Many hikers will ask ... where is Bear Dome?
This huge granite rock is located on the western border of the John Muir Wilderness, next to the San Joaquin River. Driving to this remote area will test one’s skills on a 17-mile, one-lane wilderness road nicknamed as cheap and nasty. This catchy phrase was awarded to this road during its construction days in the 1950s.
Before your introduction to this historical road, Huntington Lake will come into view. At the north end of the lake turn right toward Kaiser Pass and Mono Hot Springs. Enjoy the five miles of a comfortable, wide-paved road and don’t be surprised when this pavement narrows down to one lane. Don’t forget to brush up on your motorist education before driving on this one-lane mountain road.
After crossing the San Joaquin River and the entrance to Mono Hot Springs, only one mile ahead on the right is a rock and dirt 4 X 4 road leading to Bear Diversion Dam. Follow this road to the Bear Creek Trailhead. The Bear Creek Trail will capture your attention as it follows Bear Creek, cascading over exposed bed rock lined with acres of pine trees.
Since Bear Creek is one of the main runoff streams of the surrounding mountains, you fishermen will enjoy the challenge of landing German Brown and Golden Trout flourishing in this stream. After hiking a short distance, look for the gauging station (small structure) and this will be the creek crossing.
The old packing trail is not marked but it is located on the opposite side. From July through September the trail will be hot, with no tree cover. There will be lots of manzanita bushes to forge through that share of this trail.
When it turns left, leave the trail and start the 1,500 feet of climbing before reaching the back side of Bear Dome. The final 500 feet of elevation will be scrambling over huge boulders. For the seasoned class 5 mountain climber the west face can be a challenge, with the steep face extending upward to 9,947 feet. But for the average hiker with a class 2 or 3 comfort zone, the back side or north surface will be the easiest route to the summit.
A safety rope is recommended because the earthquake in the mid-1990s collapsed the slot on the back side, so be careful. Once you reach the top there are 360 degree views of the area.
Florence Lake is to the east, Edison Lake to the north-west and sharing the western view is Mono Hot Springs and the San Joaquin River as it maneuvers its way toward the Minaret Mountains. The dome top is 30 feet wide at the south end and tapers to 3 feet wide on the north end. The surface is smooth with deep cracks the run its length, with no vegetation, just solid rock.
Look closely and you’ll discover a surveyor’s marker embedded in the rock surface. Be careful on the descent and watch every foot and hand placement. Since the earthquake the climb and descent takes more concentration to complete.
Behind the dome are smaller domes called Infant Buttes. The tallest has an elevation of 10,137 feet. They are much different than Bear Dome but still offer a challenge to climb. If your water supply is low, hike southeast for a few hundred yards and you will find a small year-round stream cascading down the mountain. This is the only water source until you hike back to Bear Creek. If you are seeking multiple formations to climb during one outing, consider Bear Dome and the Infant Buttes.