The following is my account detailing a climb that my partner Larry and
I did on Saturday October 13, 2001 in the Yosemite high country. Enjoy
At 5 a.m., my partner Larry and I head out of the parking lot near the
walk-in campground off of the Saddlebag Lake access road. Our goal is to
climb the West Ridge of Mt. Conness.
The night before, we pulled off Tioga road near Sawmill campground and
threw our sleeping bags on the ground near the parking lot. A
combination of the elevation, and cold night air conspired to keep me
tossing and turning for a few hours before I finally drifted off to
sleep. At 2:30 a.m., a group of motor cyclists on VERY LOUD Harley's
pulled into the parking lot for what appeared to be a mini motor cycle
rally. I bid au revoir to any further sleep that night.
Once on the trail, we each focus on our own little world illuminated by
our LED lights. At the creek, I glimpse a couple of logs spanning the
creek, and a split second before I commit my full weight to one of them,
I realize that it's a mistake. The cold air is most likely freezing the
water splashing onto the logs. Too late; the next thing I know, I'm
lying on the log with my limbs in the drink. I quickly pull my feet
from the water, but it's too late. I can feel the icy cold water
creeping into my boots, invading the private sanctuary assigned to my
previously warm and dry feet. Larry asks if I'm okay, but I find it
hard to answer as waves of pain from various, and as yet nebulous, body
parts sally forth into my consciousness. I soon realize that my leg is
the major benefactor of my ill-fated tumble. After a few seconds, I'm
able to better assess my injuries. I'm sure the trip itself is not in
jeopardy, but then Larry hands me my headlamp. It's totally wet and
doesn't appear to be working. He's fished it out of the creek and I'm
thinking that, soaked with water, it's now useless. Perhaps a broken
headlamp will accomplish what my fall could not. I fumble with the
switch and, Eureka, it works! My new Tikka passes it's first test, and
before long we're back in stride.
We pass the Carnegie Institute and I'm amused that it's little more than
a broken down shack. One would think that old Mr. Carnegie could afford
to do a bit better.
We stay to the right of the meadow and make for an apparent breach in
the headwall at the end of the valley. We tackle the headwall straight
on shooting for what looks like a left trending ramp. Once on the ramp,
the going is not too bad except for a bit of 4th class near the top.
At one point near the exit of the ramp, I get into trouble in a pseudo
chimney, and am unable to retreat due to my pack getting stuck on the
wall behind me. I call for Larry, but unbeknownst to me he is having
similar problems of his own. I try not to panic, but I soon see my
water bottle careen down below me and explode near the base of the
wall. I make another attempt to exit the top of the chimney, but
realize that, "it ain't happening!" I give it all up for an attempt to
back down. I let my feet dangle and scoot myself over a small ledge and
try to reach a foothold beneath me. I'm soon back on solid ground, but
I leave a good amount of my confidence behind me.
We reach the plateau and make our way toward a notch near the SW face.
I then decide to look at the instructions from Supertopo and notice that
it suggests to go down through a notch located much farther south.
Larry and I discuss our dilemma and decide that since we're already
nearer to the first notch, we should just keep with our original plan.
My suggestion for anyone doing this approach in the future, is to head
straight across the plateau, and shoot for the notch closest to the
saddle. I'm sure you'll shave at least an hour off the route we took.
By the time we reach the base of the W. Ridge, Larry, is feeling pretty
beat. We discuss our options and decide to have some lunch,
(breakfast?) and see how things are afterward. In addition, we notice
another party just starting out ahead of us. Kicking back for a few
minutes will give them time to at least get to the first belay.
After about twenty minutes, Larry is feeling much better and we decide
to give the climb a go. Our original plan is to solo the route, but we
hauled in a rope and a minimal rack just in case. Since I'll be heading
up first I tie the rope on my back with the idea that if things get
tough, I'll drop the rope to Larry and transition into climbing with a
We head up to the first belay where we meet one of the climbers ahead of
us. Her name is Tenaya and she's cool about letting us pass. She and
her friend Justin hiked in the day before from Lembert and camped at a
small lake/tarn south of Roosevelt Lake. They're looking to have a fun
trip and Larry and I wish her well and, in an effort to skirt them and
give them some breathing room, climb on past to the right. I soon find
myself even with her partner Justin. He and I chat for a bit and I find
out that he doesn't mind if we climb on by. Very cool!
