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Heart of the Domelands

Difficult
  4.0 ( 1 ) Favorite

Trail

28.3 mile 45.6 kilometer point to point
93% Runnable
Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 3,737' 1,139 m
Descent: -3,763' -1,147 m
High: 8,059' 2,456 m
Low: 6,980' 2,127 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 26% (14°)

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Trail shared by Lee Watts

A trek near most major features in the Domelands, while avoiding unmaintained trails and difficult stream crossings.

Lee Watts

Features Commonly Backpacked · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Wilderness permits are not required, but you need a campfire permit if you plan to have a campfire. Pets are allowed so long as they are under control and do not harass the wildlife.

Overview

The Domeland Wilderness offers idyllic meadows and many granite domes, spires, and unique rock formations. The domes are superb for rock climbing and the river and creeks are full of trout. It is located at the south end of the Sierras, where the snow melt occurs much earlier than farther north. This makes for great running in the spring or early summer when other areas are inaccessible. Yet, the area is largely unknown and little visited, except for those crossing the north-eastern edge on the Pacific Crest Trail.

A key reason is that the longer trails that cross the heart of the wilderness are suited only for the resilient (masochistic?) runners. The National Forest and Bureau of Land Management, responsible for managing the wilderness, have little money for trail maintenance. Maintenance is mostly done with the help of volunteers, and it can only be targeted at the most commonly used sections of trails. There are no bridges across the major creeks and rivers.

The longer trails have maintained sections near major features and unmaintained sections that are overgrown, difficult to follow, and that lead to streams that are dangerous, to impossible, to cross during the snow melt. By the time the water levels are manageable, the trails climbing up from the streams are hot and arid.

This 28-mile trek avoids unmaintained trails, difficult stream crossings and the hot, arid sections, and yet it is still able to visit most of the major features in the Domelands: Church Dome, Manter Meadow, Fist Dome, the Knuckles, Bart Dome, Stegosaurus Fin, Radiant Dome, and others.

The trek starts from the Big Meadow trailhead, which is reached by taking Cherry Hill Road #22S12 from Sherman Pass Road to Big Meadow and then taking road #23S07 to the southwest side of Big Meadow. Both are dirt roads suitable for most passenger cars. The Big Meadow trailhead is about 100 yards south of the South Manter trailhead, which is distinguished by a small stock ramp and pen.

Need to Know

A scroll-able topographical map showing all trails and roads in the wilderness can be found at: fs.usda.gov/recarea/sequoia ...

Note: you first have to scroll out first to find your area of interest and then scroll in to see the details for that area.

The website: thecrag.com/climbing/united…, lists climbing routes throughout the Domelands, including 16 routes up Bart Dome and 15 routes at Church Dome

Description

Big Meadow Trail starts with a 150-foot climb over a ridge to reach the upper section of South Manter Creek. It follows the creek and then makes a short, steep climb over a ridge that is covered with small and large rock formations, the largest of which is Taylor Dome.

The trail follows Taylor Creek down for a little over 2 miles, until it crosses the creek at the end of Road 24S32-Church. Taylor Meadow is private land surrounded by a barb-wire fence. The trail is supposed to continue along Taylor Creek, passing on the north side of the meadow; however, I didn't see that section. It could be one of the many trail sections that have not been maintained in the last few years. Instead, I followed Road 24S32-Church and then went off-trail around the south side of the meadow and worked my way over to Woodpecker Trail #34E08 and Road 24S13-Taylor.

Woodpecker Trail climbs 1000 feet to a pass just to the right of "Church Dome," the most famous formation in Domeland. This rock climber's paradise is a set of formations that would be better named "Church Spires." Climbers have given names to at least 12 of these formations. From the far side of the pass, the sheer rock faces at the top of the ridge are even more impressive. From there the trail drops rapidly at first, and then gradually descends towards Manter Meadow, crossing over several low glacial moraines.

We reach the deep green Manter Meadow, the largest meadow within the wilderness, at the junction with the South Manter Trail-34E37. The Woodpecker Trail skirts the meadow on the east side and crosses Manter Creek at the junction with the Manter Creek Trail-35E12.

