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Sonora Pass, September 10, 2016 - On the drive to Mammoth we (Frank, Stella, and I) took the same route over the Sierra. Frank and Stella left a couple hours before I did so that Frank would have time to ride his bike over Sonora Pass. As it turned out I arrived at the Pass itself a few minutes before Frank arrived at the pass. Stella was waiting in their car nearby.
Since I had passed him on the road I waited at the Pass for him.
While we were at the Pass we met Beth Dawson, her husband, Greg Whitehead, and Thomas Maslen as they were crossing the Sierra. They were headed eventually to Lone Pine where they planned to climb Mt. Whitney later in the week. I hadn't seen Beth since I participated in a group ride she led in 1994.
We learned that they would be staying in Mammoth for a couple of nights to acclimate. They expressed interest in joining us on our warm-up hike the next day.
|Cumulative climbing:||2320 feet|
San Joaquin Ridge, September 11, 2016 - We (Stella, Frank, and I) agreed to meet Beth, Greg, and Thomas at Minaret Vista at 1000 for a hike up San Joaquin Ridge. When we arrived on time at the small parking lot at the viewpoint, Beth, Greg, and Thomas were already waiting.
We started by snapping a group photo with the classic view of the Ritter Range in the background, then we all proceeded on the short use trail that connects to the wider jeep trail that runs as far as the first summit along San Joaquin Ridge.
The air was mostly clear and cool but comfortable as we set out, but over the hour or so that it took us to climb to the summit, I noticed the sky filling with puffy clouds that thickened to form a layer of stratus clouds, and the air temperature became warmer.
Beth was learning to use her hiking sticks. Since I had been using sticks for several years now (and won't now set out on a hilly hike without them), I gave her a few pointers.
Half way to the summit I stopped to water the bushes, allowing the group to press ahead without me. As I started up again, I found the effect of a small group of people huddled together in the distance in the wide open space to make an interesting photo.
By the time we got to the summit we had regrouped. After chatting for another 15 minutes we finally parted company. Beth and Co. were not looking for more than a short hike today, while Stella, Frank, and I had our goal set on Two Teats, another 2-3 miles up the undulating ridge.
Meanwhile it was clear we would be racing deteriorating weather. Being caught by a thunderstorm on the exposed ridge would not be prudent.
It was Frank who made the first move to press ahead, while Stella and I followed, hiking down the steep switchbacks to Deadman Pass. We regrouped on the climb up the opposite side of the Pass near the Spider Tree.
As we continued toward the Teats the clouds nearby began to coalesce. We could see virga falling over the forest to the east and over San Joaquin River Canyon to the south. A light breeze started up.
We ran into a single hiker descending who told us as she passed, "You're brave!"
Then not much further on we encountered three women returning from the Teats. They had decided not to eat lunch at the Teats but to choose a spot further down the ridge, closer to their jeep that they had driven up the road to the first summit.
As we climbed the penultimate summit below the Teats, still about 1km distant, I could feel my lungs straining at altitude as I was not yet acclimated. I noticed that we all were having difficulty finding energy to climb today. There was no longer a spring in our steps.
When we reached the top of this summit we paused to eat a snack, then took stock of our situation.
We could press on to the Teats and enjoy whatever view was to be had in deteriorating weather, then drag ourselves back to the car and the condo, wet and exhausted. Or we could turn back now, probably remain dry (though with no guarantee), and be ready tomorrow for a more ambitious day.
We had all been to the Teats previously, so none of us felt compelled to press on in spite. I prefered to visit on a day when we could tag on the same trip both the Teats and the summit of San Joaquin Mountain, the highest point on the ridge a short distance beyond. But, that would require more energy and enthusiasm than we could muster on this first day in the mountains.
In the end we decided to turn back. We blamed the deteriorating weather, although I suspect we all were a bit winded and weary, not wanting to exhaust ourselves on our first day in the mountains with an adventure. Besides that our hike today along the Sierra Crest gave us some of the best scenery of the week.
