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Backcountry ski and snowboard gear, camping

July 2004 


... Continued

Leaving work on Friday, I was dreading the standard haul through the Livermore Valley and out over Altamont Pass.  Having driven most of the Bay Area trouble spots, I think I can safely say that there is no worse traffic conflagration than I-580 east on a Friday afternoon.  And it doesn't get much easier once you get out to the Central Valley, because traffic is usually stopped from Tracy all the way into Manteca.  It astonishes me that some people choose to live in these shitbox towns.  An irrigated wasteland with stifling heat, an abundance of jacked up pickup trucks (none of which is without at least two Oakland Raider stickers), bad fast food and Richard Pombo is your congressman.  Man do we need an east-west bullet train in this state!

As much as I hate the 580-205 corridor, there really isn't much of an alternative to get to Yosemite.  But I was so sick of the Altamont drive that I was willing to experiment.  I drove through the Caldecott Tunnel from Berkeley and wound my way through the Diablo Valley to Highway 4, intending to follow its twists and turns through the delta (another lovely place to lay down roots).  In Shitsburgh -- er, I mean Pittsburgh -- I hit an absolute standstill which persisted pretty much until the freeway's end in Antioch.  It took about an hour to travel 10 miles -- about the same rate as the 580/205.  But once past Antioch and Brentwood, I flew along the rural roads -- first in the delta country, then in the farmland of the central valley.  I snaked my way down several backroads with no traffic until I popped out onto Highway 120 right before Oakdale.  Despite the Pittsburgh snafu, I figure I saved nearly an hour.  I rolled into the Saddlebag campground near Tioga pass around 11pm and promptly crawled into the back of the wagon for some shut eye.

5:30am was the wake up call.  I rolled out of the car, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and downed a banana.  I walked down to the main parking lot and found about ten people milling about and fiddling with various items of hiking and climbing gear.  This must be Bob Burd's group.  Who else would convene a 6:00am assembly and be so chipper about it?  I introduced myself, there was about five minutes of chit chat, and then the group was off to the races.  6:10am departure time.  Pretty much right on schedule.

Because I still wasn't totally comfortable soloing fourth and fifth class rock, I decided to accompany Bob and several others on their climb of North Peak first.  The NW ridge of this peak is supposedly rated 5.3, but prior reports put 99% of the climbing at 3rd and easy but exposed and fun 4th class.  The 1% of 5th class climbing can be avoided by some artful routefinding and dropping below the ridge.  I figured this would be a good shakedown for the north ridge of Conness.  If I wasn't comfortable on North Peak, I'd simply reverse the route and do some more moderate hiking instead.

We started hiking at a brisk but comfortable pace along Saddlebag Lake and through the gorgeous Twenty Lakes Basin.  I hung near the back of the pack and chatted up Tom and Michelle from Oakland.  Michelle planned to do the entire Sierra Challenge while Tom was along for first couple of days.  Near Wasco Lake, they peeled off to head up directly to the North Ridge of Conness.  I hung back and then hiked for a ways with Sam Mills, whose many posts and photos I had seen on Summitpost.


Note:  clicking on any photograph will present a full screen version.

Onward March.  Bob leads the way along Saddlebag Lake.  Shepherds Crest pokes up right of center, while our goal -- the NW ridge of North Peak -- is just visible in the sunlight at left.

Kook Chutes.  These chutes off the east shoulder of North Peak usually hold snow year round and are a popular ski spot for those folks who like to earn their turns year round.  There is some disagreement as to how these chutes got their name, but both stories are pretty interesting.

Above Steelhead Lake.  Some of the group seen hiking up the grassy benches above the Twenty Lakes Basin.  Shepherds Crest rises above.  A determined snowpatch is holding out high up on Sky Pilot Col.

North Peak.  The first goal of the day -- North Peak -- seen from above Steelhead Lake.  The NW ridge climbs the steep ridge to the prominent bump on the right side of the photo.


NW Ridge.  A close up of that "bump".  The funnest part of the route was the steep section on the right side.  After that it was mostly class 1 and 2 walking up sandy slopes to the summit.

North Peak Couloirs.  The beautiful but intimidating chutes on the northeast side of the peak.  It's hard to believe looking at this photo (which seriously exaggerates the angle), that we skied the righthand chute about a month earlier.


Starting up the Ridge.  Above the grassy benches, the transition to the solid granite ridge is pretty dramatic.




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