So now you've bought some shoes from Luc, climbed all of Jonathan Pizano's routes at the Gym, gotten some gear and instruction with the prompting of Dishy, you've wired most of Bruce Morris's guidebook at Castle Rock (even checking out the "Klings"), but you're still not sure about the Big Stones in Yosemite Valley, even though you've got Chris Mac's Supertopos!
What to do next? Well, you've done the sport thing at The Grotto and the gym, and are tired of the local haunts around the Bay Area: only one thing left to do, get thee to the mountains! Drive on up to Highway 108 and get exposed to some great alpine quality granite, but for the nominal price of cragging. The Sonora Pass area has a great collection of rock. Depending on the temperature, you can simply drive further up the highway to suit your temperature needs. Access is via forest service roads off of Highway 108. For some areas a higher clearance vehicle is helpful, but not typically mandatory.
I recommend for your trad cragging experience a couple areas; Green Acres and Herring Creek Dome. If you are looking for moderate climbs; the Burst Rock area has a little something for everyone. "Electric Avenue" 5.7 will keep you entertained as its moves in this clean dihedral become slightly more intricate at the top, but not to worry, the protection is good and it's not too long. After that the more sustained " White Tower" 5.7 awaits with its off-width corner scaring most away. Actually it climbs consistently and reasonably using stems and a finger crack on the right. A move in the first 15' feet and a move at the top of the corner keep you breathing at this 9,000' elevation area that borders the Emigrant Wilderness. 4 out of 3 stars. The area is gorgeous with its expansive views of the drainage for the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. Its special beauty is worth protecting access for climbers, so if you pack it in, pack it out.
Once done with that, maybe you're ready for the 5.9 "Up in Smoke." A short section of impeccably clean finger moves are the meat of this climb, but really this just gives you a chance to set a top-rope on the 11b "Yo-Eleven" to its left. Show your skills! Give it a try. Fortunately for you, you know the move that will knock it down a grade. Look for that finger slot on the right. Golden granite on both of these climbs showcase the area's potential for quality climbing.
It's cooling off on the next day, so you say what the hay… "Let's go to Herring Creek Dome." After the pleasant hike warms you up, you spend the day toiling away on low angle slabs of pristine clean granite. Solid anchors allow top-ropes on a number of excellent beginner climbs (fortunately for you, you've brought your friend who you've been hoping will pick up climbing as an activity full-time.) Success breeds confidence and you decide to move up and left along the wall running lines on the newly tapped " Body Parts Wall." Easily scrambling up and left you can set anchors with slings and run lines on the 5 left-hand routes. With names like "Frail Flake" and "Dos Huevos" and "Emergency Tracheotomy" probably best to just top rope these.
The first ascent of "Emergency Tracheotomy" in particular left me wondering if my partner Jeff Lane was going to end up with body parts all over the base of the wall. We had spied the two knobs that we thought might take a sling for protection. We'd both slung knobs at Pinnacles National Monument before. No big, right? Well, upon arrival at Gate "bait and switch" Jeff found no pro for his potential flight. A mournful moment of seeing harder moves ahead of him; already 25-30' up above a rocky ledge left determination on his mind. A right foot up, a left, and slight pull on a flake, and "POW!" Flake snaps. Jeff's body falls backward in an arching motion, and in a flash of an instant dynamically tosses himself back toward the wall, latching imperceptibly to small nadas.* A grip of fear and fast moves get him out of the slippery business. But for a flash second he was a goner. I had readjusted 4 times trying to figure out how best to arrest our falls. How would we stop the tumble with no protection on the entire pitch? Ah, well, like I said top ropes are cool. Otherwise, if you just want altitude without having to risk it on "Emergency Tracheotomy" or the newly re-bolted, but still not a sport climb, classic "Sea of Tranquility," then try the "Herring Bone." Just don't choke. It meanders a bit, and the first pitch is not the greatest, but it does take you to the top and is great for first time multi pitch followers that are learning the ropes.
Well that's our tour of a few climbs in the Sonora Pass Highway Area. It isn't Yosemite and fortunately the crowds reflect that. So come on up, chill at a nice Forest Service Campground and crag it up with some friends.
* "nada" means nothing in Spanish.
by Robert Behrens