High Sierra of Yosemite National Park – Tenaya Peak, W. Ridge of Mt. Conness and the approaches in between (including Ragged Peak & Young Lakes)
Saturday, September 25 – Sunday, September 26, 2010
Nick (UCL) & Jon
Nick & Jon (as noted)
Both Saturday and Sunday were bluebird skies, with 0% chance of precipitation. During the day, weather was in the mid-60s on both days, with nighttime lows in the mid-30s.
As the week began to pass, I could sense the stars aligning and a sequence of events shaping up that would miraculously enable me to climb two ultra-classic, High Sierra alpine routes of varying difficulties (in both exposure, technical climbing and approach commitment: the Northwest Buttress of Tenaya Peak and the West Ridge of Mt. Conness.
Note: I posted the Tenaya Peak TR in a separate thread for beta.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON – HIKE TO UPPER YOUNG LAKE
After Brandon and I finished the descent from Tenaya Peak, we packed up the car and headed over to the Tuolumne Meadow Ranger Station so I could pick up a Wilderness Permit to head back to Young Lakes. Jon, my climbing partner for the West Ridge of Mt. Conness had already hiked up to Upper Young Lakes earlier in the day and I was going to meet him that night.
After getting my Wilderness Permit, we headed over to the Tuolumne General Store so I could re-pack my overnight bivy gear and, more importantly, eat some food and drink some beers.
Unfortunately, I was moving kind of slow in the afternoon and didn’t actually start heading up to Young Lakes until around 6 PM. The hike to Upper Young Lakes is around 7 miles, almost entirely on trail. I knew I was going to be hiking the tail end in the dark, but I was familiar with the area so I left my map at home (more on this bad choice later….).
Notwithstanding going light, my pack was still heavy with a ½ a rack, food for the night and next day, bivy bag and sleeping gear and my 60m alpine rope. After climbing Tenaya Peak and the heavy-ish bag, the prospect of hiking 7 miles uphill was not the greatest feeling in the world.
The only uplifting quality was that I would be hiking at dusk, so I knew the views would be incredible.
As I noted, Jon hiked earlier in the day with two friends visiting from Ireland, so they were up by Young Lakes at dusk and I have some of his pictures to share of the alpenglow up by Upper Young Lake.
The view from camp ground looking out towards the Conness approach. Photo: Jon
Still water on Upper Young Lake at dusk. Photos: Jon
Meanwhile, I was making very quick time up the Dog Lake trail towards Upper Young Lake. I actually think I made it to around Lower Young Lake in just over 2-hours, as I was absolutely motoring.
About ½ way to Lower Young lake, I stopped briefly in this amazing high elevation alpine meadow, with great views and amazing dusk light. Photos: Nick
As I gained altitude, I was greeted to a sunset over Tuolumne Meadows far below, with great views of Cathedral Peak which I had climbed a couple of months ago with Colin. Photo: Nick
Nearly 2/3rds of the way to Lower Young Lake, the sunset fully developed. I would take 3 steps, stop and just stare at the view. I was at 10,000 ft. and alone, it was as quite as I have ever heard with not a voice for miles, and the sky was on fire. To put in bluntly, it was amazing – these are the days I live for in the outdoors. Photos: Nick
Fortunately, I got my relaxation on because the next hour and a half would turn to an absolute suck-fest. I got to Upper Young Lake in personal record time, but (remember leaving the map at home???) I promptly lost the trail going towards Middle Young Lake and Upper Young Lake. It was dark and I couldn’t find too many campers up there. I knew that the lakes were essentially on top of each other, so I would find running water and attempt to follow it uphill to the next lake.
This was a painful process as the terrain is tricky, steep and not the easiest to navigate by headlamp.
At the end, what took me 10 minutes to hike down in the day on the trail took me 1.5 hours to do at night. This really put a damper on my spirits arriving into camp.
Fortunately, at Upper Young Lake I gave out a loud yell and got a response from Jon. I headed over to camp, quickly set down the bivy and made some quick Trader Joe’s Indian food. Off to sleep for 6 hours for our alpine start at 5:30 AM on Sunday.
SUNDAY – WEST RIDGE OF MT. CONNESS (12,590 FT.)
Mt. Conness is one of the highest peaks in the Eastern Sierra north of Tioga Pass. With a multitude of ascent options, Jon and I had settled on the West Ridge, an ultra classic technical alpine route. The first couple of pitches have 5.6-5.7 terrain, opening up on the ridge proper to easy 4th and 5th class moves up an extremely exposed knife ridge. Needless to say, it was AWESOME!
A couple of thoughts on the approach from Young Lakes. We had camped at Upper Young Lake and based on the SuperTopo recommendation, we hiked up the Southeast saddle behind Mt. Conness, gaining almost 2,000 ft. vertical, before descending the steep gully below the Southwest Face. The proper gully (described in SuperTopo as the one in which you can see the entire Southwest Face) is easy to find – it is marked by cairns on that upper plateau.
However – after summiting and familiarizing ourselves with the terrain (I had fished up in Roosevelt Lake before), I would STRONGLY recommend camping at Lower Young Lake and then making the cross-country journey through the forest to Roosevelt Lake and then just scrambling up to the base. It is an easier approach in my opinion, as you do not gain and lose 2,000 vertical feet. It certainly goes – I checked it on the topo at home, and appeared to be much easier from the West Ridge Proper.
