Charlotte Dome is a large granite dome rising out of the Bubbs Creek drainage, a tributary of the Kings River, in Kings Canyon National Park. Reminiscent of the famous rock of Tuolumne Meadows the dome is legendary for the quality of its climbing and amazing setting. With views out to much of the southern High Sierra, including Mt. Brewer and much of the Great Western Divide it is indeed a spectacular and rewarding climb. Some twelve pitches in length, the route has but a couple of 5.8 moves with the majority of pitches in the 5.7 or easier range. We are going to stick our biased necks out here and say that we believe Charlotte Dome to be the best route of its grade in North America.
We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000’) just prior to the trip. Spending a night or two in Mammoth or camped at the trailhead campground would do the trick. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
Bears are also a major problem at the trailhead. Do not leave any food, scented items (deodorant, soap etc.) in your vehicle. Clean up all trash and do not leave food, coolers, or food packaging in your vehicle. Failure to take precautions can cause the vehicle to be ripped apart by a bear and the added insult of a fine from the Forest Service. It is necessary to carry bear proof food storage containers on this trip. We provide these.
The approach is via Kearsarge Pass; perhaps the easiest of East Side passes (which doesn’t make it “easy”). In five miles the trail gains just under 2,000 feet as it climbs to the pass. We usually arrive at the pass late morning. Views are stunning as the trail descends past Bullfrog Lake to Charlotte Lake, with a lunch stop on the way. Travel becomes more difficult after Charlotte Lake as the trail is un-maintained from this point. Usually there’s a pretty good use trail up to the last forty-five minutes of travel, which can be bushwhacking. Camp is in a beautiful spot though, right at the base of the descent route with a small creek nearby and great views across Bubbs Creek Canyon to the peaks of the southern High Sierra.
The second day sees us up before light and crossing huge granite slabs to the base of the climb early. It’s second-class to the rope up point. The route itself is twelve or so pitches in length, never too difficult but also with no easy pitches. Average difficulty is probably 5.7. Route finding is a challenge and we’ll definitely be earning our keep as we wander up the great south face of Charlotte Dome. Some stances are small and semi hanging, although hanging on a slab is not too bad. The ominously named “Slot” is not too bad and the penultimate pitch called the ‘Furrows’ is certainly unique, with deep solution pocket and fins offering distinctly weird climbing to the final wandering slab. The summit is surprisingly tiny, room for two, and offers stunning views in all directions of the Kings Canyon region. The descent back to camp takes about an hour and has a short section of third class off the top but is otherwise very easy. Often we rest at camp for an hour or so but then pack up and head to Charlotte Lake, arriving just in time for dinner and early to bed. This takes the hard part of the return hike out of the way and makes the last day a cruise. We’re usually out to the cars on the third day by lunchtime.
Elevations and Distances:
Trailhead to camp below the dome: 11.2 miles, 3000’ of gain, 2700’ of descent
Camp to summit to camp at Charlotte Lake: 3.9 miles, 2750’ of gain, 1500’ of descent
Charlotte Lake camp to trailhead: 8.3 miles, 1550’ of gain, 2700’ of descent
You need to be able to comfortably climb 5.7/5.8 and have done multi pitch climbing before. This is a physically demanding trip and you should be in good condition and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a 40 pound pack.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.