Power Dome and The Tiger's Cage

18 Jul 1995 - by Pat Ibbetson

During the summer of 95 I hiked a lot of worthless mountains on the west side of the Sierras. Two that didn't fit into the worthless category were the domes on either side of Helms canyon immediately south of the Courtright Reservoir dam.

Tuesday after work I was bored to tears, so I walked across the dam in search of the fabled Power Dome. Power Dome is known in the rock climbing world (at least around Fresno) for the 700 foot wall on its west side. I took a more civilized route, walking all the way to the sharp bend in the road to Maxson trailhead. Here I turned southeast, across the large flat to the base of the dome to hike up the normal descent route. The dome's slopes are a little steep on the north but there was no talus to speak of and it was possible to walk to the top following a smart path. The granite is exfoliating and the flakes that have broken off have been quite large, presenting small cliffs to tall to hike over. Instead of climbing straight on, I found it quicker to hike horizontally until the cliffs blended back into the slope, and then continue upwards. The zigzagging took a surprisingly long time, but I wasn't exactly trying to set a speed record. The last few feet were punishing, especially after a long day of hiking, but the top is large and flat. The whole thing was really childs play, but I was exhausted, so its gentle slopes still provided me with an enjoyable challenge. As with most peaks along the Kings River, there were fine views to be had. Vertical walls dropped off in all directions except for the narrow slope I had just walked up. The most impressive view was that of Mt. Goddard, which dominates the central Sierra. From my vantage point it stood at the end of the north fork of the Kings River, a giant black pyramid rising 5,000 feet above where I stood. The sun had already started hiding behind the peaks to the west and the high peaks of Kings Canyon NP were beginning to take on a warm glow, standing out from the dark hazeless sky. I forgot my camera, so I looked around at the few trees on top, and then headed back to camp, this time finding the easiest ramps much faster.

The following day, again after work but this time a little earlier, I decided to try the more challenging slopes of the Tiger's Cage, which appears on the map as dome 8,400+, opposite from Power Dome on Helms Creek. On the map this dome is not as steep as Power Dome, but most of the west side is formed by large cliffs and small ledges between. Two of these cliffs, one named Transformer Wall, are extremely challenging rock climbs. I began the hike from Marmot Rock with some of the crew, including my hiking buddy Jon Auger. But they continued on down the road to taste the easier slopes of Power Dome, leaving me solo again. I was feeling good and the cimbing went quickly. It was only 200 feet to the top, not a very serious climb but enough for a little after work fun. The climb involved mostly ramps and ledges, nothing serious. As I slowly drifted south, I noticed that the southwest slopes had no cliffs, no ramps, no nothing. Why was I wasting my time? I followed my ledge around until it merged with the duff of the slope, and then strolled up to the top where I found a large cairn. I made it fast enough to see the other guys on the dam and we snapped photos of each other. This time I had my camera, and I shot some great photos of Courtright, the dam, the headwaters of the North Fork Kings and the many peaks rising to the east. I quickly hiked back down to camp when I realized it was my turn to cook dinner!

Both of these domes are hiked in such a short distance that they are best suited to evening excursions from camp, but that week I saw a party climb up the Tiger's Cage from the bottom of the canyon which was quite impressive, especially when you wonder about how they got down there!


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