Playin' Hooky on Mount Conness

Playin' Hooky on Mount Conness

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.96720°N / 119.3192°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 28, 2005

Playin' Hooky on Mount Conness, June 2005 



6am. Saddlebag road still closed, but bcrider and jimw gave reports of dry road. I loaded up the pack with skis and boots, climbed on the bike and began pedalling up the road. 6:20am. At Sawmill Campground. Stash bike in trees. Look for ski poles. shit. 6:30am. Back at car to get my *$&*#$ poles. 6:45am. Back at Sawmill. Stash bike 2x. Start hiking/bushwacking towards East Ridge of Mount Conness.  


Below Alpine Lake. Lots of snow still on White and False White  

Random self timer panorama 8:00ish. Alpine Lake. The normal summer trip up the waterfall was a piece of cake -- kicking steps in styro snow all the way up. Filled up my water bottle at the falls and was off the races. (I don't normally filter water in the Sierra, especially from high mountain snowmelt in spring -- here's why) 8:30ish. Reached the notch. The day is turning out to be a postcard MF'n day and how stoked am I that I am not working today. 8:45am. About to top out on the summit plateau. Things have been pretty easy up to now, the forgotten pole incident notwithstanding. But now I'm faced with my first issue: how to get past the monster Rolls Royce Corniche that guards the exit to the plateau? Thankfully, Chris and Jim were here two days ago so I knew it went around to the left side over some tricky and moderately exposed mixed climbing. Just below the plateau. East Ridge snakes down behind me.  

The route. The right side plunges down to the glacier, so don't go that way.  

9:00am. On the plateau, but it is still early and despite the prime weather I know the chutes will still be somewhat suicidal at this hour. But since I'm not going to North Peak today because of the report that it was sketch and not very fun, I decide to have some fun up on Mt. Conness while the chutes warm up. Peaks above Tuolumne look nice but still pretty snowbound for the July 4th weekend climbing clusterfuck.  

Entrance to looker's left Y-couloir. STEEP!  


And down the length of it  

Entrance to looker's right Y-couloir. This entrance involves an initial hairy traverse across a no-fly zone rock band so is a bit more sketch than the other entry. Naturally I chose this one.



Looking up to the summit. The path snakes along a fairly narrow ridge up to the top. Difficult to see from this photo, but the drops on both sides are fair to partly fatal. An easy scramble though, but don't slip. Especially not in ski boots. The bigger issue is the snowfield near the top. One slip here and you're a pancake at the bottom of the SW face.  

In case you don't believe me, here's a view of the SW face and the snowfield with some photoshopping for emphasis.  


10:30am. After farting around on the plateau and checking out the various chutes on today's menu, I'm on the summit. Lunch is served.  

Lyell and Maclure would be a sweet ski if it wasn't such a slog to get there.  

Looking back at the chutes du jour  


After a nutella sandwich, trusted fuel of all hardy mountaineers, I slip on my rock shoes and start talus hopping out towards the north ridge. This is a classic route up from the glacier. I climbed it last summer and it was one of my funnest days ever in the mountains. Tremenous exposure in an Alpine setting but with perfect granite and abundant handholds. My favorite description of the route is this, from

[T]he whole climb . . . looks tricky, but proves to be pretty easy, even with a pack. You move left, find the ridge and then just go on up. The whole climb is on extremely solid rock with many, many fantastic holds and whopping big exposure. If you fell off, you would die a spectacular death, but you will not fall off. Any climber who is comfortable on 5.4 should have absolutely no trouble with any of the 4th class parts of the route, which is to say, pretty much all of it.

I admit that even though I had ascended this route, I was a bit sketched to solo downclimb it. But I was feeling great and knew my limits. So off I went. Looking down the North Ridge  

Looking off the west side to Roosevelt Lake many, many feet below.  

Off the east side to the Conness Glacier 1,500 feet below. Base jump anyone?  

Sketchy step across  

Typical huge phallic tower along ridge. For perspective, the squeeze chimney to the left where I went over the tower was a shoulder width apart.  

Found a random granite chicken head upon which to rest camera for self-timer. Route is not that steep here, but imagine if you slipped... Postscript: camera did not plunge down to the glacier and memory card was retrieved.  

12:30pm.  Hit my turnaround time just above the notch leading to the "second tower" along the route. I climbed back up, and what was a moderately sketch downclimb was a thrilling climb back up; as enjoyable as I'd remembered it from one year ago. 1:30pm Traversed back over the summit, gingerly negotiating the summit snowfield, and got back to the Y couloir where I stashed my skis. Clicked in and saw this.


Conditions weren't totally ripe in the top of the Y couloir, and I was feeling pretty tired from the sealevel -> 12,500' jaunt, so I took a little catnap on the rocks above the couloir. 20 minutes later, I dropped in. The top was super steep and a bit dicey to negotiate around the rock band. Snow conditions in the top 100' were "almost corn" -- you know, not totally frozen bulletproof, but somewhere between hard and soft snow with some refrozen corn shingles still lingering on top. After a couple of sketch turns, the snow magically turned into perfect corn and the chute straightened out. Jump turns morphed into slalom turns in the gut, then into GS turns onto the apron. Looking back up. My line on the lookers' right hand branch. Y couloir. Slayed. Had intentions of dropping the S chute above Conness Lakes. Recent reports said it was primed. But idiotically I was having too much fun ripping across the upper glacier that I missed the well-cloaked (and only open in macking snow years) top entry. I realized my mistake, but then was too lazy to backtrack. As a consolation prize, I arced turns down the snowfinger. Probably funner than the S couloir, but not as much the "dude..." factor. Given the choice, I'd probably skip the coolie next time too. The turns down the snow finger were magical silky corn with no rock walls to bound me in. Evidence of schralpage on the snow finger  

Looking very stoked at middle Conness Lake. This is the spot where I barfed and passed out from exhaustion a year ago, so things are looking much better today Smile The smile seen in the above shot would be the end of the merriment. Now I had to negotiate the dreaded suncups along Greenstone and Saddlebag Lakes. Reports from Chris and Jim said they were nothing short of brutal. Thankfully the suncups were getting softer here at 3:30pm, and I was able to sort of survival ski between suncupped rocky slopes along the waterfall down to Greenstone. From there, I went into traverse mode (no skins required), and just phloated over the tops of the suncups, mowing them down en route. Going was pretty good at first and I was feeling pretty fucking smug -- "this isn't so bad. Chris and Jim are pussies!". Then I hit the avy debris.  ARGHHH!!!  Huge chunks from successive slides had turned the 2 mile traverse into a mini Khumbu icefall. Suncups turned into seracs, and I found myself struggling to make progress. Some of these maneating suncups were about 6 feet deep. Chris and Jim are decidedly NOT pussies Smile  

Once past the gooseneck of Saddlebag Lake, the debris field ended and it was back to good ol' summer suncups. Progress quickened and soon I saw a familiar site -- Mount Dana and the saddlebag lake "resort". Stoked!  

From here, it was a quick change back into approach shoes and a scamper down the road to my cached bike. A mile and a half of downhill coasting and I was at the car. Hauled ass back to the golden gate with little traffic (mid week rules!), broken up only by the mandatory stop at Robertitos for tres rolled con guac and a burrito de carne asada. Trip stats: - vert: lots - mishaps: one (forgotten poles) - spontaneous "hell yeah!" exclamations: 342 - mosquitoes: none!  


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