After several miles of hiking like this, the trail wound through some sparse forest and started bearing right just beneath a prominent ridge line. I walked the 100 yards or so to the ridge, and was awarded with a gob smacking view. This is the first point on the trail where one can see any scenes to the north, and this particular ridge was well-positioned to dish out a wonderful panorama. To the northwest, the canyons and domes of north Yosemite stretched out undulating to the horizon, where they were capped by Matterhorn, the Sawtooth, and a heaping of other peaks. Looking to the northeast, I could see the tremendous south face of Mt. Conness rising sharply above everything else around. It looked like it was just beyond the closest trees, but, as distances and sizes are so deceptive, I knew that it would still be a few miles to Young Lakes and the base of whatever mountain I decided to climb; drinking a last sip of water, I started back to the trail.
As I thought, it was a few more miles to Young Lakes. The elevation, though, was thinning the trees out, and it became more and more possible to get glimpses of the surrounding peaks from the trail. Ragged Peak climbs straight (seemingly) out of the trail to its eponymous summit several thousand feet higher, and Conness seemed always to be lurking around the corner, giving glimpses of its glistening white form from between whitebark pines or above a nearby ridge line. At the junction where this western approach to Young Lakes meets the eastern approach (which comes from Lembert Dome and the Dog Lake trail), I met up with a few backpackers and chatted for a few minutes. They were the last people I would see for 10 more miles of blissful cross-country traveling.
Shortly after the trail junction, the path drops down into the serene Young Lakes basin. The lakes are almost completely surrounded by peaks (Ragged, White, Conness) and the ridges that connect them. The terrain gives away to the northwest, where one can see the incredibly elongated Roosevelt Lake resting like a bathtub in its own basin, similarly surrounded by peaks.
Secor's guide claims that the ascent of Conness from Young Lakes is class 2 via the saddle between Conness and White. The approach was plain to see, and the topo map indicated that there was a small lake close to the top of the saddle, from which I could climb north to Conness or south to White. I had basically already decided to skip Conness and just climb White, because time was uncertain and White would be on my way back to Tuolumne anyway. The hike up to the lake was easy and enjoyable, with views that improved consistently as I climbed out of the basin. The lake, however, came as a bit of a surprise; it's not much of a lake! Actually, I've seen more recent maps that show it being a marsh, but mine didn't. At any rate, it was good to know that I was on the right path, and I walked around the pseudo-lake on its south side through a snowfield that reached a considerable ways up to the saddle.
The saddle between the two peaks has a fantastic, airy view down into the Saddlebag Lake region. Secor's guide also claims that there is some class 3 that goes through this point, but it was hard to see from above where it might have been. At the very least, it was snow covered for a long ways down and any slip would have resulted in a very unpleasant slide. The climb up to White from the saddle was straightforward class 3, though it was snowy in a lot of places. It would probably be easier once everything has melted and there are a few more options for ascending. I found myself traversing across snow with nasty falls below me a few times, and near the top I climbed a short class 4 crack,but these were the result (by and large) of other routes to the summit being snowed in.
As for the summit of White Mountain, there isn't a whole lot I can say for it. I didn't see any difficult summit block (as was described in another trip report), nor did I find a register. The summit, from what I can remember, was more like a quasi-high point on a plateau that then stretched out into a ridge line connecting it to Ragged Peak. The views, however, made up for the lake of a dramatic summit, because I could see for miles around. I would get into all the peaks visible from the top, but that would be repetitive; from 12,000 feet you can, ya know, see a lot of stuff.
Anyway, I scouted out the class 2 south side descent route, but it was completely covered with snow, and the sides of it occasionally dropped steeply into the still-frozen upper Skelton Lake. I wasn't particularly interested in drowning in frigid water, so I descended instead by the snowless (but steeper) west face. This looked gradual enough from the top, but it soon got steep and a little hairy. This descent involves, among other things, sliding down steep, sandy banks; traversing 3rd and 4th class slabs with some loose rock; downclimbing A LOT of short 4th class cracks. At many points I was wondering if this was an advisable way to go, but I figured that I would be fine as long as I kept my head together and didn't do anything really stupid. This descent, along with its difficulty, also rewarded me with outstanding views of Delaney Meadow and the Cathedral Range, which the southern route doesn't have.
On level ground again, I hit Delaney Creek and followed it into the woods and then out into the amazing Delaney Meadow. This is probably my favorite meadow I've ever seen, and since it is a few miles from the nearest trail it is virtually pristine. The snow-swollen creek rumbled through it, picking up speed, while I took my time wandering through the thousands of knee-high boulders, enjoying the unobstructed views of Cathedral and Unicorn. The meadow gradually fades into a lodgepole forest for mile or two, then emerges into another meadow (not as large or nice as the first), at the far end of which is the Dog Lake trail. It was here that I saw the first hikers I'd seen since way back at the Young Lakes trail junction, and I greeted them as I hopped over the creek at its crossing and walked the mile or so back to my cabin. A great day of cross-country hiking!!!!
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