Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

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Harlen
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Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

Post by Harlen » Fri Jul 06, 2018 7:54 pm

We hiked with several old friends and young dogs into an area we had long desired to get to. The High Route goes through Bench Canyon, and we didn't know how many folks might be in there, but we had no less than 6 full days and nights without seeing another soul! We began at the Rush Creek trailhead, and went up the steep route through "Spooky Meadows" to camp at Clark Lakes. Our goal was to cross the Ritter Range at the familiar, but troublesome North Glacier Pass. From there we would enter the remote North Fork of the San Joaquin, and then circle back to the Middle Fork a week later via a new route- Marie Pass.
We paused to consider our options at the several trail closure signs for Rush Creek, and again when we noticed the active smoke plume that was spreading north from the Lions Fire. We continued with our original plan and didn't suffer for it. It proved to be a great trip
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There's nothing like a morning spent walking into the Ritter Range from the east.
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Banner Peak.
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We arrived at Lake Catherine in time for the moon rise.
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This mountainous peak is just a spur running north west from Mount Ritter. The lake was half ice-covered, with no evidence of fish. Has anyone ever fished Lake Catherine? It's about 11,300 feet.
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We had seen a brilliant photo of the Ritter Range taken from this high plateau of Mount Davis, and decided it would be a perfect destination. It did prove to be a dog-friendly peak. Most of the route was on good snow.
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Note the significant amount of smoke from the Lions Fire filling the Middle Fork.
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Everyone made the easy summit- just a walk up from Lake Catherine to the south. It truly is a great view of Ritter and Banner.
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Wolfie back in the sedge. We made him a custom carrying pack, which we only need to put him in for the biggest talus fields; he flys over everything else!
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This is the valley floor of the North Fork SJ, just above the northern of the Twin Lakes.
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The country around Twin Lakes is lovely and the fishing is okay too. Here's Lizzie charging by some timberline penstemon.
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This may be the last cataract you or your dog will ever travel down should you get swept over during the wading of the outlet of the northern of the Twin Lakes. We linked up and had no real trouble, carrying Wolfie of course. The west side of the Ritter Range is fantastic! There are some amazing hidden peaks. I read somewhere that the last significant Sierra peak to be climbed was one of the ones south of Ritter. It seems I have heard several stories of "the last significant peak to be climbed." ???
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Last edited by Harlen on Thu Jul 12, 2018 10:37 pm, edited 7 times in total.








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Harlen
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Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon, Part 2

Post by Harlen » Fri Jul 06, 2018 9:40 pm

We reached our Bench Canyon destination on the 4th day and spent another day ambling around in different directions from there. Carleton explored the ridge line above Rockbound Lake- the next basin to the south from Bench Canyon. Four of us made the easy walk/scramble up to Foerster Pass, and then three of us traveled across and into that far south east corner of Yosemite. We ended up on various parts of the long, steep ridge line that falls into the Lyell Fork of the Merced. It sure looked like a nice basin to explore. Rodgers Peak shows its best side as a dramatic pyramid looming over the high lake country. We had the great luck to see a bald eagle on 2 occasions, and also an osprey flying by with a fish in its talons.
[*sorry, the former photo in this slot was from the North Fork, SJ. This one is from up in Bench Canyon.]
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We were a little early for the "lupine festival" we had heard of, but we caught the paintbrush, and some of the smaller species in full bloom!
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Foerster Pass is just between Lizzie's and Bear's heads, with broad Foerster Peak to the right. Both the peak and the pass are easy on the east side, and somewhat more difficult from the west. The walk to the pass from Bench Canyon is very fine. The first of the two Blue Lakes is especially idyllic.
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The cassiope was brilliant!
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Dog feces by the stream side is somewhat less brilliant. We hiked it off into the distance.
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I hiked over Foerster Pass to this cliffy vantage point above the Lyell Fork of the Merced. Note that there is an easy crossing into this basin at the low point of this ridgeline. Rodgers Peak is the dark one left of center.
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Upper Blue Lake, looking east. Returning down the valley from the pass gave us a big new view of the Ritter Range.
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West side of the Minerets- Is that Michael Mineret on the right of the group?
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No Name Peak? Do you climbers have a name for it?! What a stunning peak!
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Last edited by Harlen on Sun Jul 08, 2018 12:02 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon, Part 3

