Conness South West Face 2010

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Template:TripReportInfoBox The South West face of Mt. Conness had been one of my Sierra climbing objectives for many years. Steep, at high altitude and speckled with horrible off-widths, it has all the ingredients for a prescription epic. Some years back, I climbed the west ridge with a partner that refused to run belays and we ended up sleeping in the ridge. That was a three dog’s night, and we resorted to the hugging bivy technique. Now I was back on the same peak, ready to move faster and determined not to use my harness as my pijamas again.

Javier in the South West face of Mt. Conness, September 11, 2010

The Mt. Conness map: <googlemap version="0.9" lat="37.949748" lon="-119.251957" type="terrain" zoom="13"> 6#B2E2135C 37.949748,- 119.251957 </googlemap>

After not finding Brian the night before, I woke up at 3am with the hopes to find him sleeping around the Saddle Back Lake. Lucky me, he was there sleeping by the climbing bimmer (that’s how we call his bmw with the trunk full of chalk dust). I woke him up and encouraged him to get the show on the road. After all, I had come from the Bay area the day before, just to do this climb and leave the day after. Brian has a proverbial motivation, and he was ready in a minute. He offered me some of his protein shake, called “muscle milk” that in case you run across it, I encourage you not to drink it. That concoction gave me some difficult times during the approach. Anyhow, by day light we were in the shoulder of Mt. Conness, ready to drop in its west side. You see, climbing Conness is a mega trekking. We were pleasantly surprised to find running water in the shoulder, that came very handy later that evening during the descent.

The South Face is a formidable obstacle defended by mythical run-out sections and notorious off-widths, at least that is its reputation. I had cut a deal with Brian to divide the risks of the climb in to two equal parts, we thought. I would do the off-width sections; he will in turn lead the run-out second pitch, which at 5.10c sounded very un-appealing. As a tip he offered to lead the first choosy pitch also. During the first pitch I got a funny feeling in my fingers, probably due to the cold, and I could not feel the rock. I was jamming fingers very insecurely. The pitch was very chossy and there was water running here and there. Brian did a fabulous job leading that thing, and I was very happy not to be in the sharp end. However it became obvious that our bag pack’s weight was not consistent with the effort required for that route at that altitude and without acclimatization. That became more obvious to me while pulling the 5.10c moves with the monkey on my back. What a workout! Again, Brian did the super leading job on the second pitch. The first crux (5.10a) involved a sketchy and unprotected face move to the left. The second crux (5.10c) required delicate thin hand jamming over a lip. But what gave Brian the chills was a lay back on a flake to the left, then a lay back on another flake to the right to finally a place where he could set an orange alien.

I took the third pitch that brought us just under the first off-width pitch. The first off-width is really a easy chimney that you can climb with dignity to its left. Hands and off-hands cracks followed, never too hard. I was in a roll so I decided to link the second off-width pitch, and that my friend, was a mistake. I didn’t place much pro as the climbing was easy, but there were lots of flakes. As a consequence I found myself at the end of the second off-width pitch with a drag tension in the rope that felt just like my guitar strings. Suddenly the off-width became unpalatable. Before every move I had to pull 1/2 foot of slack in the rope and move fast before the slack disappeared. Then, providence came to the rescue by jamming the Valley Giant #9, which made me hang off the camalot #5 for 20min while I got that over sided piece out. That gave me a chance to recover from an imminent syncope. I finished these two pitches with Brian simul-climbing at the other end of the 70m rope. Now it was Brian’s turn to suffer dearly while carrying a heavy pack hanging from his daisy while in an off-width at altitude. We estimated the pasage though that pitch at 4000 calories each.

I run together the next two pitches, which involved a 5.10b traverse while protected by some Hardin's legacy bolts to a grainy crack that ravaged Brian’s hands and fingers. To end the pitch with grade V style there was a flare at its end that turned into a squeeze chimney where some foot stacks were in order. I took the next 200’ pitch on mostly 5.8 cracks to a class 3 groove. Brian did the next and last two pitches, the last of which was a 5.9 corner.

We finished the climb at 6pm and descendend to the car, which we reached by 10:30pm after getting lost, just a bit. At the end of the trail we found ourselves on the other side of the river, which Brian solved by crossing on his shoes. I wanted to get to the car badly also, but took the time to remove my shoes. Over all we started hiking at 4:30am, began climbing at 9:00am, finished the climb at 6:00pm and were back in the car at 10:30pm. Now, we don't have to do that climb again!