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(Live from El Capitan. Flight of The Albatross. 8:34 am)
"We are two pitches from the top.
We will be down tomorrow.
See you guys soon.
Yeehaw! I push away from my desk, shut off my cell phone and rush into my last surgery of the week. Hands shaking with excitement. Mark Hudon and Skot Richards are just finishing up Flight of The Albatross, which means Macronut and I are gonna take the baton and run with it for Mark's last leg of his trip. He climbed The Reticent Wall with Max Jones last week. Then came down, brushed his teeth, and promptly went back up into the fight on The Albatross. He's gonna touch down for a day.....then the real adventure begins as he trades a haulbag for a backpack and heads into the high country for a few days on The West Ridge of Mt. Conness with two of the biggest deals on the internet.
Rather than my typical lengthy attempt at razor sharp wit and thoughtful prose I have decided to keep the writing to a minimum for this report. I'll let the photos and a few well chosen words do the talking. So here we go Supertopo. Pour a cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and let the high country air north of Tuolumne fill your nostrils as you come along for the ride. Micronut's churnin' out a TR. AIn't you lucky.
June 2013 Base of El Capitan.
Lurking Fear. Three pitches fixed. We blast tomorrow for my first ever El Cap Route. Stoke is at an all time high.
2 Days Later. Sierra Pacific Orthopedic Center. Fresno. Stoke at an all time low.
To make a short story long I tore my meniscus, had knee surgery in November, developed a raging patellar tendonosis a few months later and basically could do no climbing for nearly 7 months. It was a real downer and this trip to Mt. Conness was going to be my welcome back tour. Adam and I had been salivating over this line for years and Hudon had never climbed anything in Sierra highcountry. According to the Supertopo High Sierra Guide...........
"The West Ridge of Mt. Conness is perhaps the best moderate alpine climb in Tuolumne. With the competition including Cathedral Peak and Matthes Crest, this says a lot. TM Herbert described it as “great fun, like two Cathedral Peaks stacked on top of each other.” Peter Croft called it the best route he had done in the Sierra backcountry.
Shazaam! This climb needs no more introduction.
June 2014. Almost exactly one year later. We pick up a freshly showered and freshly stoked Mark Hudon, lounging after morning coffee in his new megaroadtripmobile.
Two Hours Later
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. With trepidation about the ability of my knee to hold up to three days of abuse I shoulder my pack quietly and head North from the Lembert Dome parking lot.
The approach to Young Lakes is surprisingly beautiful as it winds up beyond Dog Lake.
Spongy alpine grasses cushion our footsteps. We gawk at the view beyond a sparlking babbling brook. We count summits we we've sat upon in the distance.
1. Eichorn Pinnacle
2. Tenaya Peak East Buttress
3. Cathedral Peak Northeast Buttress
4. Echo #8
6. FairviewRegular Route
7. Matthes Crest
8. Mt. Dana
9. Tressider Peak
How fortunate can a man be? What joys this place has brought us over the years.
We encounter the first snows of many on this trip as we turn the corner beyond Ragged Peak
And then, erupting from the horizon due North of us, the massive brow of Mt. Conness. Her west face dominates the scene. A steel gray bulwark of shaven stone. Like a battleship bearing down on us, we feel small under her menacing facade. The left skyline is the North Ridge. The West Ridge lies in front of it. Proud lines both.
"Do not think about attempting the West Ridge if even small clouds are present" These words from The Supertopo Guide will haunt me until we are down from the summit.
Lower Young Lake
The Middle of the three young Lakes.
A bit of class 1.5 next to a wonderfully cascading creek, we are entering the high country proper and it feels good. Good for the soul I tell you.
Ahhhhhh.....The highest of the Young Lakes. An alpine sanctuary. As "Sierra" as the Sierra gets. A perfect place to set up Advanced Base Camp.
We un-shoulder the packs and enjoy sitting in the purity of our surroundings. It is early in the day and we bake in the sun with absolutely nothing to do but think about the amazing dinner we will have and the adventure that awaits us tomorrow.
Pumping water is the "hauling" of alpine climbing.
Shoes off, a camp chair, and appetizers are to mountain trips as "portalege life" is to big walls and for a moment Mark wonders if big walls are really where he wants to spend his vacations from here on out.
Thats a fresh baguette, soaked in boiling olive oil, spread with fresh garlic, smothered in brie, then allowed to cook and burble over into the tastiest thing you have ever put into your face.
Happy Hour is over. Mark and Adam pump water for tomorrow and I set about with the main course back at camp. The cumulous overhead build impressively in the evening heat, but seem not to congeal or do anything too menacing.
Whoomp there it is. The men will sleep tonight with full bellies and restful minds, ready for action tomorrow up high in the alpine arena.
3:30am. Alpine Start. The hiss of the Jetboil and the magic aroma of Mark's own Hood River Coffee blend bring us to life.
