A Yosemite Dream Trip

Mount Conness Loop
  |  Gorp.com
Meadow and stream near Mount Conness
Hike the High Sierra

On this rugged Yosemite loop you'll reach the splendid timberline country of the High Sierra only a few hours after leaving your car. For decades I've repeated this late summer hike because of its variety. If you get jaded by the somber, gray granite, relax: soon you'll thread your way across blood-red slate. The steep slabs are tiring? Think of the gentle meadows and sandy lakeshores just ahead.

Leave your car in the Wilderness Parking Lot a mile up the Tioga Pass Highway from Tuolumne Meadows. This is also the place to get a permit for the loop if you haven't done so already by mail. Walk east up the highway for two miles until you reach the Gaylor Lakes Trailhead; there's no road sign, so watch carefully for the subtle trail marker on your left.

Follow the path north as it ascends a gentle slope blanketed with lodgepole pines. After two miles you'll emerge into meadowlands dotted with shining granite boulders. Referring to the Tioga Pass quadrangle — an essential map for this walk — proceed to the uppermost Gaylor Lake. The trail peters out in this area, and for the next few days you'll wander cross-country, over hill and dale.

Head north up a rocky slope to the remains of the Great Sierra Mine, where a century ago bearded miners grubbed not too successfully for silver. Just above here you'll reach the crest of the Sierra, with marvelous views to the south. Traverse north half a mile to an obvious saddle, then drop down a few hundred feet to a wide bench. During the next few miles you'll gradually descend north, passing many small lakes, into a broad valley.

The next segment is thrilling, for you'll touch the alpine world as you cross the airy east ridge of 12,590-foot Mount Conness. Work north up gentle slabs, then climb talus to a glistening granite ridge left of a prominent saddle. Move up the ridge a few hundred feet, then carefully wend your way down a steep, rounded buttress to the Conness Lakes. If you encounter snowfields, as you will in early summer, avoid them in the morning when they are flint-hard and dangerous.

At the Conness Lakes, sheer granite walls cup you on three sides; the silence will astound you. Cross the low ridge to the north and you'll soon reach my favorite northern Sierra locale, Cascade Lake. Glacier-polished slabs, interspersed with flower-strewn meadows, ring this classic high-mountain lake. Next, zigzag up the imposing cliff toward the broad saddle directly to the west. Soon you'll again straddle the Sierra crest, high in the sky at 11,240 feet. Move north a ways, then drop down a steep slope to Upper McCabe Lake. From its south shore head up snowfields or talus to a prominent pass just to the south. Now descend a gentle mile to reach narrow, austere Roosevelt Lake. The three Young Lakes are visible not far to the south, and from the lowest of these placid ponds, a trail leads south, past Dog Lake and Lembert Dome, directly to your car.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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