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North America, United States, California—Sierra Nevada, Balloon Dome, Northeast Face

Balloon Dome, Northeast Face. Pouring over topographic maps one boring wet weekend a few winters ago, I became curious about the tightly woven contours on a feature adjacent to the upper San Joaquin River titled Balloon Dome. If those delicate brown lines were accurate, they implied a massive steep uplift from low footings. Peering through old journals and books on the Sierra Nevada, I could find no trace of the name or a photograph, but the aerials at the U.S. Geological Survey proved interesting indeed. To pry climbers away from Yosemite Valley can be exasperating. The first question invariably is, “How far is the hike in?” After some verbal jousting, I convinced Reed Cundiff and Bill Hackett to accompany me, being careful not to mention that the 8 or 10 miles first involved a 3000-foot descent to the river (then gaining it back). Fortunately, the general scenery and magnetic sight of the truly inspiring dome spurred us onward during the frustrating hike. Camped amid the scattered pines close to the giant rock, we discussed a choice of routes. We agreed that the great pillar leaning against the northeast face was too classic to overlook, and on our first sortie we climbed a few pitches. Cold windy weather halted progress higher on the face on the next attempt, but on June 2 conditions were flawless for the completion. The first five pitches are up increasingly difficult slabs and deep jams to the top of the pillar. A fifty-foot rappel from a bolt to the inside notch brings one to the sheer smooth upper dome rock. What we had feared would be bolting proved possible with a hard pendulum, then a pitch of thin aid-climbing. Delightful friction pitches continue to the seldom visited summit. NCCS IV, F8, A3.