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Mt. Conness
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West Ridge, Mount Conness 

West Ridge, Mount Conness 

YDS: 5.6 French: 4c Ewbanks: 14 UIAA: V British: S 4b

   
Type:  Trad, Alpine, 10 pitches, 1500', Grade IV
Consensus:  YDS: 5.5 French: 4b Ewbanks: 13 UIAA: IV+ British: MS 4a [details]
FA: 
Season: mid summer to late fall
Page Views: 18,271
Submitted By: Joseph Myers on May 21, 2008
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BETA PHOTO: On the West Ridge of Mt. Conness

Description 

A fun back country route. Just stay on the ridge as much as possible for the best climbing on the best granite.


Location 

Tuolumne Meadows backcountry. There are a few different methods for approaching Conness, but the trail(s) from Tioga Pass works...There's also a good way starting just west of Lembert Dome going up to Young Lakes...then it's cross country through to Conness creek, which if followed all the way to its source will land you in Roosevelt lake. Hiking southeast from here will get you into the vicinity of the West Ridge of Conness.


Protection 

if you plan on roping up for the whole climb, just bring a regular rack...Most of the climb can be soloed or simul-climbed at easy albeit moderate 5th class high country climbing.



Photos of West Ridge, Mount Conness Slideshow Add Photo
West Ridge fun!
West Ridge fun!
Pitch 1 - 2  of west ridge ( we simul-climbed these, so not sure which pitch)
Pitch 1 - 2 of west ridge ( we simul-climbed thes...
Deron scoping out the start of the W Ridge
Deron scoping out the start of the W Ridge
Miguel and Deron starting up
Miguel and Deron starting up
Conness, summit <br />
Conness, summit
A closer view of the "brushy gully in a cliffy section" that McNamara and Croft refer to. Many trails wind their ways through this section to the lake above.
BETA PHOTO: A closer view of the "brushy gully in a cliffy sec...
mini-roof 'crux'
mini-roof 'crux'
checking out the sheer SW face (Harding Route)
checking out the sheer SW face (Harding Route)
Tristan on pitch 2 of the West ridge
Tristan on pitch 2 of the West ridge
almost to the summit
almost to the summit
Down climb from Summit of West Ridge, Mount Conness
BETA PHOTO: Down climb from Summit of West Ridge, Mount Connes...
back down to the meadows
back down to the meadows
Looking down the west ridge <br />
Looking down the west ridge
John Kaz up on the West Ridge of Conness, July 2010
John Kaz up on the West Ridge of Conness, July 201...
The correct approach notch can be seen in the middle of this photo.
BETA PHOTO: The correct approach notch can be seen in the midd...
John Kaz way up on the West Ridge of Conness, July 2010
John Kaz way up on the West Ridge of Conness, July...
Reaching the summit a bit late!
Reaching the summit a bit late!
summit stance
summit stance
west ridge, conness
west ridge, conness
Up an exposed knife-edge along the West Ridge.  27 Aug 2011.
Up an exposed knife-edge along the West Ridge. 27...
start of Pitch 1, West ridge
start of Pitch 1, West ridge
Further up the West Ridge.  27 Aug 2011.
Further up the West Ridge. 27 Aug 2011.
near the top of the West ridge
near the top of the West ridge
In alpine ventures, good to have someone along who could vanquish menacing dark clouds with majestic posing, to safeguard and ensure success of the team.  The Pointing Collection.  27 Aug 2011.
In alpine ventures, good to have someone along who...
Plenty of wind breaks if you want to sleep near summit of Mount Conness, wilderness permit is required for overnight hike (from Sawmill campground), although no quota for permit
Plenty of wind breaks if you want to sleep near su...
Up beautiful granite along ridgeline edge in breathtaking setting. Amazing climbing. Amazing views. Amazing day.  27 Aug 2011.
Up beautiful granite along ridgeline edge in breat...
higher up the west ridge,with view of the sheer face
higher up the west ridge,with view of the sheer fa...
Once on the summit, checking the peak's identification papers to make sure this was indeed Conness.  27 Aug 2011.
Once on the summit, checking the peak's identifica...
The saddle to the left of the peak and near the center of this photo is the "brushy gully in a cliffy section" that McNamara and Croft refer to. Stay on the trail until you see this, and then take the path of least resistance to it.
BETA PHOTO: The saddle to the left of the peak and near the ce...
Looking up the start of p1
BETA PHOTO: Looking up the start of p1
After Alpine Lake, follow the right-hand ridge to the prominent notch on the peak in the center of the photo. Follow the climbers' trail(s) to the summit plateau.
BETA PHOTO: After Alpine Lake, follow the right-hand ridge to ...
Mary and Rico high up on the ridge
Mary and Rico high up on the ridge
Upper ridge
Upper ridge
Comments on West Ridge, Mount Conness Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Sep 3, 2013
By LeeAB
Administrator
From: ABQ, NM
Feb 8, 2010

This can be tough to find from the back side, Tioga Pass. You have to stay more right than you would think.

