North Peak

29 Aug 1998 - by Tony Cruz

Saturday morning I left the Yosemite Creek campground, had breakfast at the Tuolomne Lodge and drove a few miles east to Saddleback Lake. I bought a one-way ticket for $4 on the ferry (small boat) that goes across the lake every half hour from 7a.m. to 7 p.m. Joining me for the fifteen minute ride was a snowboarder, a skier, a couple who planned to fish and another hiker who intended to try North Peak. Looking south, I was impressed with the view of Mt. Dana from the boat.

A little before 10 a.m. the other hiker and I started up the trail north of the lake. After a only a few hundred yards, we left the trail, heading west toward a broad ridge below the impressive east face of North Peak. Even more impressive was the rocky east face and glacier of its neighbor, Mt. Conness. I had originally wanted to do both peaks in the same day, but my after my late start and observing the open bergstrund on Conness, I decided to limit myself to North Peak.

I lost track of the other hiker before I got to a point where I could look down to the lowest of the Conness Lakes. I passed beneath the summit of North Peak and headed west over a couple of easy snow patches, staying on the rocky ridge until it petered out into a long scree slope. As usual I took a couple of cat naps and enjoyed the pristine scenery. I was very impressed that the delicate tundra around the lakes was not trampled, probably because it is illegal to camp in this area near the Conness Lakes. There wasn't much snow on North Peak, but Conness still had a tremendous amount of snow and the Uppermost Conness Lake was still mostly frozen. Occasionally finding a few faint switchbacks, I made my way up to a saddle on the ridge between the two peaks. Just before the saddle was a large triangular easy snow patch. I stepped onto a surprisingly large plateau, set my pack down and extracted my disposable panoramic camera.

After enjoying the great view I headed east for a few hundred yards of easy class 2. Just before I got to the top, I saw five pretty young women who summitted just after me, at around 2:30 p.m. They were impressed that I knew the names of many of the surrounding peaks and asked me for advice on getting down. They had taken a more direct approach to the peak, going over more loose scree and gaining the ridge above the saddle. I recommended that they go to the saddle and make a direct descent to the nearest Conness Lakes and hike out to Saddleback Lake. I also told them about the ferry since they had hiked the trail around Saddleback.

After a long stay on the summit I retraced my steps to the saddle, picked up my pack and hiked down to the lakes, avoiding the ridge I had taken up. The girls thanked me for the advice on the route and disappeared to the west; I stayed closer to the lakes and hiked back to the little pier on Saddleback Lake, just missing the 5:30 p.m. ferry. There were several fly fishermen around me. The nearest one told me he had caught (and released) a lot of trout, including some goldens. I rode out on the next boat and drove back to Yosemite Creek campground, where I met Greg Johnson, who joined me for the following days adventure on Cathedral Peak.

I'd recommend North Peak to beginners. It is relatively high, a little over 12,000 feet. It can be done in half a day, since it has a short and easy approach, not more than two or three miles and 2,000 feet of gain, most of which is off trail. There is a lot of class 2, but no class 3 on the route. It would be hard to pick a more accessible mountain in such a beautiful and seemingly remote area. The weather was wonderful on this weekend; I wore a t shirt all the way to the summit and back.

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