Unfortunately, just when I establish our intent to climb through, I
encounter an impasse. In an attempt to bypass Justin and Tenaya, I may
have headed too far to the right. I'm directly on the arete, and I now
see that I may have climbed myself into a pickle.
Climbing straight up the arete looks too hard for my solo abilities and
the traverse out to the left doesn't look much better. Feeling pressure
to do something after announcing to the world our intent to "climb
through," I begin to traverse out to the left. I slap the arete with my
right hand and with my left I grab a small imperfection in the rock in
order to "stabilize" myself for the step left. I know that if my foot
slips, my handholds won't do much to stop me from heading down to the
talus field which is now several hundred feet below me. I feel
strangely confident as I step across with my right foot and find a small
nub in the middle of the blank section to my left. I apply my full
weight to the small foot hold, and step way out with my left foot and
find a good hold. I then reach way out with my left hand in search of a
bomber hold. None is found, but I find some solace in a weird, flared,
sloper thing. It's not much, but it's enough to allow me to bring over
my other foot and hand. I'm now on solid ground and feeling strong.
I call down to Larry and let him know about the upcoming difficulties.
He and I agree to deploy the rope. Unfortunately, the area I'm at has
no placements available. I continue to climb upward in search of a good
area in which to set up a quick belay.
The other climbing team of Justin and Tenaya are a witness to all of
this and are no doubt thinking that we are a couple of idiots. How dare
those guys ask to climb through and then set up a belay directly above
Larry is hanging out on the arete, the other team is close behind us,
and there's no place in sight where I can set up a belay. All of this
is going through my mind as I climb higher and higher, frantically
searching for something... anything that will accept a couple of pieces
for a belay. One would think that a climb like this would take pro
everywhere and anywhere, but unfortunately, I'm finding out that this is
not the case.
By now I'm a good sixty or so feet above Larry, who has spent the last
five to ten minutes hanging out on the arete waiting for me to drop him
the rope. I finally find a spot where I can throw in a few pieces to
set up a belay, but I soon realize that I've got other problems. The
rope tails, being way too long, have been wrapped around my waist about
three or four times. I try to gently free the rope, and when that
doesn't work I try wrenching the rope free. Soon I give up and
re-position myself on the small footholds I'm standing on. If I were on
level ground this wouldn't be a problem, but hanging onto a mountain
with one hand, and trying to manipulate a stubborn rope with the other
hand, while at the same time standing on a small stance, is no easy
feat. Spurred on to another try by the party below us getting closer
and closer, I finally pull the rope free, and immediately tangle it into
a huge mess while trying to get it ready to throw down to Larry. In
disbelief, I gaze at my version of the Gordian knot. "What's going on
up there?" Larry is getting impatient and I don't blame him. He must
think I'm kicking back for a spot of tea and crumpets. In a frenzy I
shake, pull, untwist and cajole a length of rope free. Since I'm not
wearing my harness, I've got to tie in directly. Now how does that
bowline knot go? The rabbit comes out of the hole and around the
bush?..no...no..no...he goes around the bush and then into the hole...
no... that's not right...I think he... "HEY! Are you okay?!" Dang!!
Screw the rabbit! I quickly wrap the rope around my waist a few times
and tie it off on what at least looks like a solid knot, though I know I
wouldn't want to put it to the test. I then gather a bunch of rope and
send it flying down to Larry. "You're too short" he shouts. I
quickly gather up the rope for another try and toss it down. "Hey, you
hit me!" Success!!