If you do approach from the Saddlebag Lake area, as opposed to from Lembert Dome, you have the option to downclimb the North Ridge and hike out that way. It makes for a nice long day out in the back country.

Very nice views off the ridge, stay as close to it as possible.

By harihari
From: VANCOUVER
Jul 12, 2011

At a slide show a few years back, Croft said that-- after his 9,000 foot, one-day Karakoram 5.11 route-- this was his favorite rock route. Jokes notwithstanding (Q: What is Peter Croft's favorite rock route? A: Whatever he's just climbed), you can see why.

This is the best alpine rock route at its grade (and one of the best at ANY grade) I have done. You can EASILY free-solo it: there is one dicey section (the rock bridge) which is exposed, but easy; the rest is a 5.6 ladder on impeccable rock, a billion solid incut holds, and good cracks. Loads of places to stop and admire the view. Then you top out, and look waaaaay down into the Valley, and feel all bad-assed up there at 13,000 feet.

We were going to do the Harding route, but my partner didn't feel up to it. So, instead of going back by upclimbing the choss approach, we did the West Ridge...and it was so good that we didn't put our harneses on, just simul-soloed the whole thing, massive shit-eating grins on our faces...it was so good we didn't want to stop.

DO IT.

By Simon Thompson
From: New Paltz, NY
Nov 8, 2011
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V S 4b

We had to bail after 4 pitches but they were great. As you gain the ridge, try to stay as close as possible to climbers' left. This is where the classic climbing is, including stellar parallel cracks and wicked exposure on the ridge proper. We climbed 4 pitches and bailed down the gully to climber's right dude to extremely high winds. We made 4 rappels using a 70m rope. I believe we rappeled very close to where the guidebook's description of the route goes.

By Al Peery
Apr 6, 2012

This is my favorite alpine solo climbing! Great views, exposure and so much fun!

I use the North Ridge to access the West Ridge for a full day of ridge running. I often find loose rock sections downclimbing the first rappel on the North ridge, but downclimbing the blocks on the second rappel is more solid than it looks.

By Andy Novak
From: Golden, Co
Jul 12, 2013

Both approaches are long, but If you have the time, I recommend an overnight at Young lakes as opposed to the one-day approach. Note that the Supertopo has a MAJOR error concerning the approach from this direction. DO NOT go up to the ridge then decend back down the gully to start the route; instead simply cross the drainage in the morning and walk over to the base of the route: takes about 2 hours from Lower Young lake if you're taking your time. Amazing couple days of there.

By Ball
From: Oakridge, OR
Jul 20, 2013

If you love hiking, and I mean really love hiking, this route is for you. Take the longer way around (carnegie trail up the pass) for better views.

Otherwise you may be asking why you hiked so long for two, maybe three pitches of climbing (did it in boots so I'm guessing the length).

By kenr
Aug 8, 2013

Doing it from the Saddlebag Lake area (East side) is a long ways in. Around 4 miles and +2500 vertical feet (7km and +760 vert meters). Which might not sound so bad. But that includes +2050 vertical feet (+625 meters) off-trail, so harder and slower, especially if carrying a rope and some sort of Trad rack.
And it includes 1725 vertical feet (525 vert meters) of descending, all off-trail.

Also fairly high altitude. Merely the approach goes over 12,200 ft (3725 meters) altitude. So if like most Californians and many visitors, you live most of the time near sea-level, the approach is going to feel tougher unless you've first put yourself through a serious altitude-acclimatization program.

And the route-finding is tricky, so need to allow some extra time for backtracking and for figuring things out.

So while the West ridge is great high-mountain route, if you want to do it in a single day from the trailhead, then you have to want it kinda bad.

I do like the idea of leveraging all that approach/descent labor by doing both the North ridge and West ridge on the same day. Of course this requires going very light and fast. With a partner who knew both very well, I once climbed the North ridge first, then down and around to the base of the West ridge, then climbed up the West ridge -- a great day for me.

By kenr
Aug 8, 2013

Detailed description of approach from Saddlebag Lake area (east side).
It is helpful to combine this description with the photos + description on www.dreaminvertical.com/?p=1793 , and of course the description in the book High Sierra Climbing, by Chris McNamara (SuperTopo 2004).

GPX file containing all latitude/longitude waypoints in the following description (and some useful tracks) is linked from this page .

Trailhead is at USFS Sawmill campground (GPS latitude/longitude approx N37.9560 W119.2667) (altitude ~ 2980 meters) - about 2.3 km (1.5 miles) NW from rt 120 (the main Tioga Pass road) on Saddlebag Lake Rd.
. But there is no day-hiker / climber parking at that trailhead (as of 2013). All designated parking is for campers.

Start walking NW on road. After about 200 meters can take a shortcut by continuing straight on trail (or bear left on road). About another 200m rejoin dirt road and continue NW mostly flat or gentle downhill. After snother 500m, turn L to cross creek on log. Another 500m roughly W go past the hut of the Carnegie Institute (by now the road has turned into a trail). Continue roughly W about another 1500 meters (with some bends and some uphill sections).

