North Ridge 5.6

 
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Mt. Conness


Tuolumne Meadows, California USA


Trip Report
Conness North Ridge: Hot and Bothered
Sunday August 7, 2016 2:13pm
Credit: pswitz
Conness has been calling to me for a few years now, but I never made it happen until last Monday Aug 1. I had a one day window, and the weather forecast delivered the goods. Sun, 70 something, no chance of T-storms. The die was cast.
Author with his logistical support crew
Author with his logistical support crew
Credit: pswitz
My Mom is terrified every time I head into the vertical. When I started surfing in college, she would send me newspaper clippings of shark attacks and drownings. When I took up climbing, she made sure I heard about every accident to make the news: Severed ropes, exposure deaths, rockfall, soloists paying the ultimate price- nothing escaped her attention. After a few years of me coming home at the end of the day no worse for wear, she has mellowed considerably and even drove me to Saddlebag Lake for an 0630 blastoff- What a great Mom!

Saddlebag has that unnatural harsh vibe common to dammed reservoirs. I quick stepped the rocky trail to get it over with and hung a left at the boulder that is the gateway to heaven..
North Peak presides over the ridiculously perfect valley
North Peak presides over the ridiculously perfect valley
Credit: pswitz

Few things in this world are better than moving through the cold still air of a High Sierra morning with a belly full of coffee and a quiet brain.
Locals just catching the first rays.
Locals just catching the first rays.
Credit: pswitz

The approach heightens the anticipation by doling out the goods one topo contour at a time. After you cross a wet meadow and get established on the north side of the basin, these cascades are the next waypoint
Hard to believe this is a couple miles from a road.
Hard to believe this is a couple miles from a road.
Credit: pswitz

After topping out the slabs next to the cascade, you are confronted with a view that every human with a camera has been compelled to record
#ALPINEPORNMYEYEBALLSRBURNIN
#ALPINEPORNMYEYEBALLSRBURNIN
Credit: pswitz

It took considerable discipline to avoid stretching out on the flat rock next to the lake and "tripping balls" for a spell. It helped that the trail at this point is a laser cut tractor beam pulling you through the spongy meadow towards the arena..
Faced with this, it's hard not to run
Faced with this, it's hard not to run
Credit: pswitz

At the last of the Conness Lakes the trail isn't obvious, and a rock band up the hill gave me an excuse to stand around and navel gaze with the compass and map. "Left or right? Hmmm, better take some sights on the surrounding peaks to find the perfect angle of ascent...." it was a nice little procrastination session before refilling my bottle and tackling the business of getting up the talus.
Starting to get uncomfortably warm on the sunny side of the valley
Starting to get uncomfortably warm on the sunny side of the valley
Credit: pswitz

At the last little tarn in the drainage there was an interesting puzzle- A pair of trail shoes on top of a boulder, tucked in by rocks. Did someone change into heavy boots at this point to tackle a route up the glacier?
Mystery shoes and a view of the approach through the cliffs.  I took t...
Mystery shoes and a view of the approach through the cliffs. I took the gully directly under the snow patch.
Credit: pswitz

The gully through the cliff band is filled with deep sand and scree. Make like coyote = light on feet. There are a couple ways past the steepest part, but the easier notch was pouring with water so I decided on a 5th class hand traverse move under an overhanging boulder. It's the only move that required a good grip the whole day.

A trail takes you along the top edge of the cliff band until you arrive at the saddle between the North Ridge and North Peak. From this perch, your eye can trace the entire route to the summit and down to the plateau. The horizon was bluebird x 360 degrees. No wind. Well then! Don't mind if I do!
The day this setup doesn't make me buzz is the day I learn to golf.
The day this setup doesn't make me buzz is the day I learn to golf.
Credit: pswitz

The glacier itself is in sad shape and got a little smaller when a fridge sized block cut loose from the upper slopes. After this trip I went back and looked at photos of the glacier in past years and it only increased the melancholy. Like seeing a high school yearbook photo of your friend who is now wasting away with disease.
Suffering is clinging to what changes.  Goodbye High Sierra as we know...
Suffering is clinging to what changes. Goodbye High Sierra as we know you! It was a good ride.
Credit: pswitz

