Diagram of a good hiking decision in Yosemite

Diagram of a good hiking decision in Yosemite (photo by Beth Pratt)

Mt Conness is my north star in Yosemite. During my frequent wanderings in Tioga Country, the peak provides a constant companion, revealing its varied faces depending on my vantage point or its mood. The light always casts a magical glow on the peak, nature's way of highlighting one of her stunning works of art.

When I began my hike up the Sierra Crest coming cross country from the Saddlebag Lake area, the smooth rock face of Conness gleamed under a blue sky. Yet when I reached the top of what I term "Yosemite's Granite Fence" (Conness marks the park's border), the light over the peak had darkened and the clouds glared at me with a threatening deep gray frown. I stood on the crest, looking down at the 1,000 feet of climbing I had just finished, and stared longingly at the route to the summit. Should I risk it? Could I beat the storm?

My planned route up Mt Conness (photo by Beth Pratt)

After leaving my peak-bagging twenties and even thirties behind, I have become less interested in where I am going and more in what I am seeing. Mortality, perhaps? I still love scrambling up a steep granite cliff, but trying to sprint down that same rocky path while thunder roars overhead and the electricity in the air causes my hair to stand on end no longer has much appeal. Watching the storm form at treeline seems much more fun and rewarding. I've been at 12,000 feet in a lightning storm and it's not really an experience I wish to repeat. So I acknowledged the clouds as the victors in the race to the summit, and dropped back down to the safety of cover. My friend, Mt Conness, will have to wait for my company some other day.

And my relinquishing of the summit was well compensated by the wonderful cloud watching opportunities my lower elevation hike provided. A enormous cumulus congestus cloud rose over Mt Dana, dwarfing the peak in size. Mt Conness is always there to visit, but magnificent clouds are ephemeral.

Cumulus congestus forming over Mt Dana in Yosemite (photo by Beth Pratt)Mt Dana looks pretty tiny under that cloud! (photo by Beth Pratt)