Mount Morrison, Mount Conness, Mount Dana, Lassen Peak

18-Jul-03

By: George Wysup


George’s Birthday Trip

It was time for me to visit my relatives in Klamath Falls and Olympia. I planned to drive up there because it really costs to fly to Klamath. I figured, why not try for a few sierra peaks on the way there? It’s sort of on the way.

I really don’t know why, but I settled on Mt Morrison, Mt Conness, and Mt Dana. For the first two I would need a companion to placate the ol’ ball and chain (wife Angie). So I invited a bunch of people. To my amazement, some actually went with me!

Jim Kalember leapt at the chance; it seems he needed to condition for some real hikes later in the Summer. Jim has a rep for being a bit on the crazy side, so I wanted a totally sane person along to balance him. Tom Conneiy and Zobeida Molina (herself soon to be a birthday gal) rounded out the crew for the (Friday) July 18 Morrison climb. Gary Schenk, Mary Jo Dungfelder, and Kathy Brown promised to show up July 19.

Mt Morrison (12,277’)

I drove to the Convict Lake trailhead parking lot the eve before. It’s a good spot because there are seldom any noisy campers there and the price is right. The 4 of us were ready to depart the Convict Lake picnic area before 7am.

Tom and I had studied the topo map and some trip reports on website climber.org. The other resources were word of mouth from Patty Rambert and Secor’s book (SPS does not publish peak guides or maps). Some of the advice was of the sort, “follow a jeep trail for 100 yards”, “go to the first tarn and turn right at the obvious bowl”, “follow the use trail”, stuff like that. In any case, a frontal assault on Morrison from the east side was out of the question, as it is spectacularly steep from that side. The south side was said to be class 2— my kind of number; I leave class 4 and 5 for others. The elevation gain was estimated at 4700’ in a bit over 3 miles, so we expected some steepness. Here’s what we did.

We went from the picnic area at 7600’, bearing about 125 deg up a moderate slope through gentle enough brush, avoiding the clogged gully against the mountainside. After about 600’ of this we came to— guess what— a jeep road! We followed this as it turned into a wide open use trail following a gully. There were some interesting ice caves in the gully, though there was generally no snow at this level. We reached a plateau at about 10,000’, but there were no obvious tarns. Figuring that the descriptions probably meant “lake” instead of “tarn”, we passed lake 3003m and continued up the stream to what looked like tans. To the right we spied a rather nasty appearing bowl. Could this be the route? No. The bowl was impossible. Everything is limestone and the blocks lean such that there are no hand holds. We veered to the right and painfully ascended a steep, rubble-filled chute and continued up a slope. Reaching the 11000’ level we intersected the use trail that we should have taken!

Over 1000’ below, Zobeida pointed out what she thought was a use trail going up another bowl. The alpha males in the group informed her that she must be mistaken and, besides, she’s only a girl and what do you know about route fmding? She just shrugged. Of course she was right. We could have saved over an hour and a lot of effort had we believed her. It’s her fault for not insisting.

Anyway, we had now found Zobeida’s use trail— the hard way. By now the clouds (courtesy of remnants of a Texas hurricane) were building fast. We pushed up the use trail which, by now, was steep, loose, and intermittent. Reaching a point about 500’ below the summit, a loud thunderclap convinced all of us except Krazy Kalember to save this for another day (the peak was not to be my birthday present). He continued on to, we speculated, his death by electrocution. As we hustled down (the correct route this time) it began to rain and the thunder continued. We waited for Jim at the 10000’ plateau. We didn’t have to wait long; Jim was motivated to descend in a hurry after a quick, wet, and very windy sign-in. But he got the peak! There were no witnesses, but I believe him.

The return trip from this point was dry, warm, and highlighted by the eating of ripe gooseberries. It seems that, after scaring us away from the summit, the thunderstorm decided to go elsewhere. We did notice some brush-filled depressions that were probably what people referred to as “tarns” when they contained water. The round trip took us about 9 hours— it should have been less than 8 hours.

We all headed north to Lee Vining for a nice dinner at Nicely’s, then went up the hill toward Saddlebag Lake to await the next day’s adventure.

Mt Conness (12,590’)

We found Gaiy, Mary Jø, and Kathy Friday evening at Saddlebag Lake and arranged to meet at 8am to start the hike. Which we did.

Probably the easiest way to proceed would be from Sawmill campground, about 250’ below Saddlebag, and follow the trail to the Carnegie Biological experiment station at 9850’. However there is seldom any vacant parking spots there on Summer weekends. So we started at 10,100’ and went downhill cross country about 2/3 mile, and were fortunate to find the experiment station with no problem. The good use trail became intermittent, but the general idea is to follow the creek, staying to the north of it so not to trample the meadow or stir up the mosquitoes. After having to recover from too many false leads I gave the route finder job to Kathy. She unfailingly led us through the more difficult part.

As the terrain steepened and the meadows disappeared at about 10,700’ we turned SSW and skirted a snow field on the right, climbing through large talus blocks. Climbing directly up the snow was probably a superior tactic, but only 3 of us had ice axes to make this safe. We reached a ducked chute marking the right turn up to the saddle at 11,400’. From this saddle an easy walk along a sandy use trail led us to the base of Conness.

The summit block is interesting in that the route is like a winding staircase in many stretches. It has a knife edge to negotiate, and there is a short bit of what I consider mild class 3. Once on the summit the views, as usual, are remarkable.

On the return, the snow field was softer and some got down post haste with a bit of a glissade, avoiding the talus blocks route. The stats were about 10 miles round trip and something over 3000’ elevation gain. We required about 7 unhurried hours for the trek. It rained lightly on us as we neared our vehicles, and it rained seriously later in the evening.

We returned to Lee Vining for bites to eat, then scattered to sleep at various places. The plan was to reconvene at lam Sunday for the bike to Mt Dana. Mt Dana (13,057’)

We parked just outside Yosemite’s east entrance at Tioga Pass (9950’). A use trail starts right at the tool booth. At first the path winds around some small lakes and through lupine choked meadows, then gets more serious and heads uphill. Soon the path goes through talus, which increases in size toward the summit. The mountain gets a bit steep near the top, and a variety of use trails is offered. The trail is only about 3 miles long (one way) and is very popular. We met many other people, including a pair of young Norwegians and a young fellow from Michigan (a UPS employee) who knew the area’s natural science much better than any of us.

The hike was pleasant enough, though not exactly a lot of fun. The view was the big attraction. To the west was Mono Lake, to the east was Cathedral Peak and Half Dome, to the south was Lyell glacier, and to the north was.. Mt Conness! Spectacular.

Lassen Pk (10,457’)

I had plans to hike a peak or 2 or 3 on my return trip, but things didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped I managed to catch an intestinal bug which rather weakened me. I thought it might be giardia, but non~ of the others had it. Probably e-coli from a greasy spoon.

The trail to Mt St. Helens was closed, so at least I didn’t have to worry about getting a permit. Some other time— maybe after (during?) the next eruption. So I settled for Lassen Peak, which is the highest point in Shasta County. Lassen Nat’l Park is quite interesting, volcanically speaking, and attractive, well worth a visit. There is a fine trail to the summit, starting at about 8480’. The trail is very.. . uh... volcanic, and the views are nice enough.

The most interesting part of the hike is in the variety (and sheer number) of people who try for the summit. There must have been at least 200 people on the trail in the 3 hours it took me to get up and back. There are people of all ages and persuasions. Some kids who could not have been more than 7 years old did it (some whining, sure). There were Germans, Englishmen, people with unrecognizable accents. Anyway, even I did it.


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