As we hiked down the ridge the clouds became angrier, especially to our south and west. Fortunately, on San Joaquin Ridge itself we remained in a pocket of clear air. So, we had an excellent view of a developing squall over the Ritter Range and of a small thunderstorm over Mammoth Crest with occasionally visible bolts of lightning striking points along the Crest.
We suffered a few sprinkles, but not enough to get us wet even if we had neglected to bring rain shells.
When we arrived back at the first summit along the ridge where the road ended, the three women were enjoying their lunch inside their parked jeep. As I walked by one of them offered me a ride. Since my left foot had been bothering me somewhat (plantar fasciitis or metatarsalgia, I'm not sure which) during this summer's hiking season I considered their offer briefly, but I politely declined. The ridge did not seem to be in imminent danger of a lightning strike, and it was only about a 45-minute walk from here back to Minaret Vista. Also, short of suffering a real injury, accepting a ride down seemed to go against the spirit of our shared outing.
As we arrived back at Minaret Vista, the clouds appeared to have passed their peak anger. The distant lightning strikes had abated, and the wind was calmer.
After we returned to the condo, I went for a short soak in the spa, then threw together dinner for the three of us. It was an early evening. After dinner while Frank and Stella caught up with their social media obligations, I retired to my room to watch a movie, then fell asleep before 2200.
|Cumulative climbing:||40 feet|
Mono Lake, September 12, 2016 - After getting good sleeps, we awoke with renewed energy. The weather was clear, and although the day promised to be breezy and cool in the mountains, weather would be perfect for a day spent east of the Sierra Crest.
The night before Frank had arranged to meet up with Frank Drobot and his wife, Maureen. Frank D. had just completed the Graniteman Triathlon, and he and Maureen had spent the night in Lee Vining, adjacent to Mono Lake.
At the leisurely hour of 1000 all five of us met in the parking area near the Mono Lake South Tufa Preserve, then proceeded to explore the towering tufas, minerals deposited by springs below the former water level of the lake, exposed over recent years due to Mono Lake's receding water level.
After exploring the towers we walked over to Navy Beach to examine the delicate sand tufas, castles in the sand that look as if they may have been built by a race of small aliens. As we continued walking eastward along the shore, away from the crowds, we ran into Erv Nichols, the local expert on native Osprey that live on or near the lake. The Osprey apparently build nests atop some of the more remote tufa towers.
After speaking with Erv we decided to save our feet for other adventures that day. So, we returned to our cars and proceeded to our next adventure.
|Cumulative climbing:||630 feet|
Panum Crater, September 12, 2016 - Panum Crater is the northernmost (and smallest) of the young dormant volcanoes, "Earth pimples", along the Mono Craters chain. Access is relatively easy at the end of a graded dirt road near the south shore of Mono Lake off CA120.
With Frank and Maureen Drobot the five of us hiked the short trail into the crater's plug. The crater's plug was filled with sharp shards of obsidian glass, and a sign near the start of the trail warned visitors not to wander off-trail.
We hiked up to near the highest point on the crater's plug. The trail continued for a short distance, then petered out on a steep slope of obsidian scree. We could see a trail continue on the other side of the scree, so we carefully made our way across the scree and continued for another short distance before what now appeared to be a "use trail" disappeared again.
Fortunately, we could see some distance away the large obsidian tower we had passed earlier on the official trail, so we made for that landmark.
After more scrambling on the sharp rock (and no broken skin), we regained the official trail near the tower, then returned to the crater's rim.
A short discussion ensued after which we all agreed to hike out to a high point along the rim that we could see offered a good view of Mono Lake. After we reached that point, we could see another higher point a short distance beyond. So, we pressed on.
After taking a group photo at that high point, we decided it would be just as far to continue around the rim back to the start or to retrace our steps.
After we got back to the parking area we said our goodbyes to Frank D. and Maureen who were driving home that afternoon. But, Frank, Stella, and I still had energy left for a third adventure.
|Cumulative climbing:||1220 feet|
Mono Craters, September 12, 2016 - Our third adventure of the day started a short distance from Panum Crater.
