Indian summer ascents of Mt. Conness and Mt. Dana
9 Oct 1999 - by Tony Cruz
My last two hikes of the millennium were a couple of high
but easy peaks that can be conveniently day hiked. Eddie
Sudol and I drove up on Friday night and camped next to the
parking lot just south of Saddleback Lake. Early Saturday
morning we met Rich Calliger and proceeded to a small
campground, the first one on the left hand side of the road
as you drive out of Saddleback. We put our extra food in a
bearbox and marched on one of the standard routes to Mt.
Conness, a peak that I had longed to climb for years,
frequently admiring its awesome granite face from the rest
stop on Olmstead Point on Highway 120.
The route was short and easy. The awesome profile of Mt.
Dana was visible to the south and would provide us with a
useful landmark to help us find out way out. We continued
on a westward course and turned left to go up a talus
strewn gully leading to the saddle between White Mountain
and Mt. Conness, Rich leading the way. We never encountered
anything more than a few inconvenient boulders; it's class 2
all the way. The view from the saddle is wonderful,
especially the summit of Mt. Conness and the lakes to the
southwest. One has the feeling of being in a very remote place,
which would be the case were it not for the nearby Tioga
Pass Road, which cannot be seen from that point.
After a rest at the saddle, Rich and Eddie continued ahead
of me on a plateau leading to the impressive summit of Mt.
Conness, less than a kilometer away. My buddies got there
long before me and patiently waited below the crux. Eddie
insisted that I lead the last few hundred yards and we made
it up the enjoyable, surprisingly exposed class 2 "catwalk,"
which is fairly safe when dry but could be a real thrill for
a Sierra novice.
At the summit we met a couple of powerful climbers who had
climbed North Peak via one of its fine ice couloirs and were
just finishing the technical traverse to Mt. Conness. The
views were terrific, marred just a little by the wildfires
to the west. The Sawtooth range, Cathedral Peak, Half Dome,
Mt. Lyell and the Ritter Range were among the familiar peaks
A slow descent by me down from the saddle kept us out longer
than we wanted, but the temperature was fine and the weather
perfect. Rich did a fine job finding the trail on the way
out and we returned to the cars not long after dark. We
stayed at the large car camp next to Highway 120 at the
turnoff to Saddleback Lakes. Rich had to spend 20 minutes
chasing off a band of tourists who tried to squat on our campsite.
The next morning we got up slowly and said our goodbyes to
Rich, who had developed a bad cold. Eddie and I drove west
to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park and parked
our car just beyond the tollbooth. At about 11:00 a.m. we
strolled south on the short trail leading to Mt. Dana. It
was not a difficult hike, but the more than 3,000 feet of
elevation made it perhaps the longest two miles I've ever
walked. The fine t-shirt weather held up another day and
sometime that afternoon we arrived at the 13,000 foot
summit. The suddenly appearing vista of Mono Lake as we
took the final steps stunned me and the views of Mt. Lyell
and the Ritter Range were terrific. Most wonderful of all
was the fantastic story-book profile of Cathedral Peak. It
took me much longer than Eddie to scramble down the 300 feet
or so of loose talus to return to the trail but we both
managed to get down a little before dark as the Rangers shut
the NP tollbooth.
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