Back to our story – I forgot to mention that the Thursday before this weekend was Oktoberfest in San Francisco. During the course of drinking many a Spaten, Jon and I independently acquired Sound of Music, Baron VonTrap style hats. We decided that in true alpine fashion, we would climb the West Ridge in such hats. In retrospect, I wish I had my helmet for parts of the initial descent down into the Southwest Face.
However, the hats and rolled-up pants pretty much make the rest of this Trip Report – VONTRAP STYLE! Photo: Nick
On the initial approach from Upper Young Lake, I let out the German-style yodel: “RICCCOOOOOOLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAA”. Photo: Jon
Taking in the view at the saddle, with VonTrap style rolled up man-pris for added humor effect. Photo: Jon
At this point on the plateau around 12,250 ft., Jon checks the description as we look for the cairns marking the proper descent gully next to the Southwest Face. Baron Jon VonTrap that is…. Photo: Nick
As we enter the proper descent gully, we are treated to our first view of the upper portion of the West Ridge (marking the skyline essentially). Photo: Nick
Jon pointing up from the proper descent gully at the enormous Southwest Face of Mt. Conness. Photo: Nick
Near the bottom of the gully, one can look up at take in the Southwest Face looming above. At this point, we were moving quickly through the rock and boulder fields. Bring helmets and do not get sucked in by Oktoberfest-induced humorous hats! Photo: Jon
Silhouette of Jon in the descent gully. Photo: Nick
Looking back up the descent gully – it is steep so take your time. Photo: Nick
When we finally arrived at the base of the route, there are a myriad of alternative ways up. If you go further down the ridgeline, you can start on the actual West Ridge itself, but I believe you loose some of the best 5.6/5.7 climbing on the route. We started in the normal approach, which is 3 full pitches of 5.6 and 5.7 crack climbing to gain the ridge proper.
Here Jon scouts the line. Photo: Nick
Jon led the first 5.6 pitch and, despite the rating, the route finding is somewhat difficult. There are some hidden tricky moves and the pro is non-existent in some of the shallow cracks. Just take your time and you can work through it easily. Photos: Nick
I followed up the first pitch, which as some fun features. Photos: Jon
We quickly realized that the second pitch, a 5.7 vertical crack climb, offers the best technical fifth-class climbing on the route. The entire pitch is essentially up a 200 ft vertical crack that you have to lieback on, with stems on an open-book style wall for your feet. It was challenging enough, with solid pro. Frankly, it was my favorite pitch of lead climbing all summer as I felt I had to be on my game making proper lay-back technique (which, to be honest, I rarely do). It is steep and supremely fun.
Here I am high up on the pitch, stemming the legs out and laying back on the crack. Photo: Jon
Jon at a cool 5.6 roof move on the third pitch. Photo: Nick
Following the 3rd pitch, we gained the ridge proper and were treated to great views looking out. Photo: Jon
We also ran into another party of two working up the alternate start on the ridge – the only other party we saw on the West Ridge the entire day. Photo: Jon
When gaining the West Ridge, you are just treated to an amazing knife-edge ridge climb for 1,500-2,000 ft, with the exposed Southwest Face dropping below you to your right. There are an abundance of route alternatives – we chose to climb as close to the edge as possible to maximize the exposure effect. We simul-climbed the entire ridge up to near the summit, where we un-roped for a 4th class blocky section at the end.
Here, I lead up on the West Ridge of Mt. Conness. Photos: Jon
Jon following below on some of the many towers you climb over and around. Great exposure behind and around you. Photos: Nick
After our long first simul-climb pitch, we traded gear and Jon lead up the next simul pitch. Photo: Nick
Looking further up the endless West Ridge. Photo: Nick
Here I am following, with Roosevelt Lake several thousand feet below. Photo: Jon
And of course, more VonTrap style yells: “RIIIIIICCCCOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAA”. Photo: Jon
We saw another team on the North Ridge of Mt. Conness, rapping down the 2nd Tower. Photos: Jon
The formations on the West Ridge are spectacular. Photo: Nick
At the summit of Mt. Conness, endless VonTrap style shenanigans ensued :)
The views from the summit are quite spectacular, being up at 12,500 ft and all… Photo: Nick
The descent down the East Ridge is very straightforward, but the fun-filled exposure continues. Here Jon works his way down. Photo: Nick
The East Ridge of Exposure… I wonder what’s down there. Photo: Nick
In all seriousness, the descent is super easy and you are on very large third-class terrain. Upon reaching the summit plateau, we began the brutal side-hilling, loose tallus/scree scramble down to Upper Young Lake. Don’t be mistaken – the West Ridge of Conness is a long climb at high altitude. After gaining/losing 2,000 ft. from Upper Young Lake on the approach.
And add in Tenaya Peak the day prior, I was exhausted. After making it back to camp, we packed up and hit the 7 mile trail back to the car. Arriving in the dark, we then made the long Sunday night drive back to SF.
I was tired on the hike out, but honestly, just my feet really hurt from wearing the approach shoes for all the hiking during the 48 hours.
On that note, a spectacular Alpine Weekend up in the High Sierra. Photo: Nick