At the top of an uphill section, and a little before crossing a creek and entering a large flat meadow, around
(GPS lat/long ~ N37.9619 W119.2954) (altitude ~ 3100 meters) (small cairn as of 2013) ...
leave the trail toward the R, and go uphill roughly NW (or at first more N). See the prominent peak above roughly NW and aim toward a wide notch just left of it.
. (though for those carrying more weight, seems like it might be easier to stay on the trail farther toward Alpine Lake -- not obvious why it would not work to then rejoin the main approach route higher up -- the extra distance is not large).

About 650m of uphill (likely with a move of difficulty class 3+), reach a flat area (lat/long ~ N37.9665 W119.3009) (altitude ~ 3385m) with a tarn (small lake which might be dry). About 200m flat going W, then leave the flat and go uphill a bit toward R, WNW for about 500m to ...

reach another roughly flat area (N37.9672 W119.3094) (alt ~ 3560m) (small cairn as of 2013). Dramatic setting on cirque with a lake lower inside and some steep cliffs above across to SW, with a couple of prominent notches across SW.
Note: The summit of Mt Conness is not in view (not even close) and those notches do not lead down to the W ridge.

Next objective is a notch above WSW, at the Right end of the top of the face containing those steep cliffs, but far to the Right of the cliffs themselves - with a more reasonable slope leading up to the notch.
Aim WSW for that notch ... simplest is to get onto the crest of the ridge (with big view NE) as soon as see an easy way. Or stay longer below the ridge ... first down a little bit, then traverse horizontally across the slope. After about 150m a steep move up R, then a rising traverse for about 300m up to the high point of this approach route, near the NE corner of a gentle sandy quasi-plateau to the SE of the Mt Conness summit
(lat/long ~ N37.9656 W119.3145) (altitude ~ 3730m) (medium-large cairn as 2013).
. (This is where the descent route from the Mt Conness summit meets the approach route.)

Now it's time to start looking at notches and thinking about which one to cross to get down to the base of the West ridge. The answer is: Below where you are now, and farther below than you might be hoping or thinking: roughly SW across this gentler area, lower than any of the obvious notches (since those cliff out on the W side). So the next objective is WSW-SW, but perhaps it is easier to "contour" (for a total distance around 500m) ... at first gentle WSW, then more W where it goes down steeper and across the bottom of the valley, finish more SSW-S. Likely will take a couple of tries to find the best crossing W into the descent. The best place I found (not really a "notch") is a broad sandy area (lat/long ~ N37.9634 W119.3189) (altitude ~ 3690m) (No cairn as of 2013).

Next some serious down-scrambling with loose rock (test the holds) and route-finding. Seemed to me that, if find the best lines and work out the moves right, no single move was more difficult than class 3. A reasonable line for me was to first head roughly straight down (roughly W), then bear to descender's Right (NNW) to reach dirt/scree. Not much more than 25 vertical meters of serious down-scrambling.

But still lots more slogging down on dirt/scree.

By kenr
Aug 12, 2013

  • Very worthy add-on for those who get to the top with extra time and energy:
Down-climb the upper section of the North ridge ... likely easier if often go a little below the crest on the SW side ... but stop somewhere before reaching the gap by the "second tower". Then
climb up the N ridge but now trying to stay as close to the crest as possible.

  • Alternate descent: Down-climb the whole North Ridge (as LeeAB pointed out). It's a good idea to read the guidebooks + discussions + comments for that route, since there's some trickiness in getting over one of the towers.

  • Alternate approach which might fit with that alternate N ridge descent: Park at Saddlebag Lake, then hike/scramble around the N side of North Peak (without going to its summit). Then drop down around its W side toward Roosevelt Lake and head S to the base of the W ridge.

  • Big day: Climb the North Ridge first up to Mt Conness summit, then hike SE then SSW down to the steep scramble which goes down W to the base of the West ridge, then climb up the West Ridge to reach the summit a second time.

By Ryan Nevius
From: The Range of Light
Aug 17, 2013
rating: Easy 5th 1+ 3 I M 1c

Simple approach beta from Sawmill Campground:

  • From the parking area, follow the dirt road/trail through the campground and past the Carnegie Institute (wood shed).




  • Walk past Alpine Lake and aim for the notch on this peak


  • Once on the plateau, aim for the notch in the center of this photo

  • Descend to the start of the route

By kenr
Sep 1, 2013

Yes Ryan, those photos do make the navigation simpler. Thanks a lot for posting them.

Now for those of us who reach the W ridge by some other way (e.g. first climbing the N Ridge route) and want to then descend the more southerly approach route ... We need another set of photos shot from the other direction - (You would't happen to have those too?)

By Ryan Nevius
From: The Range of Light
Sep 3, 2013
rating: Easy 5th 1+ 3 I M 1c

kenr, I do not. I have a photo looking back toward the plateau from the summit...But I chose to take the North Ridge down instead of the standard descent.