Click on any thumbnail
for a full size image
"You're not really going
skiing, are you?" I must've heard
that question from 20 people last week, as temps in
the Bay Area began climbing towards their summer
heights. I saw the same incredulity on the
faces of the people we passed on highway 120 when
they noticed the skis on the roof. Yep,
believe it or not, we're going skiing.
Tioga is one of those places that you just can't get
enough of -- especially if you are a skier or snowboarder.
Access in winter is difficult, and because the road over the
summit generally doesn't open until mid to late spring,
there's not a lot of time to explore the area before the snow
melts out. Fortunately, the Tioga area holds the goods
longer than most places in California, and has mindblowing
terrain to boot. Take one look from your car window
while driving through Yosemite and you'll understand why Tioga
Pass is the spring and summer skiing destination in the
Armed with a favorable snow report from
Mitch and Big Tim, I
made plans to head back to this backcountry mecca --
specifically, to climb Mount Conness and ski the chutes and bowls
on its east ridge. I was joined by a good crew of
friends: EB, Lance and Griffin joined me from the Bay
Area, while Ross,
and his trusty pooch Sierra came up from the Sacramento area.
Chris set off on Friday night to spend a day fishing the lakes
of the 20 Lakes Basin. The Bay Area crew and Ross met up
at Saddlebag Lake on Saturday night at around midnight.
Taking advantage of the warm weather, we eschewed tents in
favor of car camping and sleeping out underneath the clear, starry
woke before 6am to a perfect day. Already the sun was bright
and the air was warm. The morning alpenglow on the east
ridge of Mount Conness was a spectacular sight from the
trailhead. Fortunately, there was still some snow
clinging to the peaks, so we strapped the skis on the packs
and began our hike along the rocky west shore of Saddlebag
Lake. After about 35 minutes, we arrived at Greenstone
Lake, where we picked up Chris and Sierra and headed up
towards Mount Conness.
hike up to the Conness Lakes is spectacular -- lush green
meadows and waterfalls contrast with nasty looking chutes
begging to be skied. We climbed the granite slabs above
the lower Conness Lake, and then the big snowfield leading up
to the Conness Glacier. At this point, Ross decided to
hang back and ski the bowls above the lakes instead of pushing
for the summit. The rest of us donned crampons and made
our way up the "dirty snowfield" towards the base of the prominent Y-couloir that splits the peaklet
to the east of Conness. Our goal was to gain the ridge
via the chutes in between the Y-couloir and the summit.
One small problem stood in our way, however: a monster
it was to be our day! Upon closer inspection, we
discovered that the bergschrund could be crossed on a narrow
snowbridge to climbers' right. Being the guinea pig, I
gingerly inched out towards the snowbridge and poked at it
with my ice axe. "Solid as a rock" was my expert
assessment. I crossed without incident and led the way
up the steep couloir to the east ridge. At the saddle,
we dropped our skis and snowboards and made our way up the
surprisingly exposed summit ridge.
you can expect, the summit views were spectacular. All
of the major peaks in the Yosemite area were visible,
including a 360 degree view of Tower, Matterhorn, Dunderberg, Dana, Parker, Kuna, Banner,
Ritter, Lyell, Cathedral, Clark and Hoffman. To the
east were Boundary and Montgomery peaks on the Nevada state
line. To the west, Half Dome and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River were plainly visible.
After snapping the obligatory summit photos, we headed back
down to the saddle. Chris dropped in first, ripping up
the 45 degree chute and making it look so easy. At the
bottom of the couloir, Chris opted out of the snowbridge exit,
instead carving a turn off the lip of the bergshrund and
airing over it. Very impressive. The rest of us
took the easier way out, skiing down towards the snowbridge,
and then pointing them down through the narrow gap to the
high traverse of the Conness Glacier brought us to a point
below the "notch", the obvious 11,800'+ col that splits the
east ridge of Mount Conness to the northwest of Alpine Lake.
From below the notch, we skied a steep finger of snow down to
the Conness Lakes. In contrast to the deep suncups we
encountered on the traverse, the 800' or so "snow finger" down to the
lake was silky smooth corn snow. Lance, Chris and I
traded huge grins at the bottom of the runout. We
debated hiking back up a bit to climbers' left -- to the top
of Flinty's bowl -- but given the late hour and our drained
bodies, we decided against one more run. As we looked up
at our tracks dropping down from the ridgetop, we called it a
fitting end to a great season.
Well, at least for some of us. Not content with that as
his last run, Chris put his board back on the pack and set off
for the nicest looking line on the entire mountain -- the
serpentine "S couloir" that rises above the 10,667' Conness
Lake. We all took up our positions on a sunny rock as
Chris booted his way
up the shaded couloir. At the top,
getting doused by a waterfall, Chris clicked in and bombed it
perfectly. Shouts of joy accompanied rooster tails of
corn as Chris exited the couloir to the lakeshore below.
I'd say that's the way to finish the season. As Chris is
fond of saying, "there's a right way and a wrong way."
on the link below to see the photos.