By: Tina Stough
It had snowed in the Sierra seemingly everywhere but the Tioga Pass area, that is, until I arrived. I got to the Junction Campground (free!) at the junction of Highway 120 and the Saddlebag Lake Road at about 7:00 p.m. Friday the thirteenth. A few minutes later it began to snow lightly which continued much of the night. Yet in the morning all ten of us were there ready to go despite several changes in plans. First of all, the road to Saddlebag Lake was still closed (it was open earlier In June five years ago), so that added two miles and more to our hike to camp. Second, camp needed to be changed from the proposed Conness Lakes area to Greenstone Lake because of a day-use only area surrounding North and Conness. No problem.
On the way in, I led us around the west shore of Saddlebag Lake, which though shorter. Was probably more of a nuisance because of some posthollng and working through lumps of snow left by avalanches as well as some sun streaks and cups. At 11:00 we set off for North, generally following the drainage of Conness Lakes. Rather than go all the way to the highest of the lakes and then up to North, we went up the southeast slope from the lowest lake, angling to the gap between the rock towers along the skyline. The new snow added a bit more work, but kicking steps went generally quite well, especially when Tim Keenan, Matthew Richardson, and Randall helped break trail. At about 11,200' where the slope steepened, we put on crampons for more purchase on the underlying consolidated snow, adding a lot of security to our climb. The route went nicely as we skirted the cornice on the nght and reached the summit slope only about 250' from the summit. Because it had begun to snow, we didn't spend a long time on top.
On the wav down, the snow was a nuisance, balling up under our crampons, but we made it back to camp in good form at about 3:30. Unfortunately, happy hour never materialized because of rain. After several hours of rain, we decided that hiking out sounded good since some of our tents were growing puddles and I was wrestling with a cold (it won). Tim and Matthew signed out to stay there and possibly climb the next day. The only snag was that when we started out we expected Gene Mauk to be with us, thinking he had heard the call to leave and agreed with it. So he seemed to be missing though he was actually just snug in his tent, out of earshot. Once found. he signed out rather than hold up the group, but he came along on his own, arriving only ten minutes after I straggled in to the cars.
On the wav back we took the trail/former road around the east side of Saddlebag. Though some snow on the road was a nuisance and It was longer, most thought It was better than snow on the west side. Darkness set In Just before we reached the paved dirt road back to the highway, but with good moonlight, we didn't need flashlights for the rest of the walk. We were at the cars a little after 10:00. SeveralóRandali, Gene, Bob, and Steve Bruley -- agreed that sleeping at my house In Independence sounded good. Bob Wyka, Ali Aminian, and Paul Graff, carpooling together, staggered on down the highway home. Thanks to all for taking the changes and weather in perfect stride!
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