On Mothers Day
weekend of 2002, I jumped in my car and headed for
one of my favorite places on this planet -- Tioga
Pass. I skied up to the Conness Lakes and
climbed North Peak. The slopes of the peak and
the bowls below the Conness glacier offered superb
skiing. On the way home, I hit the roadside
attractions at Sonora Pass.
work Friday afternoon and battled the traffic out to
LiveNoMore and the Altamont Pass. From there it was
relatively smooth sailing through the central valley, where
I was greeted by a nice roadside CalTrans sign proclaiming:
"SONORA PASS OPEN". Picked up a pizza in Sonora
(leftover slices make for a good lunch on the trail) and
drove over the pass in the dark. Snow squalls turned
to an actual dump as I neared the top of the pass.
Driving slowly, and dodging deer, rabbits and other various
mountain varmints pleased at the advent of spring, I made it
down to Lee Vining in one piece. I drove up Highway
120, back into the clouds and snow, and pulled over at the
Yosemite park entrance. Curling up in the back of my
car, I drifted into sleep.
next morning at 5:30am, the temperature was a balmy 21
degrees and it was still snowing lightly. I drove down
to the Saddlebag Lake road, ate a bagel and packed my gear.
At around 6:30, I set off. Originally, I had planned a
loop trip up to the Conness Lakes, then up North Peak and
down the other side of the crest into Yosemite. I
would return by skiing over the crest between Mount Conness
and White Mountain, and back down Lee Vining Creek to the
car. Almost immediately, however, I could tell this
wasn't going to happen. Coming off of a week and a
half of inactivity due to a nasty cold/flu bug, I was
wheezing already on the relatively gentle grade up to
Saddlebag Lake. So I
start thinking about simply setting up camp at one of the Conness
Lakes and climbing North Peak and Conness from there.
bushwack across Lee Vining creek, I made it up to the dam
across Saddlebag Lake. The snow had abated by now.
The views back to Mt. Dana were incredible, as the storm
clouds were breaking up into blue sky. The lake was
frozen solid, so I skated out to the middle of the lake and
then headed up
towards the cirque between Conness and North Peak. I
made it to the upper Conness Lake, where I dropped my
overnight gear and headed up the south slopes of North Peak
with a lighter load. The route steepened considerably
(to about 35-40 degrees), making skinning futile. I
donned my crampons and kicked steps straight up the face.
I still wasn't feeling great, and my breathing was labored.
I resorted to talking to myself to encourage further progress --
"100 more steps before resting" quickly turned to, "c'mon,
just 25 steps before you can rest."
finally did make it to the summit of North Peak and was
rewarded with a 360 degree panorama of Northern Yosemite.
The views from the top of North Peak are tough to beat --
from Banner and Ritter in the south, all the way up north to
Sonora Pass and beyond. I snapped a few photos, peered
down the summit couloir, and made my way back down. I
was planning on skiing the SE face direct, but my pace up
the mountain was so slow that I felt it was too late for
safe avy conditions. Also, I was still hoping to get
over to Conness, and the SE face would put me too low and
require a lot of climbing to get back up into the cirque.
further west and dropped down the more gentle but still
quite steep south slopes to the upper Conness Lake.
The corn was superb! At this point (around 2:30pm), I
knew that Conness wasn't going to happen. As if to
underscore this fact, a decent-sized point release avy came off of
the rocks on the SE face of North Peak, sending a bunch of
snow down in an oozing mess. Hmmmmm, good
thing I didn't ski over there near those nice warm rocks.
for more adventure, but hoping to avoid the sunbaked south
faces, I skinned back up and headed for the toe of the
shaded Conness Glacier. At the bottom of the Y-couloir,
I skiied the nice north-facing bowl back to my camp.
Again, perfect corn.
camp, feeling dehydrated and hungry, I fired up the stove
and made some soup and melted some snow. It was now
about 4pm and I had a decision to make -- stay here and
freeze my ass off, or pack up and head out. Knowing
that I had to be back in the Bay Area for Mothers' Day
dinner the next day, and not relishing the thought of a
night in the cold while still feeling crappy, I chose the
nice dinner at the
Tioga Gas Mart (trust me, none other than the New York
Times called this a "shockingly gourmet oasis"),
I drove up to the base of Sonora Pass and passed out in the
back of the car. The next morning, I woke early and
skied some of the roadside attractions from the top of the
pass, including the central couloir of the "mini-Round Top"
peak just above the pass.
a map of my route up
North Peak from Tioga Pass.
on the link below to see the photos.