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Backpack to Mount Conness

When I am hiking in the Tioga Pass area, I always look for those unique peaks that serve as landmarks and Mount Conness is one of those, but I have never been to its top. When a hiking buddy mentioned backpacking to it via Young Lakes, I jumped at the chance.

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 20.31 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 8,597′ – 12,302′
Date: August 14 to August 15, 2014
Maps: Falls Ridge Topographic Quad

Some sources say that Mount Conness is the highest peak in the Sierra Nevada north of Tioga Pass Road (Highway 120). I don’t know if that is true but I do know that its elevation is listed at 12,649′ and it has the second largest glacier in Yosemite after Mount Lyell.

Mount Conness is named for John Conness (1821–1909), a native of Galway, Ireland who immigrated to the United States in 1833. He arrived in California via Panama in 1849, engaging in mining and mercantile pursuits in El Dorado County, but by 1853, he was a member of the California Legislature. He served from 1853 to 1854 and from 1860 to1861, and then was the United States Senator from California from 1863 to 1869.

On March 28, 1864, Conness introduced Senate Bill 203, known as “The Yosemite Valley Grant Act. The legislation would by federal action, grant to the State of California the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. The purpose of the bill was that the property “shall be inalienable forever, and preserved and improved as a place of public resort.”

No money was appropriated in support of the bill and no supporting legislation provided for federal administration of the areas. It did not establish the National Park, which came later in 1890. The Yosemite Valley Grant Act passed on June 30, 1864 and was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

My hiking buddy, Steve, picked up our Wilderness Permit at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center the day before we left and we spent the night in the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. The first morning we drove to the Lembert Dome-Dog Lake Parking Lot and parked, just east of where the Tioga Road crosses the Tuolumne River. This got us just shy of a mile closer to the trailhead, which started right by the bathrooms at the parking lot.

We headed up the trail to Young Lakes, taking a lunch break at the lower of the Young Lakes.

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We took a little break for lunch at Lower Young Lake.

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We weren’t sure whether there would be drinking water up at our campsite, so we filled up at Upper Young Lake and packed some extra water with us. We then followed a use trail for about 2 miles, crossing a small creek, then headed up that last stretch of elevational gain to a meadow where we camped for the night. That last stretch was hot and tough with that extra water that I was carrying but I managed to catch whiffs of pennyroyal and noticed some flowers that looked a lot like Mariposa Lillies along the trail but they were so much shorter than the ones that I was used to. They were very pretty.

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As soon as we arrived at our campsite at about the 10,600′ elevation, we were greeted by some of the meadow’s residents. Steve said that he thought this was a male Marmot but I didn’t notice that small detail because I was snapping pictures. I think this is a Yellow-Bellied Marmot and the side of his face was kind of scarred. I read that this type of Marmot can live to be up to 15 years old and for some reason, Mr. Marmot looked like he was older.

Marmots live in colonies of about ten to twenty individuals. Each male marmot digs a burrow soon after he wakes up from hibernation, then he starts looking for females, and by summer may have up to four female mates living with him. Litters usually average three to five offspring per female and only about half of those pups survive and become yearlings. Marmots have a “harem-polygynous” mating system in which the male defends two or three mates at the same time.

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A few minutes after Mr. Marmot visited, a different marmot came over to say hi. This one was much fatter.

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Then this squirrel came over to see what all of the commotion was about. I think this might be a Belding’s Ground Squirrel.

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After all of that social activity slowed down, I took a walk around the beautiful green, grassy meadow, checking out all of the unique small tarns that were fed by small creeks.

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This small tarn was teeming with tadpoles.

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I worked my way up one of the small streams that fed this meadow and this is what I found. http://youtu.be/2a8iFPeyUFU

I also could clearly see the use trail that we would be heading up in the morning to get to Mount Conness. It sure looked like a lot of uphill to me.

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The sun left us early that evening since we were nestled in a meadow, far below the peaks that surrounded us. The light winds had also calmed down and gave us crystal clear reflections in the small tarns. The alpenglow cast on the surrounding mountains was glorious!

