Conness Reconnaissance ?
Tioga opened up on May 2nd. Seems really early but since it was a light snow year; we thought we’d get in a Sierra trip early. The appearance of a light snow year was way off above 10,000 feet. Benjy Oberman and I agreed to meet up at Sawmill Campground and I phoned Sheila Romane to see if she would like to join us. Our intent was to run up the West Ridge of Conness. At 5.6 and a very long climb with options to back off it seemed like a great first “get in shape” climb of the season. I chose the Sawmill approach because it was faster. We hiked a beautiful valley and aimed for a notch in the ridge of the Conness Arm. We had to kick steps up steep snowfields and boulder through the blocky ridgeline to gain the crest. All of this was with approach shoes so a bit trickier than you would think.
We punched through the top of the ridge and were treated to Sierra views including Tenaya Peak, Half Dome and some other awesome High Sierra peaks that I couldn’t identify. We looked at Conness only to see a snowfield on the descent that completely covered the summit. We couldn’t pick a line that looked reasonable for the descent and a slide on the snow would be unstoppable. We hiked across the upper field in the saddle to find the downclimb gully to approach the beginning of the West Ridge. The wind kicked up to 50-60 mph and could actually blow you down. Benjy and I decided it was a great reconnaissance day but a bad climbing day.
We hiked back to the ridge and rapped the blocks and then Benjy led us off glissading down the sun cupped snowfields (mercifully soft now!) on our backsides. Sheila learned to let go and enjoyed the ride down; must be her newfound ski sense! A wonderful Alpine day with lots of flowers in the meadows, beautiful vistas, cascading creeks and great people to climb with. Looking forward to heading back and exploring the alternative approach hike up through the meadows.
Sheila had plans (some of us have a social life!) but joined us for dinner at the Mobil Station (sounds weird but this is a funky gourmet restaurant!) and Benjy and I planned to head up to Cathedral on Sunday. We drank early and slept late, got behind 5 other parties on the rock and soloed 5.6 until we got to a tiny ledge where it shot up a vertical book. We broke out the rope and stayed well away from other parties turning the route in to several pitches of really enjoyable 5.8; great climbing on knobs and some cracks. On the last pitch, I belayed Benjy up and a Bay Area Techie Euro Egoheavy dude comes up and climbs under our rope. I told him, no no; that will pull my buddy off his stance if you fall. To which he told me, “it is all good, this is always the safer way.” “Safer for who?”, I asked. By this time he was 20 feet up when he offered to come down. Kind of pointless so I let it go–but won’t next time. Summit pics and a long slab hike down; Benjy wanted to meet up with the Cathedral lakes trail so we got in another 10 mile hike all told for the day. Fantastic BBQ in Bishop at Holy Smoke Texas BBQ capped off a fantastic weekend! Love to be in the Sierras in any season !