Tree Route, 5.6, Dome Rock California

The tree route might be my idea of the perfect climb. I’ve done harder, I’ve done longer, but there is something about the tree route that keeps bringing me back. I did it for the first time only a few weeks after moving to Bakersfield. I’d met Ray Purcell via an online posting, and we headed up to Dome Rock. I hadn’t climbed in over a year after an ugly fall, and getting back on the rock was a weird thing. I declined the lead on every pitch. I nervously checked and rechecked every knot. I watched Ray lead the second pitch, dropping a few pieces of gear into the perfect granite crack. The Needles loomed behind, and a bit of a breeze kept things pleasant. I started up that pitch. The perfect crack for my hands, pleasant features for my feet, and I was once again happy. By the time Ray and I topped out, I was once again thrilled to be on the rock. I knew I wouldn’t go another year without touching rock, and in the 2-plus years since we did the route, I’ve climbed all but a handful of weekends. And I’ve done the route perhaps 20 or more times now. I took my roommate up it for her first ever-climbing experience. I took a visiting German climber up it. I once soloed it on a weekday, spending an hour or two sitting on different ledges, the most alone I’ve ever been climbing. One of my favorite climbing pictures was taken at the tree at the top of the first pitch. Two friends, a couple in their 40’s, are following me up the route, it’s their second time climbing ever, and they are grinning like schoolkids.

What makes the route so great? Everything. The setting is amazing. Even the drive up is scenic, a perfect Sierra vista. Parking your car underneath the tall pines, racking up, and heading down the approach path, crunching pine needles. 10 minutes later, you stand at the base of an obvious line. Tie in, slip into an old comfy pair of climbing shoes, and start up the first pitch. It’s half a rope length to the second tree, a few interesting moves to ponder as you approach the belay, sling the tree and you’re done. Plan it so you get the lead on the second pitch, or treat a favorite partner with this gem. A solid, gorgeous crack, with plenty of face holds, heads straight out from the tree, leading 35 feet up to more discontinuous crack systems. As you approach a big “V” notch, grab a few pieces and build a belay. The next pitch goes quickly, a big fat, low angle crack, up to a gently leaning thin crack that curves around to form a ledge, your third belay. Clip the bolted anchor, belay your partner, and savor the views. The Needles, pine forests, mountains in every direction. Watch for eagles and bears, both of which I’ve seen from this route. Take your time, it’ll be over far too soon.

Pitch four, the last, is different than the rest. It’s a slab, heading out from the belay, past a single bolt, and on up to a little overlap. Throw in a cam, step over the lip, then walk up the final stretch, which rounds out, getting easier and easier with each step.

In the summer, expect curious tourists asking questions. I’ve been offered beer and smokes from this final belay. It’s time to put on your regular shoes. I always linger here. It’s not a route to rush on. I’ve attempted fast ascents of routes, even this one, but that’s like taking a Cadillac on a racecourse. The Tree route is like a big cruiser convertible. Put the top down, take your time, there is no hurry.