Not knowing exactly what to expect, I was a little nervous as the mini-plateau narrowed and I approached the shattered bump of rock that marked the start of the knife-edged arete section. Sure enough, the ground soon dropped away sharply on both sides, and what had previously simply seemd like a little bump at the end of the plateau turned out to be an airy perch. I could now survey most of the knife-edge ahead of me: roughly 700 yards of narrow, shattered, jagged rock, interrupted intermittently with ridge-crossing clefts.
Reminding myself that Secor et. al. had described this as a class 3 route, and remembering to be extra careful while being out here alone, I started my way along the crest of the ridge. It was exhilarating, and - for the first few minutes - not all that bad. It reminded me at this point of the knife edge on Katahdin in Maine. Airy but walkable.
I then came to the first of the 'clefts' - gaps, perhaps 20 or more feet deep, that cut across the ridgecrest. At this point the ridge was only about two feet wide, and carefully peering into the gap, I didn't see any class 3-ish way to get down. If I had been with others, I might have been more adventurous. But I had promised myself nothing more than class 3 while alone, so I began looking for alternatives.
The terrain on the north side of the ridge was quite steep; less so on the south. So, I began searching on that side for a way to get off the crest and down a bit. This, perhaps, was one of the points talked about in various trip reports where folks had resorted to 'class 3 ledges' just south of the ridgeline. I soon located a vertical but well-enclosed chimney, perhaps 30 or so feet high. It looked like I'd be able to scramble down it, although it was a tight squeeze in places.
It took me quite a while to figure out how to safely descend the chimney. Eventually I was forced to take off my camera bag and pack and squeeze myself and each of them through the narrow bits one by one. I took a little break when I had finally fully descended the chimney.
The terrain leading west from the bottom of the chimney looked promising. There was indeed a sort-of ledge that led in that direction, perhaps 20 feet below the crest. The rock here was fractured vertically, creating many upright flakes that offered excellent, bomber holds. Saddling up with all of my gear, I started west, and found that I could move fairly easily along through here. I was confident this was the 'class 3' ledge I had seen described in the reports.
In addition to offering relatively easy side-scrambling, this route also had the advantage of not having to deal with the clefts along the ridgeline, since it ran at roughly the level of the base of the clefts.
I was able to more or less regain the crest as I neared its western end. Gradually, the terrain on the south side of the ridge began to merge with the main southeast bulk of Mt Conness. On the north side, the sheer cliffs continued westward, transitioning to form the headwall cliffs of the Conness Glacier.
I made for the most reasonable line up the broad face before me - it looked quite steep, but as I began up it, I found that it was an easy series of gravelly ledges. A couple of reasonably apparent herdpaths wound up these gravelly ledges, eliminating the need for any real routefinding here. I had thought this part might have been class 3 also, but I didn't use my hands at all, even on the steeper upper part.
Climb up to summit plateau
After about thirty minutes and four hundred or so feet of climbing, I popped out onto the so-called summit plateau - a broad southward-slanting plain of barren gravel and rock (or snowfields early in the season) that connected the east ridge route with the summit block. The summit block itself was very prominent, rising up another few hundred feet into the sky a short way to the west. The elevation here was now well over 12,000 feet - pretty high for someone who had come from sea level only 14 hours ago. Fortunately, I didn't feel sick (but I was definitely experiencing a reduction in aerobic capacity - hence the 30 minutes to climb 400 feet!).
The walk across the plateau was a nice change from ridge scrambling or ledge climbing - nice, easy, flat walking. The emergence onto the plateau also meant that I had entered into the territory of Yosemite National Park.
I finally sighted my first other people of the trip as I was walking across - two little figures silhouetted against the sky on the summit.
At the western end of the plateau, a narrow neck of rock winds up onto the prominent summit block. It was airy in a couple of places, but only in one or two spots is a hand needed to assist progress. There's even evidence of some trailwork along this ridge, where rock staircases have been formed out of slabby boulders. Pretty cushy for an off-trail route!
I met the two other climbers coming down as I approached the summit. One of the guys seemed to have climbing chalk all over his hands (or maybe it was sunscreen of some sort). They stated that they had just climbed up the north ridge route, which seemed to me like a pretty impressive achievement. I told them I had come up the east ridge, and they seemed interested in that fact. "East ridge looked pretty prominent during our climb of the north ridge", they said.
A few minutes later I was standing on the 12,590-foot summit of Mt Conness. Being the highest peak in the area, the view was unobstructed in all directions. To the southwest, I could make out the distant shape of some of Yosemite's most famous landmarks, including Half Dome and Cloud's Rest. Neat.
The summit dropped away fairly steeply on the southwest side; on the east side, it dropped much more precipitously, down to the snows and ice of the Conness Glacier. The Conness Glacier was a fairly small sliver of its former self, hiding from the sun under the northeast-facing walls.
Precipitous northeast face
Forbidding Northern Peaks
Although afternoon clouds had begun to form, it was still mostly sunny and only slightly breezy on the summit. With such suitable conditions and given the near-noon time, I took off my pack and had a nice lunch break. A few minutes later, three more hikers arrived at the summit. Local Californians from the Santa Barbara area, they had climbed up via yet another route from the west.