Before long Larry is climbing on past and sets up a belay on a ledge
forty feet above me. I realize that the hardest climbing is behind me
and I decide to untie the rope. Before long the rope is strapped back
on and we are on our way. But, before we go, I apologize to the other
team. They're really cool about our shenanigans and tell us "no
worries." We wish them well and are on our way.
To my mind the key to this route is staying as close to the right arete
as possible. The views of the SW face are amazing and a bit
intimidating. At one point, as I'm looking over the edge, I'm shocked
to realize that I'm on the equivalent of a rock cornice. The rock below
me is undercut and sweeps away hundreds of feet down to the talus
below. I quickly back off and breath a sigh of relief. If the rock
wasn't so fractured it wouldn't be so scary, but it looks like the rest
of it is likely to come apart any moment, and in geologic time at least,
it no doubt will.
We soon come to a weird spot where the arete steps down about ten feet
or so and the climber has no choice, but to step down with it. The
problem (cool part?) is that the arete falls away on both sides and the
climber is forced to down climb onto a true knife edge, while trusting
himself to totally loose looking blocks. This section definitely gets
the adrenaline flowing!
Higher up, I do my best to stay as close to the arete as I can. At one
point, another step down is encountered, though this one is not as
extreme as the last. At this crossing, I can look down through a cleft
in the rock to the magnificent SW face below. We see the Harding route
and decide that from here it looks much more intimidating than from the
base. I make a mental note to move the route back a number of spots on
my Sierra tic list.
Larry and I notice that a big gully is available to the left. But why
come this far only to top out in a gully? We stay on the right and I'm
very surprised to find steep climbing this high up. My original
perception of this route was that it would be steep for the first few
hundred feet or so, and would then level off to third class to the
summit. But here we are, still encountering steep fourth and fifth
class climbing with almost a thousand feet of climbing beneath us. At
one point we diverge. I head to the right and Larry moves to the left.
I encounter solid fifth class moves heading up to the arete while Larry
finds only fourth class on his variation. I suspect that one could
significantly alter the difficulty of this route by consistently staying
to the left. The farther one moves to the left, the easier the
We are both noticing the effects of the altitude. I'd make a few moves
in a row and find myself catching my breath. I find it difficult to get
a good rhythm going. Larry says the same is true for him. We feel like
we're not getting the O's we need.
Within a few hundred feet of the summit, we finally stop for a break and
to change into our hiking boots. In my opinion, the climbing was such
that before now, taking off our climbing shoes wasn't an option. Before
long we are sitting on the summit, basking in the satisfaction of a
climb well done, and a day well spent.
The weather is absolutely perfect! Not a cloud to be seen. The sun
feels good on the skin and even the occasional breeze isn't enough to
pierce it's veil of warm comfort. Certainly a rare gift for October, at
least at this altitude.
After a leisurely snack and some time soaking in the views, we start
back down. We want to make sure we make it past the cliff band before
nightfall. Neither of us is eager to negotiate that section of the
descent in the dark.
On the way down we meet a lone hiker on his way up to the summit. His
name is John and he came up via the East Ridge. He says that he climbed
some "buttress" located near the ridge route. He also tells us he
became interested in climbing Mt. Conness from his friend's web site
"summitpost.com." We bid him adieu and head back down toward the
saddle, wondering if he'll make it back before dark.
We ourselves make it back to the parking lot by about 7:00 p.m.,
fourteen hours after we started. We didn't push it too hard, yet didn't
lollygag either. Like little Goldylocks, our pace was just right.
We decide to stop at the Mexican restaurant in Bridgeport for dinner.
The restaurant was cold, the service was lousy and the food was
disappointing, but at least the prices were high. We'd have been better
off finishing Larry's stash of dried organic bananas. Cest la vie'.
But not even this experience can dull the glow of the great day we've
On the drive back, Larry quickly falls asleep. No doubt satiated with
the meal as well as with the accomplishment. As for me, my mind is on
fire with the scenes of the day. I drive in solitude on the lonely road
back to Nevada. From time to time, and for no apparent reason, a smile
appears on my lips.
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