With the monsoon flow still entrenched over the sierra, it was time to plan an alternative to the bigger mountains: something fun and fast, allowing for a quick and safe bail should weather move in swiftly. A quick perusal of Peter Croft’s sierra climbing encyclopedia had the perfect answer: Mt. Conness’ North Ridge. Why not throw in some low angle AI3 on North Peak’s North Couloir for good measure – a good excuse to sharpen the tools and mix things up a bit.
Turns out my good friend RC got a hall pass from the fiancé for one day in the mountains…would the weather hold off? It was time to stop playing the tepid weather waiting game and commit: Start early, get good views westward for the encroaching storm, move swiftly and safely and have a great time.
“Who wants to hike in 10lbs more gear for calf-burning AI3 anyway? Let’s stay in approach shoes and blast North Peak’s NW ridge instead.”
“No objections your honor…let’s do this.”
|Sure there's neve and ice in there, but our packs are so much lighter|
With the route decided, it was up to Mother Nature as to how far we got. An early start to avoid the weather as best we could, and a bail point between North Peak and Conness were our solutions to the weather conundrum.
“Should we bring an uber light rack and tag line in case we get blitzed by weather or the 5.6 down-climb hits us harder than expected?”
“If we don’t use it, it’ll be training weight…safety first.” Done
A bivy in sage brush outside Lee Vining brought a bedtime by 2200, followed abruptly by an 0400 alarm. “I need to make coffee.” “Of course you do.” Dropped a car @ the mobil, a quick drive up to saddlebag lake and we were on the approach by 0500. No real problems with the trail – by the time we didn’t need headlamps anymore, we were already at Steelhead Lake.
|North Peak: Your NW ridge is a good one|
A couple of boulder-y low 5th class moves on North Peak’s north ridge, and the rest of the way to the summit was just an aesthetic ridge hike – albeit with grand exposure on the east side and great views of the surrounding basins. Grabbing summit pics in the shy sunshine and an early lunch at 0815. “Man, Conness’ North Ridge looks fantastic, and I think the weather is going to hold.” “Oh yes, today is going to be a great day.”
|Well, that was fun...weather is cooperating for now, and damn that N ridge of Conness looks fantastic|
A quick scramble down North Peak’s SW scree/talus field had us on the North Ridge proper, and the clouds were getting dark and dense over Conness quickly. It was decided to continue until the climbing got committing or rain/thunder/lightning impaired progress – allowing us a retreat back down the north ridge from whence we started – the moraine looked surprisingly straightforward and the first part of the north ridge proper was low consequence. Before we knew it, we were at the crux down climb, and even blue skies above. Glory! The downclimb was quick and uneventful, with holds appearing at just the right spots. The rest of the route was also quick – almost too quick for because it was so fun. We took plenty of time to stop at the plentitude of incredibly picturesque rocky outcroppings with precipitous views to the Conness glacier below.
|So. Much. Fun|
On the summit by 1030, with only a couple sprinkles to speak of. “Should we go fire the west ridge too?” “We got lucky with the weather already, let’s not push our luck…I’m sate.” Lots of photos, another thawed burrito, much conversation and gawking at the surrounding beauty and we were on our way down the east ridge to the descent. Within a mile of the car the skies undertook a most rapid change of attitude: going from bluebird to corn-kernal-sized hail in the span of 20 min. We ducked from the painful hail under some white bark pines, and within 30 min, we were safely drinking our chilled epic IPA’s at the car: 1400, 9 hours after we started. What a day.
|C is for Crevasse, E is for exposure, G is for Glacier|
In summary, not an epic Sierra adventure, speed record or jaw-dropping story for grandchildren, but a fantastic day in the range of light with a great friend. This summer, the theme is playing the hand you’re dealt, and in this case, I’d say we got a solid two-pair with two great routes, a well-budgeted weather window and a climbing partner as stoked as I was.
Conness’ North Ridge is unforgettable and justifiably worthy of the ‘great’ branding bestowed by Mr. Croft’s two stars. I don’t think I grabbed anything but bulletproof fine-grained Sierra granite, cemented chicken heads and finger locks/hand jams that would make pure face climbers think about changing their ways [el jefe…]. We played the weather card almost to perfection, and the beers were oh-so-tasty and worth the 3 min detour to strategically stash them in saddlebag lake.
|The weather doesn't look that bad...|
|That one's going in the W column for Win.|
- Approach shoes with sticky rubber
- 60m 7mm tag line – unused
- slim rack of five pieces and a set of nuts and rap ribbon – unused
- harness: unused
- 2 frozen burritos
- 1 Pro bar
- 1 granola bar
- snack food
- 2L water