The climbing on the ridge itself is secure and because there are so many features in the rock I never felt exposed. There is always a ledge or flake or bulge somewhere just below. Passing the first tower was the route finding and exposure crux for me. I sniffed around the right side at a couple different elevations without success (looked easier from below), then snapped the next couple photos from the top before backtracking and taking the standard sandy ledge crossing to the left.
If you see this view you are off route.  Stay low and left.
If you see this view you are off route. Stay low and left.
Credit: pswitz
Second tower in the sun, final slope in the shadows.  Humans for scale...
Second tower in the sun, final slope in the shadows. Humans for scale.
Credit: pswitz

At the second tower I caught up to a team that was waiting for a fast-moving party to pass through and clear the raps. They (Doug and Seth I believe?) generously offered to let me rap with them, saving me time and the effort of breaking out my own rope. At the second anchor, Doug shared a story about his partner in Tahquitz who got nailed on the hand by a rattlesnake while rappelling. Thanks a lot bud, for one more reason rappelling sucks!

At this point I put the camera away and sacked up for the shaded, intimidating, 500 foot "headwall". I went about twenty feet before realizing that the climbing is actually cruiser and secure, and the fall line slants away from the glacier. It was very easy to follow the lines of weakness and stay on bomber features all the way up. I suppose if you were to stay way left on the edge of the face over the glacier you could find some 5th class climbing but I didn't come across any (Disclaimer, I have a hard time discerning between between 4th and 5.easy).

As the angle starts to ease, there are plenty of spots where you can traverse ledges over to the edge and look down onto the glacier for a nice jolt of exposure in total safety. Nearing the top, the left side is interrupted by some towers with steep uphill sides. If you don't want to deal with this terrain, contour towards the west ridge and go around.

The summit is a place to let your jaw go slack and drip drool in a tidy circle as you rotate inch by inch and let memories of all your past adventures come flooding back for a while.
The view across the Young Lakes drainage towards the playground
The view across the Young Lakes drainage towards the playground
Credit: pswitz

Eventually (45 minutes in my case) the marmots close in for the kill and it's time to go. By now it was high noon and my bottle was dry. The sun was bouncing up off the granite, erasing all shadows and encouraging a brisk pace to the snow patch guarding the plateau.
The left side of the summit plateau turns into the East Ridge.
The left side of the summit plateau turns into the East Ridge.
Credit: pswitz

On the East Ridge descent I encountered an unlikely fellow clearly not enjoying the heat...
Glacier refugee.
Glacier refugee.
Credit: pswitz

I ignored his desperate pleas to help him escape, and turned away to see that a ferocious beast had flanked me in my moment of distraction!
Nature, red in tooth and claw...
Nature, red in tooth and claw...
Credit: pswitz

After that close call it was clear that I needed to descend to safer ground pronto. It was difficult to keep a good pace however because something as simple as filling a bottle would stretch out into a several-minute-long meditation on lichen...
Biology. Chemistry. Geology. Fractals.  Whoooaaaa mannnn...
Biology. Chemistry. Geology. Fractals. Whoooaaaa mannnn...
Credit: pswitz


The next hour was a blur of boulder hopping and friendly angled slab, crossing through the saddle just south of the ridge and following the water down into the long forested valley which holds the trail, research station, and Sawmill campground.

Descent path cuts through saddle just above and left of the tarn.
Descent path cuts through saddle just above and left of the tarn.
Credit: pswitz
Looking back at the bushy saddle.  This would be your view looking up ...
Looking back at the bushy saddle. This would be your view looking up from the trail en route to the plateau via East Ridge.
Credit: pswitz

The stream crossing to Sawmill is the last example of how cruiser this route is. No slippery logs or wet shoes for us! No sir, this stout and carefully hewn timber will do nicely, thank you.
The gateway to exit the alpine disneyland back to the real world.
The gateway to exit the alpine disneyland back to the real world.
Credit: pswitz

I was an hour ahead of my expected return window, so I foraged for wild snacks while waiting for my ride.
Gotta replace sodium after all that sweating
Gotta replace sodium after all that sweating
Credit: pswitz

Reflections: If we are indeed past the tipping point of a warming climate, how long before the Sierras will begin to resemble So Cal/ Mexico? Seeing the rocky face bursting out of the glacier's chest like the movie "Alien" was sobering. Faced with this prospect, we can either learn to love our new hotter drier range, or migrate northward into the welcoming arms of our Pacific NW neighbors. Either path we choose, it is harder than ever to take what we have for granted. Thanks for reading!

