Scrambling the NW
Ridge of North Peak above McCabe Lake,
A High Alpine Traverse
About a month after my last
trip to the Saddlebag Lake area, I returned -- this time without
skis -- to climb North Peak and Mount Conness again. I'll admit that I was a little apprehensive about this trip.
My reasons were manifold: First of all, I was a complete technical rock climbing
noob. Up to now, my entire climbing resume consisted (apart from lots of basic scrambling and peakbagging) of climbing Cathedral Peak via a route first done by a Scottish sheepherder in 1869.
OK, so maybe the sheepherder was John Muir, but his route is
the one that most modern climbers use to descend after climbing other more demanding routes on the peak. I was also nervous
about climbing Conness because this trip was organized by Bob Burd, whose ramblings in the California mountains were rapidly becoming legendary among the Sierra cognoscenti, primarily for their
speed and ambitiousness (day hikes to remote peaks like Mount Brewer and Mount Williamson are commonplace) and
the fact that many such death marches are usually done several
days in a row with no rest. Indeed, this trip to Mount Conness was merely the first (and arguably easiest) day in Bob's "Sierra Challenge" -- an outrageous 10-day peakbagging
affair involving day hikes to no fewer than 20 peaks, covering more than 163 miles and gaining around 55,000 feet of elevation. What the hell was I thinking?!
Needless to say, I wasn't exactly in tip-top physical form, and I
harbored serious doubt that I could keep up with Bob and his eager pack of mountain goats. To put some perspective on things, Bob "warmed up" for the challenge with a 13.5 hour day on Thursday -- doing a high traverse out to Simmons Peak -- and a 12.5 hour day on Friday traversing the remote Matthes Crest. As if this wasn't enough to make me
shit my pants in nervous anticipation, the group planned to climb the entire route without ropes or protection, save for a community rappel setup at the crux of the climb (a 5.6 downclimb from a tower on the ridge). So not only would I be doing my first real rock climbing, and not only would I be doing it with a bunch of hard core suffer-junkies, but I'd be doing so without a safety net.
As it turned out, my fears were largely unfounded. Not only did I not
fall off the side of a huge mountain and die, I actually had a
pretty good time. In fact, the best time I've ever had in the mountains without skis on my feet.
Photos and Trip Report