Day 5 - Great Sierra Mine to Cascade Lake (8 miles)
As the morning sky lightened after the overnight storm, I notice a lot of remnant clouds and worried how much hiking time we would have before the rain started again. From my advanced reading, the next few miles would test our cross-country skills to the maximum. But it continued to clear throughout the morning giving us a reasonable window to get the hard stuff out of the way. At this point we are way up on the Sierra Crest a short relative distance from Tioga Road with a goal of reaching the Cascade Lake area at the base of the climb to Sky Pilot Col. Had we started down in the valley near Saddlebag Lake (over a thousand feet below us) it would take but a couple of hours to hike on trails to Cascade Lake (or take the Saddlebag Lake boat shuttle and hike there in under an hour). Not on the High Route!
Right out of the chute we climbed to Mine Shaft Pass at 11,100 feet and descended briefly to a jumble of white and red slate that had to be traversed toward Mt. Conness. Roper says this section presents "a few class 2-3 problems." Uh, yeah... We struggled here for a while trying to find a route across the face until realizing the solution was to go up. Climbing a little higher onto the top of this traverse quickly solved the problem and got us back on steady footing. Soon enough we were in the heart of the Hall Natural Area, an idyllic spot for a day hike within easy reach of the Saddlebag Lake dam, passing by Spuller, Maul, and Green Treble Lakes.
|Traverse to Mt. Conness (middle back)|
|Green Treble and Maul Lakes|
|Mt. Conness and the east ridge loom|
Next up, crossing the east ridge of Mt. Conness. While not terribly difficult, if you are at all acrophobic, this will test your resolve. Roper calls it, "all the ingredients for a thrilling adventure: firm granite, airy traverses, and stunning views." Did I mention that Susan doesn't like scary heights? Did I also mention that I didn't tell her about this in advance? This is going to be fun! Up we went on a gentle climb of about 800 feet toward the ridge on excellent terrain until reaching a broad flat plain. Traversing the plain to the north edge of the ridge provided the first problem - a shear vertical cliff of over 1000 feet. I loved it, the view was incredible into a basin dotted with lakes with the massive North Peak looming over all. Susan sat back about 100 feet from the edge... The next problem, to get off the ridge required a class 3 scramble UP 300 more feet to an elevation of 11,300 feet. There, connecting to the east ridge, was a spur of granite leading off to the north, and with a little tricky route finding, mostly class 2 footing all the way down to the valley below dropping us right at the outlet of the lowest Conness Lake. It was definitely a thrill a minute.
|Cliff overlook to Conness Lakes Basin, Greenstone Lake, and Saddlebag Lake|
|Climbing east ridge|
|Descending the spur to Conness Lakes. What a ride!|
|After descent, looking back at spur leading down from east ridge|
From there it was a simple low ridge crossing that separated Conness Lakes basin from the Cascade, Mill, and Steelhead Lakes basin. Cascade Lake is outside the no-camping Natural Area zone and part of the very popular 20-lakes basin so we had lots and lots of company for the night. Oh, and yes it rained for a while, right as we were finding a campsite...
|North Peak (right), Mt. Conness (center), and the east ridge (left)|
|North Peak. Large mountains create their own weather.|
The storm descends over North Peak
|Home for another night|
Spuller and Maul Lakes