TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

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TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby orbitor » Mon Jul 08, 2013 3:42 pm

A VERY LONG, DETAILED REPORT. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

It is high season for peakbagging in the Sierra, so I decided to use the long Independence Day weekend to climb the landmark mountains of Ansel Adams Wilderness, Ritter and Banner, from a base camp on the eastern side at Ediza Lake. Actually, the trip had been planned months ahead since Ediza is an extremely popular destination; doing so allowed me to secure the necessary permits.

Once the team of 8 was confirmed, we agreed to meet at Old Shady Campground in Mammoth, where we were to spend Wednesday night 3 July after driving up from the Southern California area. I carpooled with two other people and we were the first to arrive around midnight; the rest of the group arrived later. It was nice to sleep directly under the stars (I didn't set up the tent) and enjoy the cooler weather - temps had been holding steady in the 90s and 100s as we cruised through the Mojave desert and the Owens Valley. Even though we had only a mild 7-mi hike-in the next day, we got up as soon as it was light outside, threw all gear in the car and hauled ass to drive past the toll booth at Minaret Summit before 7am. No one had any desire to take the mandatory shuttle in or out of Reds Meadow, so we made sure we got 'in' before the restrictions were implemented.

At trailhead in Agnew Meadows, the mosquitoes could not wait to welcome us. I was surprised to see so many cars already parked there. We all needed to pack and get ready for a 3-day backpack; the task of doing so took about 30-45 minutes, during which the buggers got progressively more irritating. Some people doused themselves in DEET, only to limited effectiveness. Brief rain showers the day before hadn't helped the situation. We finally hit the Shadow Creek trail sometime after 8, moving at a good clip to make things harder for the bloodsuckers. While still cool, the air in Agnew Meadows was noticeably humid after the previous day's rain, resulting in generous sweating even though the trail was level.

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Agnew Meadows in early morning light

We dropped down to the canyon of the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, crossing the bridge and beginning the steep climb up to Shadow Lake. This was the part where we'd do most of the elevation gain for the day. Since we had arrived so early, we were in full sun while climbing the switchbacks and contouring the ridge. We stopped for a short break right below Shadow Lake's outlet, cooling off at a small waterfall right next to the trail. The cold water felt like bliss. Some of us drank straight from the stream without treatment. We then continued on past Shadow Lake, on to the JMT, and finally took the turn toward Ediza Lake. While it still had a few short climbing sections, the trail was mostly flat, allowing us to enjoy the scenery around us, not just grunt upward under heavy packs while staring at the ground directly in front.

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Classic shot: Ritter Range reflection in Shadow Lake

At the bridge across Ediza's outlet, the group unknowingly split, the people in front staying on the maintained trail that follows the SE side of the lake en route to Iceberg Lake, the others (including me) taking the use trail that contours the N side of Ediza. This turned out to be more difficult than anticipated, as we soon found ourselves having to boulder-hop, with full packs, a talus field that descends from the ridge all the way into the lake. Eventually we got past this obstacle and met up with the rest of the group on the NW side of the lake, where we found a great camping location on the first hill above the lake's inlet. The site provided plenty of space for tents, and large granite blocks granted us panoramic views of Ediza and the entire surrounding area. It was the perfect observation post.

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Volcanic Ridge West from Ediza base camp

Having arrived at our base camp around 11am, we found ourselves with a lot of free time after setting up the tents and unpacking. Unfortunately, the mosquito situation had not improved - in fact, it had gotten worse. Our camp was above the lake, but we were still attacked relentlessly. Not by huge clouds of insects, yet just enough to make things unbearable. When headnets and DEET did not provide significant relief, a majority of people decided to take a short hike up to Cecile Lake by going straight over a ridge below the Minarets. The rest of us stayed at base camp and simply relaxed. I climbed on top of the "observation post," where I sat just watching the lake, the clouds and the other people camped down by the lake. A nice cool breeze kept the vampires at bay, allowing me to be able to write in my journal. With the sky engulfed in ominous black clouds by early afternoon, the recon party returned, fearing showers. These did not materialize however, and other than a few sprinkles that came and went, the rain bypassed us. As the sun began to set, we managed to cook and eat dinner outside, then jumped into tents as the mosquito offensive was ramping up. We had also agreed on an early start the next day for the trip's first climb, up Ritter.

