Ascent of Mount Conness on 2016-08-16

Climber: Andrew Kirmse

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Conness
    Elevation:12590 ft / 3837 m

Ascent Trip Report

I left Lee Vining about 6:30am, got breakfast at the Whoa Nellie Deli, then drove up to the Saddlebag Lake road, which is hard-packed dirt. Two miles in, I parked on the side of the road by the Sawmill walk-in campground. Campers may park in the small parking lot, so I figured that the one other car parked on the road would likely be another climber who had started earlier. When I got started at 7:30am it was 45 degrees.

The trail first goes past campsites, about half of which were occupied. It crosses Lee Vining Creek on a downed log, then passes a dilapidated shack formerly used by the Harvey Monroe Hall Natural Area, and enters the Hoover Wilderness at a sign. The trail isn’t maintained past this point, and its small cairns are sometimes easy to miss. However, the general direction of travel into a valley is obvious.

At about 3 miles in I had to decide which route to take. I had a track from Patrick Bergeron, who had gone cross-country to Alpine Lake, then up the east ridge over some steep rock to the summit area, for a round trip of about 9 miles. Another alternative was a track from David Porter, who had gone up a gully farther south, then followed the southeast ridge. This track was measured at 10 miles but was clearly longer than that due to some missing points. After seeing the stark steepness of the boulder fields and given that I was alone, I decided to take David Porter’s track, which seemed to follow the cairned path, and gave me some hope that it would be easier. In another mile or so I reached a bowl where it looked like there should be an alpine lake, but instead there was just a shallow stream carrying the outflow of several healthy snowfields that still clung to the steep sides. Here things started to get interesting.

I soon lost sight of the cairns and took a wandering path uphill looking for them. David’s track led me to the right past a huge rock outcrop over large talus blocks. I found that keeping near a narrow snowfield to my left made travel easiest. As I got higher, the climb steepened, until I could see several gaps between huge rock towers at the ridge a few hundred feet up. They all looked similar, so I followed the track up a steep and slippery scree slope to gain the ridge. I had to pull myself up with my arms a few times, and I wondered how I was going to get down this way.

Just over the ridge, the faint trail resumed to the right. This was much easier going than the climb up the bowl. Over time the trail became sandier and more obvious until it reached the open Conness Plateau, where the rocky summit pinnacle became visible. Here I overtook the only other climber I’d see all day. He had started 3 hours before me, and after I described what I knew about the summit approach, he expressed skepticism about making it to the top.

Prior to the summit, the trail dipped down to a saddle where two concrete pillars stood. Embedded in one was Conness reference mark #3, called the azimuth mark in the NGS data sheet. A short section of trail brought me up to the start of the summit proper. The climb was mostly straightforward on stairsteps that previous climbers had put in, but there was one short, very narrow section that required careful scrambling over a rock with thousand-foot drops to either side. Going up it appeared that I had to go straight over the rock, but coming down I noticed some possible footholds on climber’s left that would have made the ascent a little easier.

At the summit I found spectacular views out to the horizon, and straight down to the Conness Glacier, with patches of blue ice and some recent rockfall. Just as the datasheet mentioned in its 2012 report, reference mark #1 was obvious, but the benchmark was nowhere to be found.

I descended past the narrow bottleneck where my fellow climber decided to go no further, then sped back to the saddle where I’d need to turn left to return down the steep side of the bowl I’d come up earlier. I had my lunch here and considered continuing past the saddle another 400 feet vertically up to White Mountain. I knew the ridge was climbable, but it would be slow going and I had a long drive home ahead of me, so instead I turned my attention to the gullies on my left. I decided that the route I’d taken up, following David’s track, was one gap too far south, and the next one north had larger cairns and looked easier to descend. Although filled with lots of loose sand, it turned out to be not quite as steep as my way up, and I took this down to the snowfield. The snow had softened in the heat, so I was comfortable walking on it to avoid talus where possible. From the bottom of the bowl it was a quick trip back to the car in the rising heat of the day.

The round trip came to 12 miles in a little over 7 hours. This was a satisfying accomplishment and on the upper end of what I’d consider doing solo.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3090 ft / 941 m
    Total Elevation Loss:200 ft / 60 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Exposed Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3090 ft / 941 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2890 ft / 881 m; Extra: 200 ft / 60m
    Loss on way in:200 ft / 60 m
    Distance:12 mi / 19.3 km
    Route:Southeast ridge
    Start Trailhead:Sawmill Campground  9700 ft / 2956 m
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 10 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Andrew Kirmse
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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