Post by Harlen » Fri Jul 06, 2018 10:49 pm

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The hiking into and back out of Bench Canyon covers some nice country, but with more than a few route-finding challenges. This is the forest where we ran into a grouse family, when we were lower down than necessary.
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The bald eagle of Bench Canyon.
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Heading back down Bench Canyon through a buckwheat bloom. Mount Ritter in the distance.
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And now we got too high above Twin Lakes, but what a great view!
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Twin Lakes, with a view up the North Fork, you can see both "Clinch" and "Marie" Passes from here. Marie Pass is right of center, with the large snowfield below and left, and the smooth reddish slope to the right of the pass. Clinch is in the next bowl to the right, with a small patch of snow below and left of the pass. Clinch Pass is made up of pretty narrow gullies on this western-facing side, but it can't be too bad, as we roped our boys down it at pretty young ages. I once used the big notch just left of center in this photo to drop directly into the Marie Lakes Basin.
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The top of North Fork is really rugged, and colorful country.
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High up the slope of Marie Pass. It is quite stable stuff, and easy going.
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Wolfie in the customized kid-carrier.
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From the top of Marie Pass, we had intended to cross over the broad ridge that leads into Marie Lakes Basin, but instead opted to just head directly down into Davis Lakes. It worked out fine- the lakes were full of little brookies, and it made our route out easier to manage. The crossing of Marie is definitely looser and more challenging on the east side, whereas we remember Clinch Pass to be just the opposite- harder on the west side.
Above our friend is the northern side of Mt. Davis.
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Morning was pretty nice at Davis Lakes. Check out the epic glissade above the lake!
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We got into some "Maverick weather" around Island Pass- but no photos to show for it. About 5 tremendous thunder claps, and a couple hours of cold rain and hail. We all enjoyed the change a lot, until the mosquitos decided it was their sort of weather too- clouds of mossies!
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Re: Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

Post by wildhiker » Fri Jul 06, 2018 11:16 pm

Thanks for the great report and photos! How deep was the N. Fk. San Joaquin at the outlet of Twin Lakes?
-Phil

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Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon, Part 4

Post by Harlen » Fri Jul 06, 2018 11:24 pm

From Davis Lakes we made it easily to Summit Lake, which has great camping all along the southern ridge right above the lake, with really fine views all around. It gives you that sight of the Ritter Range in the morning light
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Summit Lake.
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Volcanic Ridge, Minerets, Ritter-Banner, Davis.
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To the far right is Mt Lyell, then Rodgers Peak, and then the passes.
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Marie Pass in this photo is set just in front of Rodgers Peak, to the left of the very red rock peak. Lyell to the right.
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Damn! All the way back down and out.... but that is Mono Lake in the distance.

Thanks for your comments and insights. Best of luck out there, the Harlens.
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Last edited by Harlen on Fri Aug 03, 2018 5:47 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

Post by Harlen » Fri Jul 06, 2018 11:32 pm

"How deep was the N. Fk. San Joaquin at the outlet of Twin Lakes?"
-Phil

Depending on the time of day, probably from mid thigh to waist height. Each time we hit it in the afternoon, and had to work to keep our packs out of it. The only real scare was when Smokey the young Malinois struck out across too close to the cataract. You could surely cross the stream above the lake somewhere, and walk the west side of the lakes. It might be somewhat harder, and wetter, but safer- meaning, no waterfall to worry about. We were not all the strongest, and no one had any real trouble with it Phil.
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Here is a look at the hiking along part of the west side of upper Twin lake- the far side of the lake in the photo. By the way, that earlier photo showing the white-water cataract is certainly not what the crossing looks like; it looks more like the placid water that Bearzy is swimming in in the photo above. The cataract is at least 40 feet from the wading area.
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Re: Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

Post by cgundersen » Sat Jul 07, 2018 8:48 am

Hi Harlen,
Super trip; had the Postpile Road been open, we might have messed up your 6 days of tranquility.......not that my wife & I are terribly noisy, but we are really keen to get back into the Blue Lakes/Lyell Fork area again. Maybe this autumn? Anyway, it looks like the air quality fluctuated, but in general you did not get horribly blurred skies. And, that eagle was magnificent! Thanks for the TR. Cameron

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Harlen
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Re: Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

Post by Harlen » Sat Jul 07, 2018 5:52 pm

Cameron, we wonder how you would have chosen to enter? We would like to try a southern bc route, via Beck Lakes - Shellenbarger ... ?? Anyhow, best of luck, Ian.

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Re: Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

Post by rams » Sat Jul 07, 2018 10:51 pm

Harlen wrote: No Name Peak? Do you climbers have a name for it?! What a stunning peak!
Neglected Peak. Nice pics.

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Re: Trip Report- The Ritter Range and Bench Canyon

Post by hikerduane » Sun Jul 08, 2018 9:31 pm

I'm headed that way for part of my trip starting Wednesday, was wondering if what snow I saw online of Iron Lake was current. Guess it is. Thank you for the report.
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