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I woke up before the sun and walked around the meadow, capturing the amazing reflections in the tarns. It was very quiet and peaceful and apparently I had woken up before Mr. Marmot.

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We headed up on our push to Mount Conness about 0700, before the sunlight had touched the meadow floor. I looked back and could get a better appreciation for the mosaic of tarns that had been created by the small streams. I had brought up a fanny pack to wear for this stretch of the hike and was also most appreciative for the small amount of weight I was carrying up the final 2,000′ or so of elevational gain. We continued to follow a pretty well defined use trail but the decomposed granite and rocky areas required my attention to not trip.

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We reached the plateau, which reminded me a lot of Dana Plateau. It was much easier walking from here, not as steep, rocky or uneven.

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Looking back from the plateau.

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And looking up to where we were headed, we could see the tip top of Mount Conness above the snow patch.

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When we reached the snow patch, the summit was in clear view. I was amazed to find pockets of flowers nestled in tiny cracks adjacent to the rocks.

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We reached the base of the summit block where there were three concrete markers and a couple of rock enclosures. I understand that the summit is marked by three reference marks, one being on top of one of the two nearby concrete pillars, but this rock and concrete cairn was very interesting. It was so interesting that we just had to take our pictures next to it with the peak of Mount Conness behind us.

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As soon as I reached this point, I knew that I wasn’t going to even try and walk up that last part of the peak but Steve wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass him by. I was perfectly content to check out the view from this point and take pictures of him as he climbed.

The Yosemite Decimal System is a system that rates the difficulty of walks, climbs and hikes. These descriptions of these ratings are as follows:

• Class 1: Walking with a low chance of injury.

• Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possibility of occasional use of the hands. Little potential danger is encountered.

• Class 3: Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.

• Class 4: Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.

• Class 5: Technical free climbing involving rope, belaying, and other protection hardware for safety. Un-roped falls can result in severe injury or death.
An optional protection rating indicates the spacing and quality of the protection available for a well-equipped and skilled leader. The letter codes chosen were, at the time, identical to the American system for rating the content of movies:

• G: Good, solid protection.

• PG: Pretty good, few sections of poor or non-existent placements.

• PG13: OK protection, falls may be long but will probably not cause serious injury.

• R: Runout, some protection placements may be very far apart (possibility of broken bones, even when properly protected).

• X: No protection, extremely dangerous (possibility of death even when properly protected).

Summitpost.org rates this hike from the direction that I took it as a Class 2, but in my opinion, that final climb has your rear end hanging way out with nothing to block your fall if you make a wrong step. That is why I decided that final climb was not for me.

But lookie at the views I had from my location! I could see so many of my favorite lakes that I like to hike to. Conness Lakes, including the highest one that I had not been too yet, were an emerald green. Greenstone and Saddlebag Lakes, Green Treble and Maul Lakes, Spuller and Fantail Lakes plus Cascade and Steelhead Lakes were easy to pick out of the landscape.

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Steve started his walk up to the top and I took some pictures of his journey and arrival at the tip top.

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Looking toward the west with Mount Conness and the moon.

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Panoramas from the base of the summit block.

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One more set of pictures and we started headed down the hill, back to our campsite where we had an early lunch, packed up and headed back the same way that we had come in.

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Once we hit the flat area where we can see Mt. Lyle, we also could see some active smoke from one of the fires.

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We made a little bit of a wrong turn on the way back and ended up going around the wrong side of Lembert Dome. I was pretty darn tired and couldn’t wait to get back to the car, but we did get some bonus miles by going this route and we made it back to camp in time for Happy Hour! It was all very good!

Backpack to Conness 62Sources:

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005
Day Hikes in the Tioga Pass Region, John Carroll O’Neill & Elizabeth Stone O’Neill, 2002

Prior Blogs on the Area:

Hiking with Sally and Raven to Conness Lakes
Hiking with Sally and Raven to Bennettville to Green Treble Lake
Young Lakes Hike
Bennettville to Spuller Lake Snow & Ice Hike

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