Climbing North Peak and Mt. Conness
We came from North Peak
Wow! Lots of exposed climbing
I need to poop bad
That’s the haiku I would have written if Conness had a summit register. After I got back from OR and #UintasHike16 craziness, Josh asked if I wanted to go solo the northwest ridge of North Peak and the north ridge of Mt. Conness in preparation for Matthes Crest. Not one to turn down a climbing adventure, I enthusiastically said yes. I was a little nervous because I’m one, a fraidy cat and two, our Matterhorn trip still loomed high and mighty on my mind.
We drove down late to Tuolumne on a Friday night and tossed our sleeping bag somewhere on the side of 120 close to Saddlebag Lake. We had an early start the next morning and wanted to maximize sleep and conserve energy for the long day ahead. The alarm cut through my slumber way too soon. We crawled into the cold car and I closed my eyes, trying to squeeze out a bit more sleep on the short drive up to the trailhead. Cold water went into our ziplock bags of oatmeal, then off we went.
We hit the trail that crossed the dam and skirted around Saddlebag Lake to Greenstone Lake. There were tons of families and Boy Scouts out in this area. The trail was relatively flat, and short to this cluster of lakes, aptly named the Twenty Lakes Basin, making it an easy overnight backpacking destination. We got our first glimpses of Mt. Conness and North Peak looming overhead. They looked tall and intimidating. I tried to shake off whatever fear was creeping in and kept hiking, thankful for the time that I’d spent at elevation in Utah the weekends prior. It kept me from struggling at 10,000 feet where we were now.
Soon, we left the lake basin and we were making our way up the hillside. The trees and grass vanished and then we were hiking up across talus, straight toward North Peak. The ground that we were hiking on started to narrow out into a ridgeline and we began to scramble. It wasn’t terribly exposed, but it was just enough to get your heart racing if you looked down on either side. Truth be told, the NW ridge of North Peak had just as much ridge climbing as it did hiking. Before I knew it, the ridge turned into a slope and we were back to hiking our way up to the summit. It wasn’t a bad way to kick off the morning. After a snack or two, we were back on our feet and on to Mt. Conness.
North Peak was a nice little toe dip into ridge climbing. Conness was all the fun. It felt like an eternity between North Peak’s summit, dropping down into the saddle and back up to the ridge. But soon, we were back to climbing. We traversed just below the first tower; it felt incredibly airy and spicy. Lots of deep breaths ensued. Then we were back along the ridge, which felt surprisingly more safe. I actually don’t really remember much of the climbing up to the second tower where we decided we were going to rappel instead of down climb.
To this day, I’m still not sure if rappelling was any easier than down climbing on 5.6 terrain. The rap stations weren’t terribly convenient and required a bunch of maneuvering to not pendulum out or end up somewhere you didn’t want to be. I had Josh give me a fireman’s belay as I made my way down and across. It was still a little terrifying, especially when I pulled on a flake and felt it flex in my hands. After what felt like an eternity of awkward rapping, we were stuffing the rope back into Josh’s pack and making our way up the home stretch. There were a few parties in front of us, one roped in and one soloing it. I picked the easiest looking terrain to finish the last bit of climbing to the summit.
From the summit, we took the East Ridge down to the Sawmill Campground. It’d been a long day already, so the descent felt like the worst and hardest part of the day. After the East Ridge, we followed a crappy use trail to some granite slabs and a tarn. From the tarn, it got a bit easier as we dropped into a valley and eventually hit a trail. The Sawmill Campground felt like it went on for forever as I hiked out to meet Josh at the road. He’d broken off a little bit earlier to bushwhack up to the car. Super thankful for that because I was not about to walk a mile up the road.
For the climb, nothing was harder than 5th class, although it is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of deal, so it can be as hard as you want, depending on the route you decide to take. Climbing ropeless is a big enough deal for me as it is, so I was more than happy finding the path of least resistance. I think we summited Conness at around 3pm.
We were lucky and had good weather in our favor. It was an incredibly long and exhilarating day, coming in at just about 13.5 hours door to door. I stopped frequently to calm my nerves and just breathe. Stoke was very high once I’d gotten some food and some sleep. It was more of a mental challenge than anything and I was very proud of myself for not panicking on the mountain. Great prep for Matthes Crest.
Gear: Norrøna bitihorn lightweight pants, Pivotte Touring Tank, Woolx Basecamp Hoody, Adidas Outdoor Flyloft Jacket, Outdoor Research Isolation Pack, Salewa Firetail 3 Approach Shoes, La Sportiva Mythos*
* I brought my Mythos, but did not use them.