Mindful of the afternoon buildup of clouds and in general wanting to finish not late, I began my descent shortly after 12:30 pm. I scrambled down the short ridge connecting the summit block to the plateau, then headed back across the plateau to the top of the eastern face, where a cairn marked the spot of the typically-used route. The ledgy/gravelly descent only took about twenty minutes, and soon I was once again standing before the start of the knife-edged portion of the east ridgeline.
Southwest Face, Mt Conness
East Ridge Descent marker
My earlier scramble along the narrow arete had ultimately been successful, but it had been slow and had required a fair bit of care and concentration. And that chimney had been cumbersome and slow. I decided to try a faster and less demanding route back; a parallel route on walkable, lower angle terrain not far south of the ridgecrest. When I had bypassed most of the narrow ridgeline, I scrambled back up to rejoin it right at its juncture with the so-called "mini plateau". Doing it this way - if less scenic and/or exciting - was definitely faster.
Choosing a faster way
Based on my recently-acquired ascent experience, I knew that my arrival at the mini-plateau represented the end of any tricky wayfinding or climbing. From here, I knew it was pretty easy walking nearly all the way back to the car - down the lower ridgeline, around the top of the buttress, and then down to the saddlebag lake trail.
East Ridgeline Wx Station
I let my mind freewheel for a bit as I strolled down the scenic lower ridgeline. Nice views to the left, nice views to the right. Plenty of solitude (since the five people I had seen at the summit had chosen different routes, I was once again alone). The ridgeline ended at the saddle connecting to the eastern buttress, and I adjusted my course slightly to follow a traversing course at my current elevation. I was back in the land of alpine grasses and low scrubby trees - potential obstacles to my travel. I discovered that if I kept my elevation almost exactly at 11,000 feet, there was always a clear course through the vegetation.
Traversing across Buttress
A completely pleasant, trouble-free stroll back to Saddlebag Lake wasn't to be, however. I had nearly forgotten about the final descent - the steep blocky scree on the eastern face of the buttress. Pleasantly lulled into a state of contentment by the easy 11,000 foot traverse, I was soon grumpy as I began this final descent - steep, big, loose blocks, requiring concentration and balance with nearly every step. I could see the lake and the adjacent trail not far below, but I was forced to proceed slowly and with caution, in order to avoid a needless injury.
Saddlebag Lake southern end
I was mighty glad when the nine hundred feet of unpleasant scree descent was over. I walked the few hundred yards of trail back towards the parking lot, over the Saddlebag Lake dam, and arrived at the car around 4:30pm. Success - I had tackled a Sierra mountaineering route by myself and had managed to avoid any problematic incidents.
So, my final thoughts on Mt Conness via the east ridge: first and last thousand feet up loose scree sucks, but other than that, climbing and walking is good. The crest of the knife-edged arete section is definitely more than class-3 (probably class-4 or 5 in spots), but with a bit of routefinding off of the crest, you can stick to class-3 terrain. Nice, quiet route - saw only five other people in total and that was only while on or near the summit. Not a lot of snow in mid-August - didn't need my ice ax. I imagine you might if you climbed, say, in late June or early July.
After climbing Mt Conness, I drove a short way north and camped along highway 108 near Sonora Pass in preparation for an easier hike along the PCT the following day. You can read all about that outing here
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Mt Conness via East Ridge - click map to view
Mt Conness via East Ridge
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet