Thu, Jun 10, 2004
The West Ridge route is something like 12 pitches long, and belaying each one would be impossible given our time constraint. Fortunately, only the first two or three pitches were 5.6, the rest being low class 5 or 4 terrain. These I hoped we could either solo or simul-climb in order to allow us to make decent time. To keep our weight low we carried only a 37m, 8mm rope and a rack consisting of about 4 cams, a set of large nuts, two TiBlocs for simul-climbing, and an assortment of cordelettes. My rough plan for the day was 4hrs to the start of the climb, 4hrs for the climb, and 4hrs to return. Not accurate as it turned out, but easy to remember.
We took the Young Lakes Trail past Dog Lake and across Delaney Meadow (where I got to make fun of Matthew who chose to ford the creek rather than jump across) where the sun rose above Sierra crest, but remained partially hidden behind clouds. We continued on up to Dingley Meadow, where we got our first view of Ragged Peak, still shrouded in clouds. Behind us, the Cathedral Range around the Budd Lake area rose up, the north-facing slopes still with significant snow cover. We left the trail at this point and hiked cross-country up to Ragged Pass. Banner and Ritter came into view before we reached the pass (looking closer than I had expected, probably because of the cold, clear air), and once at the pass we were treated to views of Conness and the West Ridge a few miles to the north. The clouds had left Ragged by now, and were dissipating elsewhere in the High Country - what had started out as questionable was turning into a fine day indeed. We left our packs at the pass and scrambled up the 15-minute climb to the summit of Ragged Peak with some fun class 3 at the summit blocks. We found no register but great views, and stayed about 15 minutes to take pictures and take in the sights. We could see to Tower Peak and the Sawtooth Range to the northwest, Banner-Ritter & Lyell-Maclure to the south. Conness's West Ridge did not appear too daunting from this vantage.
We scrambled back down, retrieved our packs, and started down the snow-covered north side of the pass towards Young Lakes. Matthew had an ice axe while I carried a pair of crampons, and we used these to make our way down the moderate slopes (we had judged correctly that only one or the other was necessary). Where he could, Matthew chose to exit the snow to the left for a talus and boulder downclimb while I stayed on the snow as much as I could with the crampons giving me plenty of good footing. We met up again a near the bottom, and after putting the gear away we ambled around the west and north sides of the largest of the Young Lakes. Crossing the outlet, we then headed north, contouring slightly to avoid excessive elevation loss as we made our way across the Conness creek drainage. We left the trees as we gained the high meadow area south of Robinson Lake, and began studying the approach directions to the start of our route. We picked up water at one of the small creeks flowing through the meadow, climbed the slopes on the meadow's north side, then angled right to the toe of the West Ridge and the start of our route. It was now 10a, having taken us 4 1/2 hrs to cover the ground from Tuolumne Meadows, and my time estimate up to now wasn't too far off.
Our first order of business (after catching our breath) was to choose where to start. Our SuperTopo beta showed the standard route in the steep trough in front of us - it looked like we could solo up a ways more before having to rope. The "classic" route starts on the ridge to our left, and just the name conjures up enough additional excitement to get us leaning that way. So I started climbing up the broken granite slabs onto the ridge, and after about 30 or 40 feet decided it was a good place to rope up. We changed into rock shoes, put on our harnesses, flaked out the rope, and Matthew handed me the rack of gear he'd been carrying. As I headed out on the first pitch, I noticed a marmot wandering up to check us out. Not in the least a shy creature, it walked over to where Matthew was belaying me above. The marmot took an instant liking to the rope, and in a slight panic Matthew had to quickly pull up the rope from below where it had been flaked, and redeposited it closer to his feet. Undeterred, the Marmot simply followed the rope up to where Matthew sat and would have chewed on his boots if Matthew did nothing. He shouted and stamped his feet, but the marmot just looked at him like he was bored and kept at it. Even as Matthew kicked his foot out in front of the marmot, the little fur ball merely paused to consider whether the rope or boot should be the appetizer. I told Matthew to give the marmot a good kick, but even a shove did little to deter him. Finally, a good boot to the nose sent the guy sprawling backwards. He recovered quickly and started coming back again, but with Matthew yelling and gesturing wildly, the marmot may have considered the next boot might land him several hundred feet down the mountain, and therefore decided to go find something better to do.
We weren't a fast twosome on the route by any stretch, and I'd venture to say we were on the slow end of the scale compared to others who tackle this one. The climbing didn't look too difficult, despite the pockets of snow that covered all the nooks and flat areas. The sun was high enough to crest over the ridgeline which was a boon and thankfully things would be tolerable weather-wise. Though still chilly, at least it wouldn't be hot out today, and it was really close to ideal. The hardest part of the entire route seemed to be at the beginning of the first pitch, and as the rope length ran out I decided to place a TiBloc and signalled to Matthew that we would simul-climb. The TiBloc is a one-way device like an ascender (in fact that is its primary purpose) that lets the rope go easily in one direction, but locks if pulled the other way. This way if Matthew fell, he would be unlikely to pull me off above him. In order to keep Matthew as safe as possible, it was necessary to make sure there was no slack in the rope between the TiBloc and the himself. This could be done by either him waiting until the slack was pulled up while I climbed, or by myself pulling the rope up and gathering the slack. Ideally we would both climb at the same rate and keep the rope out at full length between us, but that rarely happened. It was awkward for me to move forward if Matthew wasn't moving freely, and having the rope tug me backwards was annoying. So mostly I would pull in the rope as Matthew moved up, then when I had enough slack I moved up, letting the rope slip out of my hand if there was pressure from behind. This way I mostly kept the slack out of Matthew's end, while on my end I was running more risk of a larger fall. In the first couple of pitches I placed more pro, but as things progressed and grew easier, I often ran out half the rope length before placing a piece. As Matthew reached the first TiBloc he would signal to me so I could place the second one before he cleaned the first. Then I would continue up for another rope length. In this fashion we continued, running out three rope lengths for each belay position. Had we considered this better before hand, we could have brought several more TiBlocs I had at home and probably cut several hours off our climb by saving extra belays.
