Today is the second day of our fall season and just four days earlier we experienced a fall snow. The mountains in and around Yosemite National Park displayed its first dress of white. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve trekked through an early fall snow, so Conness Lakes which is above Saddlebag Lake is the destination for three hikers. Clem Bingham, Fred Cochran and I are ready for this new fall snow experience.
All along Highway 120 climbing out of Yosemite Valley toward the east gate the snow accumulation along the road was around three inches. Three hours had passed since we departed from Oakhurst and finally we arrived at the Saddlebag Lake Trailhead. Departing from the shelter of our warm car and opening the door to 18 degrees was quite a shock. Lucky for us the trail around Saddlebag Lake had a small foot path from a few previous hikers. The snow depth following this shoreline was three-to- fourteen inches.
The first three miles was hiking the southern bank of Saddlebag Lake toward Greenstone Lake. Along this water source was a bright blue object and in the distance along its western shore line, perched on a cliff overlooking the lake was a brown object. Yes, these were tents of a few brave adventurers who had spent the night. We gave them a friendly hello and proceeded trudging through the snow to our destination of Conness Lakes.
After boulder hopping across the run-off stream which flows from the lakes above us, we started our climb. The trail follows to the right of a 60-foot waterfall that is the source of our stream crossing. I was surprised that this section of these mountains was not as difficult as expected. The snow offered some resistance but the challenge was offset by the views along this route. Looking down at the lakes snuggled into the valley with the winding stream and the early dress of white created a memorable view for my camera lens. Only one 30-foot difficult area of elevation gain was created with the addition of snow. At least this slot had decent hand holds to offset the added challenge.
Three years ago, the three of us hiked over Dore Pass on the opposite side of this valley from Lundy Lake mining area to Saddlebag Lake. This was another historic route that the miners experienced while bringing in their equipment to the Great Sierra Mines and the new town of Bennettsville in the 1870s. There were no roads then and Tioga Pass Road wasn’t completed until 1882. Then it was called “The Great Sierra Wagon Road.”
After almost four hours of hiking, we arrived at Conness Lake nestled just below the route to the two upper lakes. Above them is the striking snow covered view of the Conness Glacier. The only difficulty of hiking in late September is our daylight was restricted making for less hiking time. The delay of trudging through snow forced us to start our departure before viewing the upper lakes.
The temperature did increase to 41 degrees, which in turn thawed out the surface area, causing our boots to sink deeper in the snow drifts. Overall, this was a rewarding adventure experiencing another trail at the eastern end of Yosemite National Park within the Hoover Wilderness.
Our time frame trekking into this area was almost 14 hours round trip from Oakhurst. The snow did delay the normal hiking time of a day hike, but I could not pass up the experience of trekking this area with summer snow.
I would recommend this hike during the hiking season as a day hike, but keep in mind that this area offers additional trails to experience if you decide to stay overnight.