On the evening of Saturday June 22, I drove from the Bay Area to Yosemite. Shortly after Holmstead Point on Hwy 120, I met my partner Pat Ibbetson on the road. We continued to Saddleback Lake and slept in our cars at a parking lot near the lake. The sign in front of the lot said it was actually legal to camp like this! Early Sunday morning we had breakfast at the restaurant in front of the lake and studied my topo map, which incidentally I had custom-printed at REI the day before. We drove to Tioga Pass, arriving at about 10 a.m. In retrospect, we could have saved a lot of time by climbing the mountain from the road leading to Saddleback Lake, but we decided on an indirect approach which is the least steep, per the topo and Secor's guidebook. I don't regret the extra time and effort because we enjoyed our most beautiful hike in years.
We hiked west (feels north) of the pass on good trail for about a mile. Rising majestically behind us was Mount Dana. After about half an hour we arrived at a beautiful blue lake at 10,334 feet and were rewarded with a surreal view of the Cathedral Range in the distance. We hiked around the right side of the lake and soon lost the trail, but the terrain was fairly level and easy until we reached another Lake at 10,049 feet, where we had even better views of the wild Sierra and stopped for a rest and snack.
From there we continued on easy wooded ground in a northwestern arc below cliffs to the creek on the map, which lead us to Skelton Lakes. Already it was deep into the afternoon when from there we had our first view of the peak. I would have high-tailed it back to my car but Pat was too enthusiastic. Near the second Skelton Lake we found an easy way to hike to the base of the long, frustrating scree slope leading to our destination. It was emotionally draining work: two steps up, one step down, for hundreds of feet. The last lake we passed at 11,300 feet was completely frozen over but the summit was dry.
Pat arrived at the broad summit a half-hour before me. When I finally reached him he complained about the difficulty of the summit block. After hurling a few insulting words, I led us to the top, where we found a glass jar register. Mt. Conness seemed to tower 2,000 feet above us to the north on the ridge and looked unclimbable. The panoramic view was breath taking: Ritter Range, Lyell Range, Cathedral Range, etc. It would have been great to sleep on top and enjoy the full moon but we didn't have our gear.
So we hiked out via the Delaney Creek drainage, through wooded areas and vast wonderful meadows. It became dark and we got tired and frustrated but we made good time under an early rising full moon. Pat never used his flashlight but led us most of the way out. Eventually we found Dog Lake, Lembert Dome and Highway 120. A kind soul drove us back to the pass, which was more than 6 miles away! Pat swore we had hiked 30 miles by the time we were out. It was a hell of a day hike. I'm so glad they haven't established many trails in this part of Northern Yosemite. Their lack should not discourage hikers, since the terrain is gentle and the lakes, streams and mountains are pristine.
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