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St. Peters Dome is a large basalt pinnacle on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. On the shorter uphill side, it is 350 feet of severely exfoliating and decomposing basalt between the saddle and the summit. The Dome is located 35 miles from downtown Portland and is plainly visible to all who drive by on Interstate 84. The approach hike though tedious is short and mostly straightforward. Despite these facts, the Dome is known to have been climbed by only 20 different parties prior to our ascent. (Ref. Mazama Annual 2007; other parties may have reached the summit but chose not to leave any record). The first ascent was done by Everett Darr et al in 1940 (Ref. Mazama Annual1940) and the bulk of the subsequent ascents occurred during the early 50s to early 70s with no recorded ascents in the 1980s. The 90s saw a resurgence in Dome’s popularity with Wayne’s (Wallace) first solo ascent (!!) of the Dome – #20 and the last known ascent prior to ours.
The Dome has at least 3 routes established on its south face and one line on the east/northeast face – all require thin expando nailing of disintegrating basalt “cobblestones”:
The first attempt on the Northeast Face Route ended in the deaths of both climbers (A6-ed). An unhealthy kill ratio considering there were only 2 more parties up it ever. The 2007 Mazama Annual (article by Don Baars & Jeff Thomas) provides the most comprehensive account of the climbing history on The Dome (FA summary above is based on that article), including Don’s TR from the second ascent in 1947.
The ShortAfter more than three years of obsessing about it my wife Shirley & I climbed St. Peters Dome via a somewhat direct line from the south saddle. Following a scouting hike up in the winter of early 2005 and a half-hearted attempt a month later, we did not return until April 12th of ‘08. We started up the 1947 line (Alpenjaeger Route) but we then most likely veered onto what was first climbed (perhaps?) by Glen and Don Kirkpatrick in 1968 – though many options exist for this upper pitch of the line and having found no fixed pieces on the 52-foot upper band we’re not sure what we were on. Two pitches of aid and one pitch of easy but very loose free climbing were required to reach the summit. Pitch 1 aid was done almost exclusively on thin, short knifeblades. The crux pitch 2 was about 2/3rds clean aid and the rest consisted of nailing of a mix of things. We climbed the route over the course of two Saturdays two weeks apart (a pace limited more by lack of courage than time). Two additional trips were required, one to replace our rope on pitch 1 and one to take down our ropes.
I found the experience scary and generally life-threatening for all involved. On day 1 we had help from our friend Pat Clinton (who had climbed the Turkey Monster with us last summer) in carrying the junk up to the saddle – thanks man (esp. for encouragement)! On day 3, we had the privilege of meeting Jeff Thomas and John Leary. Jeff summitted along with us while John shot some wonderful photos from the Mystery Trail all day long. I’ve indicated those that belong to him (all copyrights belong to John on these indicated shots). On the final day, Jeff Thomas and George Cummings hiked up with Shirley and me. Jeff & I then cleaned the ropes and gear and rapped down the Darr Route. Having done the climb, I stand in awe of the people who went up before us: those who went up it first; those who climbed it with home-made gear; those who put up additional terrifying routes (esp. Northeast Face!!); those who climbed it multiple times; those who’ve done it in a day; and Wayne who’s done it alone! Many thanks are owed to John Leary for great photos. I also wish to thank Don Baars for sharing his Dome experiences with us freely during our many email exchanges and generally encouraging us to try this climb. The account below is long winded.