Topo: Dunderberg Peak Quadrangle, 7.5' series
Trailhead: Conway Summit, 12 Miles South of Bridgeport on 395 [road to Virginia Lakes was closed]
Time of year: mid April in El Nino year (98)
Conditions: mostly snow, great weather
Length: 2 1/2 days, or 2 days (with long 12 hour second day)
Elevation: 12446' Excelsior summit, 4300' elevation gain from trailhead
Drive: 270 mi to trailhead from Bay Area, up Carson Pass, through Minden and Bridgeport
Equipment: crampons, ice-axe, snow shoes, poles, too much weight for sure
Summary: camped near Frog Lakes the 1st night, up the peak the second day.
Summit Route: up the 11100' col at the end of the drainage, then up the broad 11800' peak staying on the left, then up to the beginning of the excelsior ridge at 12200', finally following the rocky ridge for 30 min. to summit at 12446', Down the same way.
After a fairly fast trip from the Bay Area to the East side, we spent Friday night at Bridgeport's motel. In the morning, Peter Maxwell and I met Debbie Benham, Jim Ramaker and Arun Mahajan for breakfast (Sportsman Inn was surprisingly closed for breakfast) and got started at the trailhead around 9AM, loaded up to our ears with gear. The sun was high, and the spirits were high despite the load. We followed the Virginia Lake road for about 6 miles, getting to the resort at lunch time. For a while we considered climbing Dunderberg, which towers over Virginia Lakes: its snow-free ridges were a safe alternative to its avalanches gulches. But we persisted in setting out to climb Excelsior instead.
The terrain changed, as we found our way up the hill and passed Virginia Lakes and Cooney Lake. The packs got suddenly heavier. By 4pm, we had set camp on the bench above Frog Lakes. Quite a fine evening, with a brilliant sunset and the MSR roar in the background.
On Sunday, we got started by 7:15 AM, snow shoes on. We moved fast and reached the top of the "pass" within an hour. The inevitable question was "where to go next" and the answer came from the map. We started climbing up a broad hill with 2 corner shaped summits: as the slope became steeper, we switched to crampons. At the top of this hill, we could see Excelsior, the second peak South along the ridge in front of us. It seemed still far.
However, after reaching the top of the next bench, we realized that the route was a rocky ridge and we no longer needed packs nor crampons. We reached the summit before 11:30AM, basking in windless and sunny conditions, surrounded with snow covered Sierra: Conness, Lyell, Ragged Peak, Virginia, Ritter and Banner to name a few. And afar, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumme. What a backdrop for many photographs! We also enjoyed going through the register, finding PCS'ers names and the name of a 10 year old French girl from the Alps. And, for me, a comforting feeling of "deja vu"...
Back to camp at 3pm, 3 of us headed out right away while Peter and I stayed one more night. It turns out the hike out was longer than remembered, even for our fresh souls and bodies the next morning. To complete this story, I'll include some post-trip comments from our party, comments which give full depth to the Experience.
Jim: "We set a PCS record with 2 motel rooms and 2 suppers at the Sportsman's Cafe in a single weekend. "
Arun: "the chocolate biscuit that I had brought along is called Le Truffe and can be found in the cookies section of many fine participating Safeway's."
Peter: "Our couscous with garlic spices, with roasted cashews added in, together with Snowballs for dessert was tasty also."
Debbie: "A wonderful trip, wonderful company"