This was an end-of-the-season SMS trip which, due to lack of second leader, had to be converted into a private trip. Participants in our small group were Ruth von Rotz, Guerman Golubyatnikov, Tetsuo Fukuchi and his friend John(?), and yours truely. Two traveled on foot, the rest on telemark skis.
On Sat morning we met at the start of the Saddlebag Road, which was open so that we could drive the 2mi to Saddlebag Lake. We hiked the mainly snow-free trail on the left (south) side of Saddlebag Lke. At the end of the lake we hiked/skied toward the Conness Lakes which were partially open. Near the lower lake we set up camp on dry sand near whitebark pines.
On Sun morning we skinned up the slopes east of Conness aiming for the North Couloir. Since it was a warm and sunny spring day the snow soon softened up. It was possible to ski up the North Couloir but most in the group hiked it with ice axe and crampons. The ridge to the summit was free of snow so that the ascent became a regular cl3 rock scramble. By midday we all sat on the summit and enjoyed the splendid views. We ate lunch, took pictures, signed the register and returned.
The return on foot went well, but descending the North Couloir posed some surprises: Tetsuo did a high-speed (i.e. uncontrolled) glissade and barely missed a rock outcropping. Most everyone plunge stepped down the couloir and I did mostly kick turns on my 210cm Tua Toute Neiges. Guerman, a sporty young man from Russia, had ascended Conness with great ease but when it came to downhill skiing he became very frustrated with our "toothpick" telemark skis. After many falls he finally joined the hikers. Upon returning to basecamp we relaxed, prepared our dinners and later watched a full moon rise.
Mon we hiked out the same way we came in. It turned cool and windy and one participant caught a cold and breathing trouble. But we all made it slowly and safely back to the cars. Then it was a long haul home. But climbing and skiing Conness was fun.
A few years later (Apr 5, 1998) I tried to ski Conness as a day tour from Tioga Pass Resort. What a different experience that was: Winter weather, continuous deep snow everywhere, Saddlebag was solidly frozen and I skied straight over it. But when I was in the North Couloir a rapidly moving weather front came in. Clouds sank and I was in a white-out. The Conness ridge was snowed in and corniced. I had to give up the summit bid in order to get back before getting snowed in. Challenging navigation in a whiteout (prior to GPS tools). Another close-call solo trip.
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