Hoffman, Conness, Gibbs - An Explosive Trip

28 Aug 1997 - by Rich Calliger

More on the title in a while...After nursing my knee for 3 weeks since injuring it on Muir Peak (when a typical afternoon Sierra storm matured into a 2 day thunderstorm from the south) I decided a little mountain therapy might help the healing.

So I cobbled together a brief trip plan for 5 days of day hikes in Yosemite area with rest days in between. I camped just above camp 9 at the free site, bringing a heavy tarp to cover my tent to avoid the 1AM car lights of the people who obviously do not see the 3 foot high "Campground Full" sign. Arriving early Thurs. I got the choicest spot to the rear of the area. Again as I was heading to my first hike, I met Mike Rinaldi on the road. We tentatively planned to do Williamson and Tyndal from Shepard pass depending on my knee. We have never failed to somehow link up in all our trips together! He or I have literally pulled in within minutes of each other coming from entirely diferent starting points! Mike went on to the Pass and I to day hike after a brief planning meet. You can count on Mike being there when he says he will!!

After a short day hike part way up Mt Conness, which is accesible at the end of Saddlebag Lake road, I stopped at my planned turn-around of 11,500' so I would not stress my knee too much. I grabbed a bagfull of snow and iced it on and off the rest of the day while luxuriating in the wonderful views of Eastern Yosemite, mild temps, a soft high rock, and clear skys.

Next day I attended a Save Mono Lake Committee meeting and left a monetary donation. (See their web site located at http://www.monolake.org ). The Lake has risen 4 feet in the last few years since LA has significantly lessened their diversions from the inlets.)

Following day I loaded a light 2 lb dayback and headed up Mt Hoffman. On the NE corner are very airy Class 3 slabs forming a beautiful staircase to the summit. I comforted myself on the isolated 3rd rock from the top and had lunch and enjoyed the slight "sea of peaks" feeling one can get from this vantage point. Poly Dome, Tuolumne Peak were evident to the N and NE. A very pretty view of the northern side of Half Dome was evident as well as Clark. I could make out Florence and Lyell as well as Dana and a very exquisite rendering of Tenaya Lake nestled below. Most all peaks in mid Yosemite were also clearly visible- as was the unfortunate encroaching smog.

The approach to Hoffman is pretty as you glide through several short meadows abundant in greenery with a smattering of alpine flowers in the last displays of blooming for the year. I grabbed more snow on the way down and spend the rest of the day icing again and finishing Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air"- it is a great read.

Following a rest day swimming and reading at Tenaya Lake, I left the park and approached Gibbs Peak from the SE off of the always beautiful Horse Meadows, a treat and a wonderful bivy spot nestled deeply and privately away from 395 at a 8500' trail head (SE of the summit+S of the standard TH) Only 1 other vehicle did the slight 4WD approach south of the trailhead sign. The scree approach SSW of Kidney Lake was simple and uneventful.

All night the Milky Way was briliant under a moonless series of nights and the trip was totally relaxing; but not too healing for the knee unfortunately.

Now the title: As I was nearing the summit of Hoffman a huge reverberating explosion rattled the mountains; causing all 5-6 climbers on my route to stop and look up- sounding very similar and jogging memories of 1000 lb bombs bursting in the plains and ridge tops of Khe Sanh in Vietnam from the last B52 raid of the season there.

As I recovered my startledness quickly I could not see any tell tale signs of an explosion . A shuttle rentry sonic boom? A fighter boomer? No- too large for that. My fellow ledge mate said he never heard anything like it either. We conjectured the FS was clearing a boulder field with dynamite somewhere that obscured the explosion dust cloud. Later, the Rangers heard nothing, saw nothing, (well- except several speeding squirrels on 120 they tried to ticket to no avail as my questions were obviously distracting them from loftier "pursuits" ) and knew nothing. Very strange indeed..

Geographic & Other Data:

Junction Camp: ~3 miles east of Tioga Pass immediately N off 120.

Saddlebag Lake: 1.5 miles NW of 120 from Junction Camp.

Mt Hoffman: 10,850 Class 1; Class 3 on east face ledge route- immediately west of May Lake high sierra camp.

Conness: 12590 Class 1-2 from south.

Gibbs: 12764 Class 1

Horse Meadows Northern cross country "Trail Head"- unmarked road and trail head.- email for directions. The weather was perfect! 2 nights into the mid 20's at 9500'. Gentle to nonexistant wind and no storms. Swatting a mosquito cut the population down by at least 33% of the total.

Mono Lake Park- Lake meeting was held here ~3 miles N of Lee Vining , turn east off 395 at the sign. A very nice boardwalk out to the Lake- and you can take a swim here. Park on the road under the shade trees to keep cool.


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