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Hiking with Sally to Conness Lakes

I love to hike up to the glacial fed Conness Lakes above Saddlebag Lake in early summer when they are sporting their melting ice but hadn’t hiked up this late in the summer. Would there still be snow and would those pretty tarns along the way still be holding water in them? My dog Sally and I were on a mission to find out.

Where: Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area, Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 8.87 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 10,094′ – 10,777′
Date: September 18, 2019
Maps: Falls Ridge and Buckeye Topogs
Dog Hike? Maybe

Sally and I camped at Saddlebag Lake Campground, close to several of my favorite hikes. To get to the campground, resort and trailhead, we drove to Saddlebag Lake Road, just east of the Yosemite National Park Tioga Pass entrance. In the past, we have taken the water taxi that Saddlebag Lake Resort has operated to cut our walking time down, but the Saddlebag Lake Resort is still closed. It suffered snow damage a couple of years ago and is not back in operation yet.

There is a trail that goes around the lake called the Saddlebag Lake Trail and you can start from either side of the lake. The west side is rockier but a little shorter and the east side trail is on an old road that was utilized by the Hess Mine. We took the trail on the east side of the lake because it is easier on Sally’s feet. Those rocks are abrasive on her paws, sharp and Sally had several days of hiking ahead of her on this trip. Since Sally had her summer coat, she wore her cold weather hiking jacket to help keep her a bit warmer. As we walked by a couple of tarns outside of the campground, a thin layer of ice had formed on one of them. I don’t know what the temperature was but I guess it was hovering around 32.

A storm was due in later in the day and the unsettled clouds were beautiful against the high peaks as we headed up the trail.

 

Some fall color was also showing up.

When we reached where the trail splits, I headed toward Greenstone Lake, then along the south side of the lake up to the inlet. There was a good trail along the lake but early in the season there isn’t so much of a trail and it is pretty boggy so we usually head around the north side of Greenstone Lake, staying higher, out of the wet stuff and away from the majority of mosquitoes.

We rock hopped across the inlet, the trail following up and along the creek into the Monroe Harvey Hall Research Area. This research area consists of 3,383 acres area set aside in 1933 to conduct research related to the soil and vegetation. Harvey Monroe Hall was a professor of botany at UC Berkley, helping to establish methods for conducting reciprocal transplant experiments, whereas plants were moved and studied in the habitats of similar taxonomic species. One of the specific things that they studied is how plants adapted to various soils and elevations. Climate change is just one of the things that they are capturing data on.

I could soon see the rocky mountain face that we were going up to the right of the waterfall and willows.

As I climbed up the granite, I looked back at Saddlebag and Greenstone Lakes.

There was a short scramble up and Sally beat me up to the top, looking at me as if she was saying “what’s taking you so long?”

We reached the bowl that the lower of the Conness Lake lays in with Mt. Conness in the background. 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 on the ship Sylph 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. He was married twice and had at least 12 children by my count. On the 1860 census, he is living in Georgetown, El Dorado County and lists his occupation as a Miner.

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.

The building clouds didn’t provide for great contrast on the picture taking front but it was still beautiful.

The lower Conness Lake (10,562′ elevation) is made of three lake sections and I easily rock hopped over between two of those.

I usually hike this in early summer when there is quite a bit of snow to go through to get to the second lake (10,679′ elevation) but that wasn’t an issue this late in the summer, so I headed up to the second lake a little farther east than I normally do to try and see the full length of the lake.

I walked along the north side of the shore then took to the granite to approach the third lake (10,761′ elevation) from the south side.

We didn’t stay at the upper lake long and headed back down but I couldn’t resist the temptation to follow the old flume associated with the Hess Mine down. There isn’t much left of it but if you look closely, you will spot remnants. From Lower Conness Lake, a ditch took the water.

Then what I imagine was a wooden flume anchored in the granite by metal stakes. If you look closer, sometimes you can spot a few planks of the old wooden flume.

Then the water was moved in a ditch.

From this point, I guess that the flume either hugged the hill or took off on a high wooden boxed flume. I still have some mystery to solve on the exact location of the remaining flume.

As I took off cross country to see if I could spot some of the old flume, I wanted to see if the many tarns in this area were still holding water this late in the summer. Most still were!

We walked along the side of one of the Wasco Lakes (10,320′ elevation).

Then I sighted a small tarn and some waterfowl were in it. I had to get a a little closer.

I had Sally sit and stay a good distance away while I tried to get a picture of them.

I sure didn’t want to cause those waterfowl any more distress, so we continued down, wandering by the tarns.

We met up with the trail and headed back along the east side of Saddlebag Lake where the bumblebees were busy working the pennyroyal.

Dog Hike?

This hike can be a good dog hike if your dog is up to it. The rocky terrain is very rough on a dog’s feet and I packed Sally’s boots just in case she got a sore spot on her paw or sliced her foot on one of those sharp rocks. Even if you think your dog’s feet are toughened up enough for this hike, you can have surprises so please be prepared. This is a good hike for Sally. It is above tree line so I can keep a good eye on her and let her run a little. There aren’t any rattlesnakes or poison oak and there is plenty of good, fresh drinking water for her all along the way. That means I don’t have to pack her water and that is a good thing! Sally has never had any problems drinking the water out of these higher elevations but some dogs may not be as easy as Sally on this issue. I think you need to know your dog and you may need to carry some water for them. This area also has bubonic plague and if you dog gets a hold of a critter such as a squirrel or mouse, this could be something to watch for after a trip in this area.

Here is some information from Inyo National Forest regarding their dog rules:

Traditionally, National Forests have welcomed dogs. However there are a few rules that apply to assure that you and other National Forest visitors have an enjoyable outdoor recreation experience. If you are camping with your pet, please practice the following:

  • Leave vicious or unusually noisy dogs at home.
  • During the day keep your dog on a leash no more than 6 feet long, or otherwise restrict its freedom to roam at will.
  • At night keep your dogs and other pets inside an enclosed vehicle or in a tent.
  • Developed campgrounds are for people, not animals. Please do not bring more than two dogs or other pet to any one campsite.

General rules for dogs within the Inyo National Forest:

  • Dogs are allowed for trips staying in the National Forest. Pet food must be stored the same as required for your food.
  • Dogs are prohibited, as are any other pets, on trips visiting the wilderness of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
  • Pets need to be on leash or under verbal command. Do not allow pets to chase or harass wildlife.

Doarama:

What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Conness Lakes Doarama

Maps and Profiles:

Conness Lakes Topographic Map

Conness Lakes Profile

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Hiking with Sally to Conness Lakes June 27, 2018

Hiking to Conness Lakes September 8, 2017

Hiking with Sally and Raven from Saddlebag Lake to Conness Lakes July 6, 2016

Backpack to Mount Conness August 26, 2014

Hiking with Sally and Raven to Conness Lakes July 3, 2014

Sources:

Saddlebag Lake Resort Home Page

Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area Management Plan

Harvey Monroe Hall Wikipedia

Mount Conness Wikipedia

Mount conness Summitpost.org

Conness Glacier Wikipedia

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