Table Mountain’s walls can be easily spotted from the Highway 49 / Highway 108 junction, and from the roads surrounding New Melones Reservoir in the Central Sierra foothills of Tuolumne County. Because of their obvious position, the cliffs have no doubt sparked an interest in the area’s earliest climbers, and although the walls are difficult to reach, some were probably explored (and possibly climbed) in the 60s and 70s.
In the mid-1980s, Sonora-area first ascensionist David Harden made an early reconnaissance hike to a steep outcropping of Table Mountain. The sections of cliff reached by Harden were fragile and the cliff was deemed too chossy to bolt. After all, hundreds of solid granite cracks remained unclimbed higher up on the Sonora Pass Highway.
In 1989, Grant Hiskes moved from Yosemite to Tuolumne County to attend Columbia Junior College. Beyond climbing many established routes in Yosemite, Grant had experience with first ascents and developing climbing areas. He saw the lower elevation cliffs of Table Mountain in a new light and began extensively seeking out climbable rock on the formations.
In 1991, Hiskes thrashed through 300 yards of steep chaparral to reach the base of a white-streaked headwall. The white streak looked amazing (this would later become the classic 5.10 route Chicken Ranch Bingo), but Grant really hit the Mother Lode when he looked below the headwall into a dark grotto formed by three adjoining cliff faces.
Shortly after uncovering the Grotto, Grant and Sonora local David Yerian cut a steep trail through the thick brush to reach the base of the wall. Over the next few years Grant brought Yosemite climbers Dean Malley, Mike Stewart, Peter Croft, Ellie and Bruce Hawkins, Dan and Sue McDevitt, Dave Bengston, Ken Yager, Tony Borean, Rick Cashner, Mike Barker and Kevin Fosberg to the crag where they plucked excellent climbs on the parallel cracks and towering headwalls.
Before long Sonora locals including Phil Bone, Craig McClenahan, John Williams, Craig Comstock, Brian Schmidt and David Clay began developing climbs in the Grotto. More significantly, these local climbers expanded their efforts to other sections of Table Mountain with similar rock quality. Within a few years of the Grotto’s development, these local climbers had explored, cleaned and bolted routes at the Fissures, Midwall, Far Side and White Room.
A few miles west of Jamestown, just past a state correctional facility on O’Byrnes Ferry Road, the Table Mountain formation flanks the thin fingers of Tulloch Reservoir. Almost all the sections of Table Mountain that reach Tulloch Reservoir seem climbable. Many are comprised of the gold, steep headwalls that typically yield solid and fun climbing. Yet the most obvious formation appears as an enormous grey cave on the eastern side of the Tulloch Bridge.
The first to approach and climb at Jailhouse was then Yosemite resident Dave Shultz. Dave established many hard lines in the cave, drilling bolts on lead from the ground-up. Shultz was later joined by other climbers including John Scott, Troy Corliss and Tahoe resident Tommy Herbert. Herbert would soon become one of the most prolific first ascensionists at the crag after establishing Mother Lode 5.14a. Herbert spent so much time bolting and projecting at the cave he was dubbed “The Warden” of Jailhouse Rock.
Many climbing areas are kept secret during the early stages of development; however, Jailhouse has been something of a secret for the last 20 years as the cliff and its approach sit squarely on private property. The landowners have historically allowed access to the cliff, but requested there be no guidebook and no publicity. In 2010, Touchstone member and long-time Jailhouse climber Tom Addison realized that an approved subdivision (which included the trailhead and initial approach trail) would threaten future access to the crag.
Addison contacted the Access Fund and the landowners who immediately began hatching a plan to conserve Jailhouse for future generations. After several months of working with the landowners, the Access Fund reached an agreement to protect the crag through a complex conservation development partnership. Part of the effort to “unlock Jailhouse” culminated in the construction of a nice new parking area and a shorter trail to the cliff. The conservation easement also came with a few requests from the landowners. No dogs, amplified music or camping is allowed on the premises. Before you visit, please view the complete list of Jailhouse details including the code to access the parking area at accessfund.org/jailhouse.
Go With the Flow (5.9)
Soap on a Rope (5.13a)
The Governor (5.13b)
A Climber’s Guide to the Sonora Pass Highway 2nd Edition by Brad Young is the most comprehensive guide for Shell Road areas of Table Mountain and Bay Area Rock by Jim Thornburg is the only guide that includes Jailhouse Rock.
Trip Report By Dean Fleming