We drove out the dirt road from Panum Crater parking area to CA120. Then we crossed CA120 and continued for a couple tenths of a mile on a dirt road to a junction where there was just enough space for 2 or 3 cars to park without blocking the road and without venturing off the graded surface. I parked the van there.
Our hike continued up the road to the left that climbs the rim of one of the northwestern craters. What wasn't apparent until we were already under way was that our chosen road ended as the climb into the Craters began. What continued was an overgrown abandoned road. Fortunately, a footpath of sorts wound its way around the bushes and other obstacles, although even this use trail was overgrown by dry grass that easily shed seed pods that managed to find their way into the deepest recesses of our shoes.
At slightly over a mile from the van this abandoned road met up with another road that was not overgrown, but it looked nearly as impassable to all but the highest-clearance, fat-tired, four-wheel-drive vehicles due to the deep "kitty litter" pumice gravel that covered the entire area. Even walking up this road required more energy as our feet sunk a couple inches in with every step.
We stopped a short distance beyond the point we gained the less overgrown road and sat down to eat our lunches. After lunch we pressed on up the gravel road, each corner revealing a new view or interesting landscape.
As we climbed higher the terrain became more barren. Only a few trees and low shrubs manage to survive in this dry climate where occasional rain soaks deep into the ground.
We climbed until 1600, a time that didn't push dinnertime too late in the evening. At this point we had reached a veritable moonscape. The barren peak I thought we might have a chance to climb was now in line-of-sight, and I could see a faint use trail snaking up to its summit.
Although we had enjoyed our hike so far, our climb thus far and the morning's adventures had by this time drained us of enthusiasm to press on. We rested under the shade of a lonely pine tree, ate a snack, and enjoyed the unusual scenery for severeal minutes before retracing our steps and returning the same way to the van.
Another visit to Mono Craters with the intent to climb one of its summits is now on my "to do" list. A cool day or a day with forecast weather in the Sierra but not to the east would be a good time.
|Cumulative climbing:||1410 feet|
Treasure Lakes, September 14, 2016 - The day before all three of us took a rest day, although Frank did a short bike ride up the Lakes Basin Trail, and I did a short walk around and above the condo complex (photos in the "Mammoth Miscellaneous" activity). Poor Stella had come down with some sort of respiratory virus: sore throat, fatigue, and sniffles, but no fever.
Although Frank thought he might have caught Stella's virus, Frank felt like doing more than sit around the condo for another day. Stella decided to stay in and rest. So, Frank and I headed out to Mosquito Flat and hiked a ways up Little Lakes Valley with the idea of covering some new territory off-trail in this beautiful corner of the Sierra.
I wanted to explore the approaches to Mt. Dade via The Hourglass for a future climb. Today would not be that day as we had started far too late, not to mention Frank's budding illness. But, we could get to Treasure Lakes and if the way was easy, perhaps to the base of The Hourglass itself.
The night before had been cold with snow flurries at higher elevations. Areas in the shade were chilly, puddles on the trail were covered in ice, and a dusting of snow remained along the shady sections of trail. We wore jackets on the first half-mile to the junction with the Mono Pass Trail, where we found ourselves warm from the climb from the trailhead.
After shedding a layer or two we continued on the Morgan Pass Trail as far as the south end of Long Lake, where we departed from the main trail on a well-worn use trail that circles the west side of the lake. Not far from the main trail, the use trail splits. We continued on its left fork. My plan was to scout a route alongside Rock Creek to Treasure Lakes. As I suspected, this left fork led directly up the shallow canyon accommodating the upper reach of Rock Creek.
The trail was easy to follow as it skirted a meadow, then climbed through a patch of Sierra Willow. But as we climbed further it was clear we would have to navigate a shallow canyon filled with talus, not my favorite terrain. At least it wasn't a steep slope of talus.
After a few false leads that led up the wrong side-canyon, Frank decided to just forge ahead up the main canyon close to the creek, talus be damned. This proved to be the best route, and soon we arrived at the shore of the lowest of the four Treasure Lakes, where we stopped to eat a snack and to consider the route ahead.
