By: Joe Wankum
Conness needs to be led more often. While my other trip did not start getting signups until a month before the trip, this one had a wait list a week after it was published in the Echo. Although I only had perhaps 10 people on the actual wait list, I also had 20 more on an "interested" list. And this did not include another dozen or two who inquired but lost interest when they heard the length of the wait list. With a reservation for 12, after 4 cancellations near the end and only one replacement, I ended up getting a permit for 9 people. Most had never been on an SPS trip before. Several completed their WTC graduation requirements on this trip.
A planned 8 am start turned into a 9:30 departure after the permit station opened at 8 instead of 7:30, and after the leader was able to obtain a permit for a loop trip (in via Dog Lake, out via Glen Aulin trail) - which then required a car shuttle. After 5-1/2 hours, the group arrived at the middle of the Young Lakes at 3 pm. Sunday, we left camp at 6:4 1, summitted at 11:30, started down at 11:5 8, were back in camp at 2:44, and were packed up and out of camp at 3:32 pm. After a 25 minute break for filtering water, the group arrived at the cars at 8 pm, exactly as WTC student Erik had predicted. After unshuttling the cars, Leo left for his 2-1/2 hr drive home while the rest of the group headed for the Tuolumne Meadows campground for a quick meal and some much deserved rest.
In the past, I have either led or assisted trips. This was the first time that I co-led a trip - and was wondering how well this would work out. I did the initial planning early this year, got the reservation for the permit, and handled signups. At the trailhead, Barry did what he excels at (i.e., working with the people). And being the faster hiker, Barry led most of the way but gave me the opportunity to lead the best part at the top (the last 300'). After being taught a quarter century ago of the need to have one person in charge of a mountaineering outing, I have seen more and more trips in recent years with co-leaders. Having now tried it, I am ready to agree that this can be a successful arrangement with the right combination of co-leaders.
The backpack in was uneventful. Arriving at the lower lake, the leaders split up to scout out campsites at the two lower lakes. Barry picked an ideal campsite a little over 100' from the middle lake (YNP rules) with somewhat-shaded flat spots for all. Rather than following the use trail that exists over much of the route, Barry led the climb via a high route past a small lake that shows on the map, before descending to the vegetation below the boggy ponds that appear on the map as a lake south of Conness. We passed the ponds, then climbed the scree on the left to an upper valley where several of the group (who had no reason to climb the peak) decided they would wait and watch the climb from below. Arriving at the saddle SE of the peak, another participant decided that knee problems might interfere and also decided not to proceed. That left five climbers interested in getting the peak, which worked out well.
After a brief break, I started out. The summit appears almost separated from the mountain, yet connected by a sometimes 10-foot wide, curving ridge. Flattened rocks most of the way provide a walkway that might best be described as an airy class 1 walk. Before starting, I ask the group: Are you sure you want to do this? Seeing the look of anticipation on the faces of the climbers provided me the answer. I was committed. Traversing a 10-foot long, 8-inch wide ledge (good handholds), then switching back up sloping rock for several feet brought us to the walkway. The perfect weather we were experiencing made the rest of the climb (walk) to the summit rather trivial. (A strong wind would make for interesting times.)
After seeing them on this climb, I think that Leo, Silvana, and Paul would really enjoy a trip up Russell. Other participants who helped make this a very enjoyable outing were Jean, Erik, Deana, and Darlene. And I'd really like to thank Barry for joining in leading this delightful trip.
While this peak is commonly led as a day hike from the east, I recommend this as a backpack to the Young Lakes. A 3-day trip would be more comfortable than a weekend trip - and would provide an opportunity for a hike to Roosevelt Lake after the peak climb the second day. Judging by the number of people who have signed in to the register during the last several years, this area is probably crowded to capacity during the summer. The typically good weather this area has in September makes this an ideal time for the climb - after the summer crowds have left.
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