  Trip Report Views: 2,721
pswitz
About the Author
pswitz is a climber from honolulu.

Comments
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10b4me

Mountain climber
Retired
  Aug 7, 2016 - 02:55pm PT
Nice, brings back memories.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
  Aug 7, 2016 - 02:58pm PT
Great TR, thanks for posting. Awesome mom too, gotta love getting dropped off by your mom.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 7, 2016 - 04:08pm PT
Nicely done
I'm not sure how welcoming your pnw neighbors will be lol
looks easy from here

climber
Ben Lomond, CA
  Aug 7, 2016 - 08:55pm PT
Thanks for sharing (and making my internal North Ridge vs. West Ridge battle rage on).

My Mom is terrified every time I head into the vertical.

My sympathies are with you-mine's the same way.

And I agree, the weather that weekend was about as near perfect as it gets; I was only about 10 miles from you, goofing around on Dozier and Pywiack.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Aug 8, 2016 - 12:01am PT
Been too long since I've been on this too.

mtnyoung, how do you feel about a return trip?
O.D.

Trad climber
LA LA Land
  Aug 8, 2016 - 09:15am PT
Excellent TR, thanks for sharing! Glad your support crew got its proper due.
eKat

climber
  Aug 8, 2016 - 09:20am PT
VERY NICE!

TFPU!

My mom always refered to my EVERYTHING I DID as,

MOTHER SCARING ACTIVITY!

Like it was just one continuous affront.

HA!
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
  Aug 8, 2016 - 10:08am PT
Cheers
DMT
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Aug 8, 2016 - 10:09am PT
Phew! When I saw the title I thought you might have found my camera with some unsavory pictures taken along the route. One of these days there will be a reckoning.

Nice trip, nice pics!
cleggy

Trad climber
Derby, UK
  Aug 8, 2016 - 10:28am PT
Brilliant trip report.
Excellent, informative photo captions - all take note!
I wish my Mother had been as understanding as yours!!

Best
Steve
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Aug 8, 2016 - 10:36am PT
Love this - hit all the right notes for me.

The summit is a place to let your jaw go slack and drip drool in a tidy circle as you rotate inch by inch and let memories of all your past adventures come flooding back for a while.

That depiction just resonates with me on deep levels particularly the tidy drool circles.

First time I did this route I was thumped by altitude at the summit, puked and stumbled my way down the descent in the throngs of a blinding headache while the poster two above (hey NutAgain) carried all of my stuff and shepherded me to the trailhead. Solid partners are pure gold. Second time went better.

Thank you for the share.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Aug 8, 2016 - 10:38am PT
Very nice TR and photos.

I must admit that I had the opposite sort of mother. I can best explain with an example. My mother and aunt bought a lot in Yosemite West and had a cabin built in 1981-82. Unfortunately, the contractor went bankrupt before finishing the job, but got far enough along that all we needed to do was a bit of painting and finishing.

A galvanized indoor chimney needed painting, and I figured I could do it using standard climbing techniques before either my mother or aunt saw what I was up to. When I was about 15 feet up, hanging out over space with a can of black paint resting on a small ledge, my mother walked in and, with the reproving voice all mothers have, called "John!" As I waited for what I expected to be some variant of get down before you kill yourself, I heard instead, "You missed a spot."

Unfortunately, we ended up selling the cabin about five years ago, but your trip report not only brought back wonderful memories of Mount Conness, but also of my mother, who passed away (at age 104) only six months ago. Thanks much.

John
Bruce Morris

Trad climber
Soulsbyville, California
  Aug 8, 2016 - 12:18pm PT
That Dr Pepper and Fritos reward snack must have tasted amazing, where was it, outside on the veranda back at Saddle Bay Lake Resort?
Ed H

Trad climber
Santa Rosa, CA
  Aug 8, 2016 - 12:39pm PT
Nice one! TFPU

Gunning to do the West Ridge next week!
LAhiker

Social climber
Los Angeles
  Aug 8, 2016 - 07:50pm PT
Nice trip report. Did you have any sense of how long the mystery shoes had been there, or how big they were? They appear to be some type of Hoka trail running shoes, perhaps the Hoka One One Challenger ATR2.
pswitz

climber
honolulu
Author's Reply  Aug 9, 2016 - 09:41am PT
Thanks for the feedback everyone-

Looks Easy: I hear you on the West Vs. North. I wanted to go fast/light/solo so that sealed it for me. Definitely going back with a parter for the Young Lakes West Ridge styled out 3 day trip.