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Ediza Lake from the observation post

Day 2. Early rise as soon as we saw light outside. To my surprise, the sky was covered in clouds to the west, with the summits of Ritter, Banner and the Minarets shrouded in fog. As we were getting packs ready and preparing climbing gear, there was still uncertainty whether we should go for it. The clouds were swirling, but did not seem to break, and the high points revealed themselves occasionally before getting swallowed up again. Finally we said, let's do it.

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Sunrise over the Minarets (photo by team member BC)

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Clouds obscuring the giant summits in early morning light (photo by team member SC)

We followed the use trail up along Ediza's inlet stream, which eventually took us above the tree line and into the cirque between Ritter and Banner. Thankfully the high elevation and the wind also took the mosquitoes away. We could see several snowfields on Ritter's east side, as well as on Banner's SE face and all the way to the saddle between the two peaks. Our route was up the SE glacier of Ritter, then into the Owens Chute and to the summit. My lead climber had done this route last year and he indicated the glacier could be accessed by going straight up the face instead of following the traditional entry via the ramp & grassy ledge system below the NE buttress. As expedition leader, I decided to go with the experience (straight up) rather than unknown (ledge system).

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Ediza's inlet stream creating spectacular cascades

One problem immediately arose: The route had more snow than when previously done, so the path to the glacier was unrecognizable. Oh well. We put on crampons, took out the ice axes and headed straight up the first snowfield that we encountered. After crossing a thin snow bridge, our progress was blocked by class 4 and 5 blocks, forcing us to move left into a waterfall. It turned out that overcoming this obstacle was the crux of getting onto the gentler slopes below the glacier. The climbing had some stiff class 3 moves, which were complicated by the wet rock and the fact that some of us kept our crampons on. After finally surmounting the waterfall, we found ourselves on more snowfields, but with a lower angle and heavily suncupped. We followed these all the way into the SE glacier proper, then up the glacier to the base of Owens Chute.

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Up the first snowfield, approaching the waterfall

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Up the glacier, approaching bottom of Owens Chute

The sky in the meantime grew darker as the clouds spread, but for some reason it didn't feel threatening. The clouds actually helped by shielding us from direct sun, though we were still wondering whether we would be able to get to the summit. The upper part of the mountain was still in fog, and privately I was getting ready for dealing with whiteout conditions. At the base of Owens we took off the crampons, took a break, then headed up the chute. The climbing was mostly class 2, with some class 3 moves. I was surprised to discover we had reached the top of the chute in under half an hour. From there we crossed a couple more snowfields, and finally launched into the talus slog to the summit - which by now had come into view as the clouds began to break up for good. Our timing was impeccable; by the time we reached the top, the fog had lifted.

Standing on top of Ritter was surreal. Far and away the highest point, we could see for hundreds of miles in every direction. Even the sun acknowledged us by breaking through the clouds for short bursts of light. Despite the heavy sky, the giants of Little Lakes Valley to the south were clearly visible, as was Mt. Lyell and friends to the north. Across the way, Banner and its ugly south slope blocked the view to Thousand Island and other lakes, but small price to pay. We took our time savoring the moment. Entire team made it. We were the first to summit that day; two guys showed up from the Secor Chute route a few minutes after us.

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View NW from summit of Mt. Ritter: Ritter Lakes, Lake Catherine in foreground, Mt Lyell on horizon obscured by clouds

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View SSE from summit of Mt. Ritter

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Enjoying the summit of Ritter

After the requisite celebration and picture taking, we headed down the same way. I'm always slower on the descent, as I need to carefully negotiate unstable boulders. Going down the talus slope was unnerving, especially when one person close to me accidentally released a big rock that scared the hell out of the main group below us (though it didn't reach them, it was heading straight for them). The group pulled ahead of me; I didn't see them again until the base of Owens chute, where we stopped to discuss the rest of the descent. We didn't feel like downclimbing the waterfall, so we decided to instead to keep following the snow fields to the south, over a ridge and down a gully that on the topo looked less steep than the other options.

