Mt. Conness, Ragged Peak

26-27 Jul 1999 - by William Doyle

Mt Conness 12,590, Ragged Peak 10,912

Trip Leaders: Bob Suzuki, Bonnie Ruesch

Participants: Mike McDermitt, John Wilkinson, Bill Kirkpatrick, Doug Ross, Joan Marshall, Tanya Knaus, Greg Cotress, Will Doyle

Ah, my first PCS trip and what more could you ask for? Beautiful, crystal clear weather, a scenic hike, two picturesque peaks, and wonderful company. Perfect.

Doug and I met up in San Jose and fought our way through very heavy traffic into Yosemite, then up to Tuolomne Meadows. We saw several news vans on the way in and heard the bad news from some of the news guys about the woman who had been murdered. That really was a tragic note to start the weekend.

The next morning we met up with Bob and the rest of the group, and got packed up and on the trail by 8:30. Not bad for an 8:00 start time. The hike in was beautiful, crossing two majestic meadows with increasingly spectacular views of the peaks of the Sierra. Mike impressed everyone with his knowledge of peak names and heights.

Our first stop of the day was Ragged Peak, which we reached at about 11:00. We left the trail just before it tends downhill in a broad, open area with many boulders and headed to the saddle between Ragged and the rest of the crest. From there we could look down the steep slope to the Young Lakes and Conness. This area provides some great views of the southwest face of Conness. It's hard to believe that Harding made his way up that, let alone that Peter Croft can free-solo it before breakfast.

We then worked our way up to the summit block of Ragged. It's easy class 2 to reach the block, but the block itself seemed to be harder, maybe 3 or 4. Bob, Doug, and Mike all scrambled up to sit on top of the block, while I contented myself with scrambling up and touching the top. Does "tagging" a summit count as a summit? Survey says . . . nope. I'll come back.

The group then began a traverse of Ragged back towards the trail, with several members of the party taking a lower route, and others scrambling along the ridge. The climbing here is very fun, but it's definitely faster and less tedious to traverse lower down.

Bob wanted to scramble up the southern summit as well, which was even trickier than the first one. Looked like kind of a hairy downclimb, but both Bob and Doug managed it without a problem. At this point, several people mentioned that it was probably time to get moving, as it was getting on towards 1:00.

We headed back down to the packs and moved along the Young Lakes trail, which skirts the rest of Ragged Peak, then climbs back up to lower Young Lake. This was a beautiful sight, with a ring of mountains reflected in its cool clear waters. Doug encouraged us to head up to Upper Young Lake, which had fewer bears and mosquitoes. Fewer bears because they were usually too full from the fare at lower Young Lake, and less mosquitoes ... well, we'll see.

We reached our campsite at Upper Young Lake around 4:30-5:00, after a very nice hike around Lower Young lake, and up past Middle Young Lake , which is pretty marshy. We passed Middle and headed still further up. Upper Young Lake is a beautiful area, very open and with wonderful views of Ragged Peak and the surrounding cirque.

We decided to camp on the side of this lake. At this time, and until 7:30 or so, the mosquitoes were still pretty thick.

We sat and ate, enjoying the views and the still warm sunshine. Tanya and Greg had brought fairly full packs, and now we found out why. They had with them a shower, an oven, wonderful food, and a bottle of wine. Wow. Wild rumors flew around camp the next morning that they had also brought a hot tub which they cranked up later that night, but these were never confirmed. Doug and I shared the last of the bottle of wine, which Tanya and Greg were kind enough to share, in the dimming alpenglow. I then went promptly to sleep, feeling the effects of a long day and the increased effectiveness of wine at that altitude. The night was beautiful, warmer than it had been down in Tuolomne Meadows the night before, and the moonlight was bright enough to see by.

The next morning an early wake up and breakfast saw us off to an on-time start, right around 6:30. We headed up through more open terrain, then into a stand of forest that led us up further into an open, boggy area. The best way to get around this, as several members of the party saw immediately and others only realized after, is to head to the left side of the valley and get on the trail that heads up the scree slope. We gathered our forces and headed up this slope towards the creek coming down from Conness' melting snowfields.

The long slog alongside the creek up scree and gravel was probably the greatest physical challenge of the day. We continued gamely up this slope until we hit the first of two snowfields. These were heavily featured and did not require the use of an ice axe, and we dispatched them without a problem,. After the second snowfield, we skirted around a broad, deep valley which led us to the summit area of Conness.

A quick trip across a broad snowfield brought us to the open area right before the summit ridge. There were a number of structures here, including stone mortar work which we found most impressive at this altitude. From here we began the scramble up to the summit. This is all Class 2, with sometimes impressive exposure. This route has been heavily engineered, with steps laid out and more difficult moves "improved" to turn what might have been a Class 3 climb into something a little less imposing. Doug and I wondered if this might have been the work of climbing guides of an earlier era. Or maybe just some civic minded marmots. Hard to say.

We reached the summit around 10 a.m. This is a wonderful spot, with stunning views of the High Sierra north to Tower peak, and south past Mt. Lyell. The summit area was big enough to fit everyone who had made the trip up the summit ridge: Bob, Bonnie, Joan, Mike, Doug, Bill, John, and me. Mike asked me what the difference between this and rock climbing is- to my surprise I found that peak scrambling can be just as thrilling as rock climbing, because while the moves are easy, the lack of a rope leaves less margin for error. Both are rewarding in their own ways, but peak scrambling does allow for more company along the way.

After a leisurely lunch in a protected area just below the summit, we began our way back down. Right before we headed down, Bill turned to us and said "Samuel Johnson said that being sentenced to execution in a fortnight focuses the mind wonderfully," which set the tone for everyone carefully tiptoeing back across the summit ridge. We began the long, uneventful slog back down scree slopes to camp. John, Mike, Doug and I were a ways ahead of everyone when we reached the broad marshy area at the bottom of the scree slope. The mosquitoes were quite bad here, so we decided to head back to camp. On the way down through a thick stand of forest, I lost John and Mike as they turned a corner. Hm. No problem, I'll just keep on heading downhill. Well, I went a little too far downhill, as it turned out, and when I began to realize I'd been in these woods too long I caught sight of Ragged peak.

Which was not in the right place. Oh wait, I wasn't in the right place. I had to head back up hill, giving myself a couple of bonus miles for zoning out and heading way too far down hill. I met up with the rest of the party, caught my breath for thirty seconds, packed up, filled my water bottles, and we were on our way. We left Young Lakes right around 1:00 Next time, I'm going to pay a lot more attention on the way up, so the way down doesn't throw me for a loop. The hike back was pleasant, with clear sunshine seeing us on our way. The trail does have several significant uphill portions in this direction, which can be a little disheartening, especially if you got lost, and were pretty tired, and had to work the next day, and weren't used to the altitude. Nobody else seemed to mind.

We made it back to the parking lot around 5:00. Bob and Bonnie organized a wonderful trip, and we were all grateful to them. Two great peaks, outstanding companions, and no problems. My first PCS trip, and I get to write the trip report - a privilege or a form of hazing? I'll figure it out soon.

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