anne, Mark, Dewey, Wayne, Chris, and I walked around the dome to the east, eying the rock and evaluating routes to the top based upon the skills we had just learned that morning. We were just talking the routes through. Since we didn’t have any climbing gear at all, we weren’t going to do any climbing tonight…we thought.
As we got around to the east side of the dome, it looked to us like the grade flattened out enough to make a climb up for us a scramble up some rock instead of a technical climb requiring gear. Wayne and Mark were all for it. We all followed them up. It was an easy scramble for the first 150 feet or so. There were plenty of ledges, trees, and brush to make finding foot- and handholds and resting spots easy. Then the vegetation ran out.
Wayne, Mark, and Chris made their way up practically nonstop. Once we got past the vegetation and easy ledges, though, the rock that had seemed to be an easy grade from down below suddenly got a lot steeper. Anne, Dewey, and I had to start looking more carefully for our route. Dewey finally had had enough and said “I want to go back down!” Anne and I could hear the fear in his voice and see it in his eyes and actions. The only problem with that was that we had already passed the point of no return, especially with no rappelling gear. If we started back down now, it would be too easy to pick up speed and not be able to stop, turning a descent into a fall. The only option was to keep going up. Dewey was not happy with that. Anne and I called up to the others, but they were already so far ahead that they really couldn’t get back down to us, either.
So here we were, Anne and I stuck on a ledge on Lembert Dome with a skittish Dewey.
We talked Dewey through everything we had learned that morning in the climbing school. “Remember friction and momentum, Dewey? Keep at least three points of contact with the rock. Two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand. Spot your next goal, a ledge that you can stand on to rest. Look for vegetation for that. When you see your spot, push off, move fast, and don’t stop until you get to your spot! Your momentum will get you there. If you stop out on an exposed rock, you’ll start slipping back. You don’t want to do that. These little ledges aren’t big enough to guarantee that you will be able to stop on them if you slide back down to one. You just might keep going all the way to the bottom. You can do this, Dewey!”
“I can do this!”
“Yes! You can! Ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“OK…where’s your next resting place?”
“Ummm…up there, to the left a little.”
“Looks like a good spot. Go. We’re right behind you!”
Dewey started up and made it. Anne and I followed. The ledges were so small that we had to spread out across the face. We could be separated by ten or twenty feet. We had to holler instructions over to Dewey. Sometimes Dewey wasn’t sure where to go, and Anne or I would lead to the next spot showing him exactly where he needed to go. Then we would have to move up or over to another spot ahead to give Dewey room to make it into the spot we had just showed him. A couple of times we had to coach Dewey out of stopping on an exposed face. “Keep it up, Dewey! Go! Go! Go! Keep your feet moving! Almost there! Don’t stop! Go! Go! Woo-HOO! You made it!”
We made it to the top well before sunset. The view from the top was sweet! We could see alpenglow on Cathedral Peak as the sun set. Unforgettable.
We hiked the trail down the backside of the dome to get down.
The moral of this story: It’s always steeper than it looks from the bottom!