Mt Conness: Snow castle in the sky

11 Oct 1997 - by Craig Taylor

Trip members Robert Greenwalt, Ian Porteous and Craig Taylor. The trip started under the ominous threat of a winter storm warning. According to National Weather Service: "WINTER STORM WATCH...SNOW ADVISORY...SNOW LEVEL LOWERING TO 7000 FEET BY DAYBREAK. GUSTY SOUTHWEST TO WEST WINDS 20 TO 40 MPH OVER THE RIDGES." It was one of those rare occasions when the Weather Service nailed it. We arrived at Junction Campground (thx R.J.) at 1am Friday morning much too early or late depending on your point of view but it turned out to be critical to the trip's success. At dawn it began to snow heavily dropping a foot plus of very light powder causing the closure of Tioga Pass Road. With the closure we were committed, there was no going home. We headed off into a very snowy backcountry despite the incredulous looks from the folks at the Tioga Pass Resort. The rest of the day was spent slogging through fresh snow to our base camp (~11,600 ft) on the East ridge. We setup just under the ridge on the north side with spectacular views across the Conness Lakes basin to North Peak and Conness. Saturday morning we headed for the summit via the east ridge, wanting the snow on the glacier to stabilize a bit and assuming that there would be less snow on the ridge (after sinking several times into 5 ft of snow I can say that this was a questionable assumption). The east ridge is a long series of peaklets and knife blade ridges with some tricky moves when covered with a foot to foot and a half of new snow. After 5 hours of climbing in 24 degree weather with 20 to 30 mph gusts of wind the beauty of seeing the final summit ridge is hard to recapture. Across a large white plateau of snow the summit seemed to float on the far edge, a snow castle connected to the earth by only a thin causeway of rock and ice. Climbing the final summit ridge (12590') took another hour, summitting at 2:30pm. Rather than retract our steps we descended onto the glacier and traversed a high line across surprising stable snow pack. We arrived back in base camp at 5pm. Sunday we packed up, glissaded directly, in one steep straight shot, to lower Conness Lake and hiked out from there. On our return to the Bay Area it was a positively balmy 50 degrees. Winter was after all just an illusion and so too was the snow castle in the sky.

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