Along the meadow's narrow northern extension, the trail passes a fire circle and a metal frame previously used for a large forest service tent. A short distance farther, it passes the junction with the North Manter Trail-34E14 and crosses over a low ridge. The creek below has good water until after the snow melt. The trail follows North Manter Creek past the junction with the Domeland Trail-34E15 and climbs up to the saddle that leads towards Trout Creek. Along the way there are good views of numerous rock formations, including several well-known to climbers: Fist, Knuckles, and Bart Dome.

From near the high point on the Woodpecker Trail, it is a fairly easy to make a steep, off-trail scramble down to the Domeland Trail-34E15, assuming a good map and navigational skills. You should reach the Domeland Trail shortly before it leaves Tibbets Creek. The Domeland Trail climbs 100 feet to a striking saddle between Bart Dome and a set of unnamed domes. Just before the saddle, there is a remarkable waterfall-like pile of white crystal rock about 10 feet high and 30-50 feet wide.

After dropping about 200 feet from the saddle, you'll see "the golf ball," a 7-foot tall rock that resembles a golf ball on a narrow tee. This marks the end of the maintained trail. We leave the trail here and run off-trail along a relatively flat ridge leading to points overlooking Radiant Dome, North Domes, and Stegosaurus Fin. Try to go as level as possible, straight out from the saddle. The ridge drops only 350 feet in 2.6 miles. Run out as far as you want or climb one of the small domes on the ridge for a better view, or make a short, moderate descent to the base of any of the domes that you chose. To return, just head back to the saddle between Bart Dome and the unnamed domes.

Once back on the Domeland Trail, take it back to the Woodpecker Trail and continue back to the junction with North Manter Trail. This trail stays well to the west of the meadow, passing an old cabin and a spring to reach the junction with the Cabin Spur Trail. Follow that trail along Manter Creek. It drops about 130 feet to the edge of the meadow and then climbs to the junction with the South Manter Trail. This shady trail follows South Manter Creek, climbing about 700 feet in 2 miles. The South Manter Trailhead is only 0.25 miles below, and our starting point is only about 100 yards from there.

Flora & Fauna

The higher areas are covered with forest, but as you drop towards 7,000 feet, the trees are farther apart as the land becomes semi-arid. Farther east towards the South Fork of the Kern, it drops below 6,000 feet and becomes hotter and more desert-like. Some places on the dryer slopes west of the Manter Meadow are covered with millions of tiny colorful flowers, only 2-6 inches tall. Beware of rattlesnakes. It is good to use poles to check out rocks and logs before stepping over them. There are scattered herds of deer and occasionally you'll see a black bear or a bobcat. Mountain lions are present, but rarely seen.

History & Background

The Domeland Wilderness was created by the federal Wilderness Act in 1964, with additions in 1984 and 1994 so that it now has a total of 133,720 acres. The original portion of the Wilderness contains most of its many granite domes and geological formations. It is managed by the Sequoia National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management.

The area north and east of Manter Meadow was heavily burned by the Manter Fire in 2000. The brush has returned, but, the taller trees have not, leaving many lonely burned trunks.

The wild and scenic South Fork of the Kern crosses the wilderness. South of Rockhouse Meadow, it drops through deep and essentially inaccessible gorge. The South Fork, Fish Creek, and Trout Creek are excellent for fishing, but this often requires strenuous off-trail running. The river and these two creeks can be dangerous, to impossible, to cross until after the snow melt.

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Photos

Church Dome, although "Church Spires" might be a better name. The highest Pinnacle is Class 5 via the easiest route. The pinnacle on the left is Class 5.5. Climbers have given names to twelve of the formations in this picture.
Jun 18, 2019 near Weldon, CA
Fist Dome on the left and Knuckles in the center-right.
Jun 18, 2019 near Weldon, CA
Morning view from my campsite next to a good stream. The brush has recovered from the 2000 Manter Fire, but the trees may never grow back.
Jun 18, 2019 near Weldon, CA
Manter Meadow in the late afternoon. On the right side, there is a sideways view of the Church Dome ridge. You have to leave the trail and hike closer to the meadows for this view.
Jun 18, 2019 near Weldon, CA
Taylor Meadow and Church Rock from south side of meadow.
Jun 16, 2019 near Weldon, CA
Remarkable waterfall-like pile of crystal rock easily visible from the Domeland Trail. Bart Dome in the background.
Jun 25, 2019 near Weldon, CA

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