The bottom of The Hourglass was best approached from the second-highest (and southwesternmost) of the Treasure Lakes that lay on the other side of a low berm to the west. One thing was clear upon examination of the adjacent terrain: Treasure Lakes are surrounded by mostly talus. Only a few locations would appear to offer comfortable resting or camping spots, and few use trails exist. Moving across the terrain required rock-hopping skills.
We made our way from the lowest lake to the second-highest. A faint use trail ran along its eastern shore. But, at its southern end rose a large rock with nothing but talus on a steep slope above.
Frank climbed a short distance up this rock, but neither of us was enthusiastic about exploring further today. Time was running short, and we still had some exploring yet to do on our return to the Morgan Pass Trail. We declared today's turnaround spot.
We retraced our steps to the north end of the lake so that we might take a good photo of the route to the base of The Hourglass, and we also visited the highest and smallest Treasure Lake, before returning to our earlier snack spot to consider our exit from Treasure Lakes.
We could descend alongside Rock Creek as we had climbed. It would be an uncomfortable slog over talus, but that was a devil we knew. I wanted to find a route over the low ridge to the east, separating Treasure Lakes from Gem Lakes. If we could find a way to Gem Lakes we would regain an official trail sooner and make faster progress on our return.
After a short discussion Frank felt he had enough energy for the added exploration.
We climbed to a low spot on the ridge to the east of the lowest Treasure Lake and found a cairn. This was a good sign that there was a way to the other side.
I pressed on to a spot where I could peer down at one of the Gem Lakes. It looked close, but I could not see all of the terrain we would encounter.
A bit of Class 3 scrambling might be in store. But, given that Gem Lake was so close we both felt it was worth continuing. That we had encountered a cairn suggested we wouldn't be cliffed out part-way down the other side.
The first obstacle was a large fallen tree with sharp pointy branches we had to climb over, then we had a mostly straightforward Class 2 walk down the slope below. I led the way, and Frank followed.
The one hardship we (or should I say "I") encountered was a hornet's nest tucked in a crack near the center of a slab we were descending, about half-way down to Gem Lakes. I suspect they may have been roused by the clacking of my sticks on the rock. As I paused beside the nest's opening, I heard increased buzzing surrounding me. These did not sound like flies. I saw a flash of yellow stripes on their abdomens, and then I was suddenly aware of my danger.
With speed and agility that surprised me—Frank said he had never seen me move so fast—I leapt back up the slabs in the direction I had come. Frank stood some distance above, a look of increasing alarm crossing his face. To Frank's credit he did not take advantage of the opportunity to photograph me in my moment of distress, but in hindsight I wish he had.
I felt a few of the flying venom delivery vehicles alight on me, but only one found its mark, under my arm, of all places. I was wearing dull, dark colors, long sleeves and long pants, and my hat offered some protection of my neck and face. Fortunately, I am not allergic to wasp venom, although the last few times I was stung I felt slightly ill for a short time afterward.
The wasps did not appear to be interested in following me for more than 30 or 40 feet from their nest. We could see them continue to swarm about the nest's opening, but after a couple of minutes they settled down.
The terrain near the wasps' nest was open enough that we could steer clear and get past them without rousing them again. This time I took care not to clack my sticks on the rock.
Not much further down the slope we found ourselves at a flat spot near the lake. A backpacker's pack was lying nearby, and soon its owner came into view. He had just retrieved water from the lake and was considering this camping spot. We told him we had come over the ridge from Treasure Lakes and had seen no one there, that he was unlikely to be disturbed again. We did inform him of the wasp nest that was too far up the slope to give him any trouble unless he planned to travel in that direction. He directed us to the use trail that would connect eventually with the Morgan Pass Trail.
Later as we stopped by the lake to eat a second snack and to view from a distance our descent route from Treasure Lakes, we saw him moving along the opposite shore to a different camp site.
