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 in view. 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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