4:30. We are soldiers on dawn patrol. Primed for battle. 1 hour from camp The beast comes into view. Game ON!!!
The world becomes light around us, revealing a massive rampart of stone and snow and sky. The butterflies churn in my belly. My heart beats fast with equal parts caffeine, fear and stoke.
We hit the final talus cone, scramble to the base and harness up.
6:40am. No wind. Crystal clear skies. Cool but not cold. Alone on the route. No excuses. Time to dance.
Mark leads up fluidly. There will be no hauling today. No hammer. No fixing of lines and no bounce testing. And he's lovin' it. The first couple pitches are beautiful and better than I thought they would be.
Mark leads the first three, then I grab a handful of line and run it up to the very crest of the ridge. The view is breathtaking and the entire Southwest face spills out to our right. Here's Mark coming up onto the ridge proper.
The ridge itself is beyond rad. Pitch after pitch of scrambling along a solid stone rail at 12,000 feet.
Sunshiiiine......on my shoulderrrrrr......makes me happyyyyyy.
Hudon racks for another pitch. "No Mark, you probably won't need Toucans for this pitch. Or RURPS."
Hoooooooo-----Weeeeee!!!! echoes throughout the entire Conness basin. We're in the buisness now. All cyllinders firing. Movin' fast and light in the land of golden granite and endless sky. There is no place any of us would rather be.
The ridge goes on.
Lunchtime in the Conness Cafe. Somewhere about pitch eleven or so.
All good things must come to an end. But this one takes a while to do so. We still haven't seen a single puffy cloud so our anxiety needle is at a "zero" on the get-whacked-by-a-storm-o-meter.
11 something am. Unrope. Go directly to summit.
On top. Mark's first Sierra summit. A beautiful summit. Great friends. Perfect weather. The world spills away beneath us. Not a care in the world for just a few precious moments. A nap. A snack. Gazing Northward and South to peaks and ridges we someday hope to climb. This is why men climb mountains.
We sign our names into history. Roger Putnam was here yesterday. Cool.
The way off the summit proves a tad sketchy as it is still covered in a massive snowcone. We skirt south, above the brink of The Harding Route, onto some class 3 action above a big void. But it goes.
Looks like we're gonna get our feet wet fellas.
Nice views of the steep wall that holds The Harding Route. Warren. That boy was bold yall.
We scramble, scoot and boot ski down the plateau, bearing Southwest down the drainage that holds the upper Young Lake.
It takes us just under three hours from summit to camp. Our feet are soaked. Our hearts are full.
Adam makes it to camp first. He always does. His cardio is legendary. Here is a rare still photo of him at rest.
And then all is well. Our constant motion comes to a stop. We un-shoe, lay down and let the mountains garner us with praise. Champions returning from battle. The wind sings our triumphant return. The sky looks down on us, proud. I start making post-summit congratulatory appetizers. Chef micronut is on duty and the guests will be treated like kings.
Caviar was once reserved strictly for royalty. The word caviar originates from the Turkish khavyar, first appearing in English print in 1591. Dating back 250 million years to prehistoric times, the sturgeon has been a part of the Middle Eastern and Eastern Europe diet for the majority of man's history. It is an extravagant post-climb meal and the men have earned it.
Water crackers, french brie and russian caviar. It is an honor to bestow such morsels on these fine comrades. Goot. Ya.
We waste the rest of the trip in long discussions of life's weightiest subjects. Was The Albatross really harder than The Reticent? Does bouldering help you in the mountains? What's the difference in a French Roast and a Vienna Roast? Why have all the good posters left Supertopo? What's next....Bear Creek Spire or Mt. Sill's Swiss Arete.
The ice floes on Young Lake beg for more photos.
Mark drip brews more coffee for after dinner to go with Adam's Apple Crisp dessert. Mark's Bagel Blend is the nectar of the mountain gods.
The next morning finds Mark back in his element. Calculating the precise time, temperature and volume required to offer his buddies the perfect cup. The quiet drip, drip drip of liquid into our mugs beating perfectly with the tempo of the rising sun.
Adam strolls off for a morning cardio jaunt up and around the cirque. He yodels down on us from on high. There he is, a pencil standing upright on the scruffy buttress above camp.
As for me, I find the perfect rock to sit on and enjoy my coffee. The sun washes me in warmth, an almost invisible breeze rolls across the lake. I thank God for giving us such vast places to wander, such mighty mountains to enjoy. I meditate on the beauty and gifts all around me. My heartbeat slows to an inaudible thump................thump.............thump. The stillness and quiet are deafening. The words of a John Muir quote stumble out of my subconscious.
I couldn't have said it better. This is why we come to such places. To work. To play. To be brave. To overcome. To be humbled. And to rest. We came seeking the perfect measure of each of these things. And in The West Ridge we have found it. Found it and then some.
P.S. Thanks to GDavis for the camping and approach beta. It was spot on brah. Muchas gracias.