Le_Bruce: That sounds rough barfing your way down the East Ridge! Your partner sounds like a guy anyone would be happy with in the mountains, I've enjoyed reading about both of your adventures on the forum.

JEleazarian: Painting story is too funny, your mom sounds like a cool lady. How great that she bought a place right outside the park- good way to make sure your climber son visits...

LAHiker: The shoes did look like Hokas in good shape. Unmolested by fauna. I didn't put my paws all over them on the off chance it was some kind of memorial tribute. While descending the East Ridge I looked over the edge onto the glacier and saw a guy chugging his way up a snowfield waist deep, which made me think of the change-into-boots scenario. Mildly strange since I wouldn't leave my stuff right on the trail, however. Nice thing about the mountains is that you have questions that google cant' answer...

BruceMorris: The store at the lake indeed.. The deck chairs on the veranda had barely gone into the shade..
brainmart

Trad climber
Springfield, MO
  Aug 11, 2016 - 04:29pm PT
If you can't solve the mystery of the Hokas, donald trump will be the ...
If you can't solve the mystery of the Hokas, donald trump will be the next president of the united states. Our fate is in your hands.
Credit: brainmart
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Feb 20, 2017 - 11:21am PT
Few things in this world are better than moving through the cold still air of a High Sierra morning with a belly full of coffee and a quiet brain.

Great quote. Thanks for a fun trip report.....pouring rain here in Fresno this morning. This trip is just what the Dr. ordered.

Here's a shot on the West Ridge around the corner from where you were....
Here's a shot on the West Ridge around the corner from where you were. Can't wait to go get the North Ridge done.
Credit: micronut

kingtut

climber
Jingus Newroutaineer
  Feb 20, 2017 - 12:11pm PT
Seems super fun and TFPU.

So much worth doing as long as you can walk a little and know your way around the Range of Light.
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Feb 21, 2017 - 07:55am PT
pswitz, This is just a wonderful read, and the photos do not suck either. Really nice of you to share. Many happy returns for you to the high country.

I just lost my 107 year old grandmother last month, who was also one of the most amazing women of my life. It will take the rest of my life to live up to the stellar standards she set, but she was such a kind-hearted soul that she would accept any level of effort I put into the task.

Cheers to all on this late winter morning as anthropogenic climate change continues to serve up an ever expanding palette of goofy weather trends.
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Feb 21, 2017 - 08:32am PT
Such a beautiful route, and very happy that I finally made it up there a couple years back.

Thanks for the flashbacks!


Thanks for sharing (and making my internal North Ridge vs. West Ridge battle rage on).

Both is the only answer. That's what I had to do. The West ridge is better IMO, but both is still the only answer!
eKat

climber
  Feb 21, 2017 - 01:14pm PT
How nice to see this one, again!

:-)

YAY!

BBST!
Jody

climber
Occupied Territory
  Feb 21, 2017 - 01:23pm PT
Great report. here is a view of the ridge from North Peak.



Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Feb 21, 2017 - 05:29pm PT
Bump for climbing content. TFPU
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Feb 21, 2017 - 05:58pm PT
I missed this first time around. Glad it got resurrected. Excellent TR.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Feb 21, 2017 - 08:59pm PT
Yeah, nice stuff. Hiked it as a kid. Climbed the West Ridge almost 20 years later. Have never been on the North. Looks great.

BAd
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Feb 22, 2017 - 11:30am PT
Brings back good memories- it's been too long since I've been up there! Gotta make a pilgrimage this summer. Thanks for sharing.
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Mt. Conness - North Ridge 5.6 - Tuolumne Meadows, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Photo: Chris McNamara
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Mt. Conness - West Ridge 5.6 - Tuolumne Meadows, California USA. Click for details.
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One of Tuolumne's finest ridge climbs.
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Tuolumne's proudest face.