After we finished our snack we hiked out to the Morgan Pass Trail and descended without incident to Mosquito Flat. By the time we arrived at the car, the sun had set behind Mount Starr, casting a lengthening shadow over the valley.
That evening I felt more tired than at any other time during the week, more tired than I would normally have been after a moderate-length hike. Whether it was the effect of the wasp sting or my body fighting Stella's and Frank's virus, or the post-adrenalin-rush let-down, I am not sure.
We got back to the condo just in time for me to put my hiking stuff away and to wash my face for dinner with Ron and Alice whom I planned to meet in town at the Good Life Cafe. Since Frank and Stella didn't want to risk exposing Ron and Alice to their illness, they ate in. After I returned from dinner I showered then went to bed early and slept well that night. The next day I felt fine. Even the welt left by the wasp sting had nearly disappeared.
|Bike Ridden:||Power Gold Rush|
|Cumulative climbing:||5200 feet|
|Avg. Speed (moving):||14.6 mph|
|Max. Speed:||49.1 mph|
|Nominal System Voltage:||24|
|Battery energy capacity:||2400 wh|
|Battery energy consumed:||782 wh|
|Battery Amps-Hour Used:||30.6|
|Peak Forward Current:||49.0 Amps|
Mammoth Tour, September 15, 2016 - We enjoyed a leisurely wake-up and late breakfast, but as the morning wore on we felt that today was a good day to take a bike ride. Stella was still feeling not quite well enough to go out and about, but Frank's budding illness had not progressed to the point that he felt similarly.
I floated the idea of riding up to Mosquito Flat to enjoy the new asphalt on Upper Rock Creek Canyon Road, but that meant Frank would need to drive his bike in the car to get closer to the area as the full distance to/from the condo would have been too far for him. After some discussion we decided to stay close to the condo and forego the need for driving a car. We settled on a ride over to Reds Meadow and back.
As I started down the steep hill into town I discovered that I had neglected to bed in my newly-installed brake pads. My front brakes got more than the usual workout.
We detoured to Minaret Vista for the obligatory photo, then descended to Reds Meadow.
I went slowly, alternately dragging and pumping my rear brake to help accelerate the pad bedding-in process. By the time I got to Reds Meadow my rear brakes were working adequately.
In front of the Reds Meadow Resort General Store we ran into Simone Marzonie who was delivering a couple of through-hikers to the trailhead. Simone and her partner, Scottie, run the Mammoth Taxi service and frequently shuttle hikers between trailheads in the eastern Sierra or between Mammoth and points more distant. She said she could even carry me and my bike if I found myself stuck somewhere in the mountains with no other available transport options. After learning the price ($75/hour—the clock starts when a vehicle is dispatched from Mammoth and stops when that vehicle arrives back in Mammoth) and taking her business card, I told her that her service could be a life-saver, but I hoped never to need to call upon it. We all laughed.
After we had climbed back to the kiosk at the pass, Frank decided he'd had enough for the day and would be heading back to the condo. I had a little more in my legs, so I added my full Mammoth Tour that looped into town then back up to shrinking Horseshoe Lake before returning to the condo. This time I rode clockwise around pretty Lake Mary as the afternoon sun dipped to the west.
Near the end of my ride at the top of the steep climb up Davison Road near Canyon Lodge, my motor drive chain popped off its chainring. This had never happened before. Then I noticed my chainrings wobbling. That explained why the motor chain came off. The bike chain has a greater tolerance for error, so it remained engaged. It was clear something had failed at the bottom bracket or in the crank. I suspected the crank freewheel.
Fortunately, I had only one more short hill to climb on my return to the condo. I was able to reset the chain and get a short distance up Mammoth Slopes Road before the chain popped off again. This time I got off and walked the bike up the rest of the short hill.
A post-mortem revealed that the crank freewheel lockring had come unscrewed. I had recently replaced the crank freewheel with a new ACS Crossfire whose lockring had not been welded closed. My previous freewheel lockrings had all been welded to prevent precession from unscrewing the freewheel while in use. I was fortunate not to be far from home when it failed.
