First, thanks to steelman for maintaining this page, which was an excellent guide and prepared us for almost everything.
My wife and I heard it rained all week prior to our hastily planned trip. We caught the tail end of these storms driving in from Nevada on Saturday. We stayed in Lee Vining Sat nite, but not before a quick run up to Tioga Pass to scout the trailhead in daylight, to be sure we could find it the next morning. No view of the summit then because of the low cloud cover.
We awoke to crystal clear skies, and hit the trailhead at 6 a.m., no headlamps necessary, and had a beautiful, cool walk through the meadows, and even surprised a pair of feeding mule deer just below the treeline on the way up. We found this to be a fairly vertical ascent, but, there was enough switchbacking mixed in so we didn't have to stop until we reached the shelter at the plateau. By this time, about 7, the sun was just creeping over the mountain, and the wildflowers were wet with dew or yesterday's rain.
After a quick bite and a hit of gatorade, we started toward the NW ridge on the most well-worn trail, with a few cairns mixed in for help across the talus. Soon, we were back in the shade, but the temp was perfect for our pace. Steelman is right when he says this trail disappears in places in the talus. There appeared to be cairns here and there (many of which were toppled over), but they didn't provide enough easy direction, so we found ourselves picking through parts of trail until we got close to the ridgeline, where we stopped again, probably 800 feet or so below the summit. A small shelter is just east over the ridge, and we relaxed to views of glacier blue/green Dana Lake and Mono Lake.
At this point, we encountered something we had not expected. The rains from the previous week (or morning dew?) had frozen, making the talus-hopping more exciting than we had hoped. Cursing ensued. We lost the trail up the NW ridge, and traversed toward the southwest (pure instinct -- probably a bad idea in retrospect as it added time and labor to this easy hike). This put us on a much more well-defined trail which, while basically vertical, was much easier to follow to the top.
We got to the top at about 10. I was a bit disappointed with the time it took, but given the amount of time we spent dicking around looking for the trail and testing EVERY FOOT STEP for ice slippage or loose rock (trekking poles came in handy some of the time, were a hindrance at others), I was glad we got up without incident. Special kudos to my wife, who, after 5 knee surgeries, climbed with her ACL brace on through the icy stuff I led her into (Did I mention the cursing?).
This was totally forgotten when we got to the summit, alone. We had previously only been to 12, 500, (and live at 2,800) so we wondered if the altitude would affect us. Happily, not. Some Brits showed up about 20 minutes later (OK, OK, maybe 5 minutes later, but we were there first!) and we had the standard semi-euphoric summit chat with them about how great: a) the views are; b) it is to be away from the massive August Yosemite hordes; c) it is to be alive, on vacation, and on top a great mountain.
After about an hour on top, we started down. Much easier to find the trail's fits and stops from above, and we ended up taking a line (on trail) which appears to be roughly a straight line from the summit to the plateau shelter, to the Gaylor parking lot. This is a more vertical approach, but it's always much easier on the trail than off.
Just 2 hours to descend, past the increasing crowd in tennis shoes, stopped and panting below the treeline asking us how much further. We gave our printed route info from this site to two young ladies from Alabama, hitting the trail about 1:30 p.m.
The only thing I would add to Steelman's excellent coverage is to watch out for the potential for ice on the talus -- not sure if it was caused by recent storms or morning dew, or is a regular occurrence.