The climbing was easy, but thrilling. As we reached higher on the "classic start," it became evident why it had this term - the ridge narrows to a fine knife-edge with exposure on two sides, but fine holds. Above the trough of the standard start, the classic ridge joins to the main West Ridge, and here the exposure on the right side grows to 500ft and more of near vertical granite walls. It was exhilarating and I we enjoyed the thrill of dancing along this line for over 1,000 vertical feet. The left side opened into a broader gully that was partially filled with snow. In summer this gully provides easier class 3-4 climbing, but there is more loose rock present there, and it has been dubbed the Bowling Alley. In addition to snow left over from winter, there was ice running down in sections where the snow had melted and refrozen with the recent cold temperatures - it probably wouldn't have been a safe bet to climb there at this time. Fortunately we didn't need to, and because the West Ridge was such fine climbing/scrambling, we had no desire to either. I simply made a beeline up the ridge right on the very edge, and always there was a straightforward route to follow. While most small obstructions were easily bypassed on the left, at one point I moved around onto the right side where we got the full feel for the exposure looming below us on that side. It took us over six hours of roped climbing to reach the class 3 pitches higher up, far more than I had expected, but with plenty of extra cushion in our schedule I never felt like time was pressing. It took the rest of the seventh hour to scramble to the summit. Matthew had started ahead while I coiled the rope, and I never caught up with him. I took some photographs of Conness's North Ridge, a route I planned to climb in another six weeks, but it didn't seem nearly as challenging as the West Ridge we'd just completed. It was 5p when we topped out at the summit, and we spent some time to rest and take in the views.
We weren't sitting around long before another marmot came to see if what he could get his teeth into, literally. He strolled up to Matthew's pack, but didn't get a chance to gnaw on it for long before Matthew reacted. We were both amused, trying to get our cameras out to get pictures of the guy, while at the same time trying not to let him chew on anything and keep from scaring him away. Like the first one, this one seemed completely used to people and exhibited no fear of us unless we physically touched him. As he stood not two feet away from me to pose for a picture, I commented that it would be quite easy to send the guy flying 1,000ft down the North Face of Conness - that would probably cure him of his affection for people. The register showed we weren't the first to climb the peak this year. The most recent was less than a week earlier by someone soloing the route we'd just taken. The first person to the summit had been back in May on a ski tour. The peak is very popular in summer, and the whole book was nearly full with only a few year's worth of climbs. I re-racked all the climbing gear while Matthew had a snack, and after 20 minutes or so on the summit I asked Matthew if he was ready to head to White Mtn. He didn't think I was serious, but I assured him I was, and would have gone by myself if Matthew showed no interest. Matthew probably only hesitated because it's not on the SPS list, otherwise he would have been the one pushing for it. Matthew decided to join me, and with a short headstart, I headed down the class 2 SE side. There is some exposure on two sides along this route making it a spicy summit for novices, and Matthew commented that he had turned back at this point some years earlier. We headed southeast across the high plateau, down to a sandy saddle, and then up 600ft to the 12,000ft summit of White Mtn. The summit is fairly nondescript in comparson to Conness, but it did offer a nice profile of Conness's East Ridge, another route I hoped to climb soon (as the descent route after the North Ridge). I arrived atop White at 6p, Matthew about 10 minutes behind, and after another fifteen minutes or so we headed down. We followed the Southwest Ridge for a short while, then took off down the south side, using the snowfields preferentially over the alternative talus. One last obstacle was getting down a cliffband that encircled a large, forested amphitheater below. I felt bad as I led Matthew down what turned out to be fairly steep bushwhack - it seemed I'd gone the worst possible way. Once down in the forest below and further along to look back and get a good view, it seemed the cliffs were worse than I'd though, and perhaps we were lucky to find a way down like we did.
The day was beginning to fade now as we followed a branch of Delaney Creek down to the main creek. There is a huge, wide meadow several miles long that looked like a natural fairway with a small creek meandering down the middle, and this we followed to the southwest. This made for easy travel for some time, and we were thankful that the hordes of mosquitoes that would normally be mauling us were all grounded. At the far end of the meadow downstream the trees began to choke our easy walking path, and there was a half hour of zig-zagging our way through the forest, hoping we'd find the trail again before it got dark. Eventually we could see it grow lighter through the trees and we broke out into Delaney Meadow. Easy cruising brought us back to the same spot along the trail where we'd crossed Delaney Creek early in the morning. It was 8:45p by now, and time to break out the headlamps. We retrieved some water from the creek, then motored the remaining few miles back to the trailhead where we arrived at 9:30p, rather beat for a "warmup" day.
We'd known since the summit of Conness that we'd be out too late for a Whoa Nellie dinner, now we began to wonder if we'd have time for dinner anywhere. I drove us up and over Tioga Pass, then south heading towards Bishop. Somewhere around the Mammoth turnoff I asked Matthew to take over the last 37 miles of driving - I was too tired by this time and was starting to drift out of the lane. We found the Jack in the Box at the south end of town open ('till midnight), and for about $10 we had enough food to either satiate or kill us. We got a room at the Outdoorsman, and it wasn't until midnight that we finally got to bed - almost 24hrs of being awake was too much for me, and I don't think it took more than a few minutes after hitting the bed for me to fall asleep.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Ragged Peak - Mt. Conness - White Mountain
This page last updated: Wed May 16 16:46:48 2007
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