Later, I was able to re-tighten the lockring, applying Loctite 271 "red" to the threads. If that doesn't hold, I'll have to get it welded.
|Cumulative climbing:||2040 feet|
East Ridge of Mount Conness, September 16, 2016 - The night before we discussed the following day's activity. I floated the idea of exploring the East Ridge of Mt. Conness, an area we had been wanting to explore to find an alternate route to the summit. I also felt that the shorter distance with easy bail-out options would appeal to hikers who were not feeling entirely healthy.
We rose early and managed to get out the door by 0830. (This is early for us.) The drive up to Saddlebag Lake took about an hour, but we didn't get on the trail until quarter to ten.
Although I had hoped to reach the summit plateau below the peak itself, our goal for the day was to complete the loop over the East Ridge and to have fun exploring its crest in the direction of the summit. We had all been to the summit of Mt. Conness, so none of us felt compelled to reach it today. Even if we had, the late start time would have resulted in a dark descent.
We started on what was now a familiar route that crosses the dam creating Saddlebag Lake, the catwalk over the spillway now accessible to hikers, then starts down a faint use trail across metamorphic scree ("klinkers") into the valley below (that I call unofficially, "Hall Valley") where we eventually connected near the Carnegie Research Station hut with a more heavily-used trail that ascends this valley from the Sawmill Walk-In Campground, the same trail we had climbed on our first approach to Mt. Conness.
We met a couple of women hiking up this trail from the campground. They were only planning to hike a short distance up the valley before returning to their car and a long drive home that day.
Not far from where this trail becomes more difficult to follow over slabs and through boulder fields and continues up the valley to the White/Conness Notch, we departed the trail, heading north, climbing low-angled slabs and grassy or sandy terraces toward the crest of the East Ridge.
We used Roper's† route to guide our approach to and descent from the East Ridge, and we were not disappointed. This segment of the Sierra High Route connected nicely to the segment immediately to the south that we explored from the same spot southward to Gaylor Lakes. As we climbed the view to the south opened broadly, revealing Mt. Dana and the terrain over which we traversed last year past Green Treble, Maul, and Spuller Lakes.
After climbing steeply for several hundred feet the terrain flattened into a broad rocky meadow that led us easily to the crest of the East Ridge. It was hard to imagine how the view from higher up the ridge could be better.
We paused to examine the climb up the East Ridge and to assess Roper's recommended descent to the north. Both looked doable. So, we started up the East Ridge.
At first the climbing was Class 2, and I led the way using my sticks. But as the terrain became steeper and the steps larger, I put my sticks away to free up my hands. At this point Frank took the lead, scouting ahead for the easiest route.
In places the ridge was broad or flat, and in others it was steep but never so steep that it felt dangerous or scary. Meanwhile it was hard not to be distracted by the view that only got better the higher we climbed.
After climbing to just below the nearest minor summit on the ridge we reached a sandy saddle. We discovered a USGS snow survey gauge and weather station anchored to the ground. Perhaps this was the station being serviced by the USGS employee with whom we communicated a couple of years ago while we were climbing Mt. Gibbs.
We crossed the sandy saddle and climbed up the west side toward the next visible high point on the ridge. Near the top of this point we found a sheltered spot at which to pause, enjoy the view, and eat another snack.
After finishing our snacks I led the way up over a jumble of rough granite flakes, and a short distance beyond I found myself on the edge of a notch in the ridge. How would I get across it?
Being tall I could see myself leaning across the notch, feet on one side, hands on the other, but I had difficulty visualizing my next move. I imagined that I might find myself spanning the gap but unable to move forward or backward without risking serious injury. Should I instead find a way down to the base of the notch, roughly 8 feet below, the 12-foot climb up the other side looked difficult.
Mere bumps in the rock that I supposed were the best hand/foot-holds were worn smooth. Perhaps wedging a foot in the large crack immediately opposite was the best move. But, whether doing so would provide adequate support was far from certain. The crack was too narrow to form a chimney one could shimmy up but looked too wide for all but the broadest of shod feet. Lastly, the notch itself was exposed on both its north and south sides.
