Escape to ConnessI needed a break from the Bay Area and decided to make a quick two day trip to go climb Conness. Work has been difficult and I needed to get out. Within ten minutes I was taxiing to runway 19 right at the Concord airport. Like climbing, flying requires concentration. You have to push out all those thoughts running around in your head and focus on the task at hand. I immediately forgot about my job, girlfriend, and everything else as I climbed out above Mt. Diablo and headed East toward Yosemite. Within an hour of departing I was descending over Conness losing altitude over Mono Lake on approach for the tiny strip of an airport at Lee Vining.
On the GroundDue to my rather abrupt departure I hadn't planned a few things out. First of all I landed at about 8:00 PM. Usually I have transportation from the airport arranged. I could have flown to Tahoe and driven the old Bronco I keep there, but I didn't want to make the 2 and a half hour drive. I could have flown to Bishop, but there were no rental cars available. I guess I figured I'd catch a ride hitchhiking or spend the night in Lee Vining and figure out something in the morning. At 9:00 PM I was at the Mobil gas station restaurant at the 395 and hwy 120 junction about 1.5 miles from the airport. I guess I was anxious to get going so I started walking up Hwy 120 to Yosemite. I felt great, the sun was setting, the stars were bright and the moon lighted my way. Around midnight about 3 miles east of Tioga pass I hiked off the road and crashed for the night.
I woke around 6:30 shouldered my pack and continued on. I made it to Sawmill camp and had no problem securing a camp site for $12 despite the holiday week. I was tired after the 12 miles from the airport and my approach shoes, while great on rock, are not so comfortable for many miles on asphalt. It was still early and I wasn't sure whether to tackle Conness today or take a rest day. I walked over to Saddlebag Lake (about 1.5 miles) to check it out. While the lake was not particularly picturesque, they serve food at the lake house. After a very good breakfast I was feeling energized and not wanting to sit around camp for a day decided to head out. I got back to my campsite, sorted a daypack, did a little ad hoc surgery on my toes and started off around 10:30.
Conness East RidgeSawmill camp is at about 10,000'. The summit of Conness is not far off, so I figured I'd have plenty of time. The trail is very easy to follow past the Carnegie Research station. The meadow is very beautiful and lush for a high alpine setting.
The mosquitoes were annoying and managed to hang on all the way to about 11,500', but they kept me moving. I followed a creek up toward the ridgeline north and east of Alpine Lake. A bit above 11,000' the scenery changes as you reach the ridgeline. I ditched my daypack since it was so hot I wouldn't need a jacket and it was early enough I didn't worry about my headlamp either. There was nearly no wind and not a cloud in the sky. I did forget to bring any food which was a serious oversight.
The last part of the East Ridge up to the summit is the really fun part of this 3rd class climb. There are some spots of exhilarating exposure as you scramble up the last 500'. The views of North Peak, the glacier, and the lakes below are wonderful. The ridge is narrow enough and requires enough bouldering coupled with the high altitude to be as much fun as I've had without a rope in a long time. Below is a picture of the summit ridge where you can make out a couple I encountered up on the summit to give you a sense of scale.
Fortunately I ran into the Vance party (Mom, Dad, son and daughter) fresh from the top after climbing the North or West? They shared an Odwalla bar with me. All four were looking to be having a great time on their descent.
I made the summit about 2:45, took a few pictures and headed down. I was back in camp by 6:00, with my feet in a bit of pain. I woke the next morning packed my pack and headed back to hwy 120. I stopped for breakfast at the Tioga Pass Resort (another mile in the wrong direction). I hoped to find a ride down to Lee Vining. My waitress Courtney graciously offered to take me down at 3:00. I contemplated hiking Mt. Dana to kill the day and take her up on her offer but opted to start heading down after a critical look at my feet.
My approach shoes and I headed off down the highway hoping to catch a ride. I gave up after 3 or four miles when a very nice couple visiting from France stopped and asked if I needed any help. I wasn't even hitching! They were on their way to Death Valley after several days in Yosemite. They were having a great time. I got to the plane and was back in the bay area bay 1:00 in time for lunch.
It was a very nice break, but the most fun about my liitle solo adventure was the very nice (and generous) people I met along the way. Somtimes you need to travel solo simply because it opens yourself up to more chance encounters. And there really are a lot of very nice people out there.