While the arete west of the notch appeared walkable—it was a mere meter wide at its narrowest—the terrain dropped away sharply to either side. If more surprises lay in store for us out of sight further along this route, a retreat was probable. One of my rules when exploring technical terrain is always to anticipate a retreat, and if such a possibility exists, never to embark on a one-way route.
I could see that the down-climb into the notch on the return could be at least as challenging as the up-climb. Moreover the easiest up-climb from the notch to my current position involved significant exposure along a narrow rock ledge hanging over the north side of the arete that gradually led to easier terrain.
I waited until Frank and Stella joined me, and after a brief review of the situation, discussion, and noting that we were fast approaching our turnaround time, we decided to call this our turnaround point on the arete.
We took photos (one, two), enjoyed the view a bit more, then began our descent.
After we descended to the sandy saddle, I explored a chute that appeared to descend off the south side of the ridge where the slope below the arete suggested the least technical route to the summit plateau. I hiked down to a chock stone at the bottom of this chute, but terrain below the chock stone appeared to drop away more sharply, and I could not see all of it from above. Footprints in the sand were encouraging, but experience has shown that evidence of human passage along a route is no guarantee of through passage. Others may have considered the same route and found themselves backtracking, leaving many footprints in the process.
The chute below the chock-stone may have been an example of a one-way route that could be slid down but not climbed, at least not without great difficulty. Although I suspected a traverse was possible on the slope south of the lower part of the East Ridge that we had successfully climbed, I was not confident that the way would be easy. I certainly didn't want to risk that our only escape from the area was to climb back up this chute. The topo map, showing 200-300 feet of near-cliff terrain immediately below, was not encouraging. I climbed out of the chute, and we descended atop the ridge as we had climbed.
On a future visit where our intention is to find a route to the summit plateau we will approach the East Ridge as we had done. Then, instead of climbing atop the ridge itself we'll contour around the south side to a point directly above Alpine Lake, then diagonally climb its sandy southern slope, joining the summit of the East Ridge a few hundred meters from the summit plateau.
On the descent I used my sticks, and I found I made good time with their aid, giving me multiple opportunities to photograph Frank and Stella descending. At one point I looked down to see in the distance a party of three hikers on the same rock on which we had paused in the morning, enjoying the same view I had remarked upon above.
Before we got to the bottom of the lower part of the East Ridge, we veered off the ridge and onto the northern spur recommended by Roper† that leads to Conness Lakes. The way was mostly straightforward, although we had to cross a couple of deep slots whose walls were too high to climb or descend but for a few places. We also encountered our only patch of the prior winter's snow.
Mid-way down the spur we stopped for lunch. As we sat while enjoying the view, we examined the arete on the East Ridge and discovered that the notch that had turned us back was the least of the obstacles we'd encounter along that high narrow route, had we mustered the confidence to press on.
Further down the spur I made for a grassy saddle between Lower and Middle Conness Lakes. From there a steep grassy slope led to the well-worn use trail along the shore of Lower Conness Lake.
After we regrouped we proceeded down the use trail that we had last used in 2009 on our climb up North Peak. At the outlet of Lower Conness Lake the trail crosses granite slabs then descends alongside a pretty creek to Greenstone Lake below.
I waited for Frank and Stella beside Greenstone Lake on a large flat rock that makes for a perfect bench. We ate our last snacks while enjoying the late afternoon light on the surrounding terrain.
Our last walking segment followed the established trail along the western shore of Saddlebag Lake. We arrived back at the trailhead as the sun was preparing to set behind the East Ridge.
†Roper, S. Sierra High Route, Traversing Timberline Country. Seattle, Washington: The Mountaineers, 1997: pp. 194-195, p. 228.
Mammoth Miscellaneous, September, 2016 - These are photos from our trip that were incidental to the planned activities.
Frank and Stella's Mammoth 2016 web pages - For a different perspective see Frank and Stella's web pages of the same holiday.
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