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Above Owens Chute, jagged ridges as backdrop (photo by team member BC)

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Descending the SE glacier on Ritter

Glissading was an appealing option to getting off the glacier. We all tried it with various degrees of success, though the suncups were the main challenge. My experimentation ended when my crotch made the acquaintance of a block of ice right at the end of the second run. I cried so loud the others thought I broke something. After the glissade fiasco ended, we found ourselves traversing steep snowfields with no crampons and using ice axes for self-belaying. When I asked why we were doing this, the response was, we're just following so-and-so. I realized we were all so tired, we just wanted to get down the mountain. Luckily, the gully we were looking for finally revealed itself, covered by a benign snowfield in its upper half and an easier waterfall at the bottom. After descending the snow, we moved right (south) onto a grassy slope that dropped us right at the stream feeding Ediza Lake. Crossing the stream provided the last bit of excitement for the day.

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The lower snowfields on Ritter's east face

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A large piece of ice (photo by team member SC)

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The grassy slope that leads down to Ediza's inlet stream (photo by team member SC)

Back at camp, we scaled the observation post to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the sun and drying out boots, clothes, packs etc. The sky had almost completely cleared by this point, leaving us to enjoy full sunshine in a good breeze that kept most of the bloodsuckers off us. Over dinner, the decision was made to hike out on Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday morning, as people were getting fed up with the mosquito situation, while also yearning to use an extra day to recover or handle family matters.

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Relaxing back at camp after the return from Ritter (photo by team member SC)

Day 3. The plan for this day was to climb Banner Peak, then hike out. We awoke around the same time as the day before, and were ready to get started by almost exactly the same hour to the minute. The two climbers who had done Banner before opted to climb something else instead. They got up at 3:30am, packed up and headed east; they dropped their packs at the junction of JMT and the Shadow Creek trail, then went to Mt. Davis by way of Thousand Island Lake and North Glacier Pass. We met up with them again on the hike out.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group headed back to the cirque between Ritter and Banner and proceeded to boulder-hop up the SE face of Banner. We skirted the lower snowfields by staying to the right (east); the slope steepened and our progress was finally stopped by some class 3-4 cliffs. We moved left onto the snowfield, put on crampons and took out the ice axes. The snow was very soft even at this early morning hour, resulting in repeated slips. Short sections of rock divided the snowfields from one another; we simply walked in crampons over those.

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The cirque from high up on Banner's SE side

Eventually, we found ourselves at the base of the couloir that represents the only reasonable access point to the saddle with Ritter. My lead climber, who was off on Davis, had assured us the couloir would only be as bad as the top of the SE glacier on Ritter. Of course, he is well known for underestimating climbing difficulty - a point which was adequately driven home as we saw the slope get progressively steeper, to the point where the last part, right below the saddle, was a good 40-degrees. The poor snow quality made lingering here a very dangerous proposition, so we all moved up the couloir as fast as possible.

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Ascending the couloir, steepening slope (photo by team member SC)

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View from the top of the SE couloir, near Ritter-Banner saddle

Now at the saddle, we took off the crampons and started up the last 900' of scrambling to the top. Initially, this turned out to be just a talus slog, but once we got close to what appeared to be the summit pinnacle, I consulted my GPS and referred back to the instructions from previous summiteers. It turned out that we needed to turn left, pass through a small rock band, then follow it behind the back on its NW side to the real summit. The climbing got more serious here, strong class 2 to class 3, with occasional exposure. With the real summit in sight, we navigated our way over various obstacles, until a solid class 3 section was overcome to land us right at the top.

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Talus slope above Ritter-Banner saddle, with false summit in sight (photo by team member BC)

With no clouds in sight, the views were absolutely astounding. Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake and Nydiver Lakes were all sprawled out to the east, while gigantic Mono Lake sat on the northeastern horizon. Peaks everywhere to the north, west and south. The famed north face of Ritter was staring us down from the SW. Summiting Banner was especially meaningful to me since I had attempted it for the first time two years prior and had almost died while downclimbing a rock band on its western side. Thus, redemption was that much sweeter.

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View eastward from summit of Banner Peak: Thousand Island, Garnet, Nydiver, Ediza Lakes in foreground, Mono Lake on horizon

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View westward from summit of Banner Peak: North face of Mt. Ritter, Lake Catherine in foreground, Yosemite high country on horizon

We were the first party on top since July 1. Once everyone gathered and rested, we went through the ritual of signing the register and taking photos, then began the descent. The exposed section back to the rock band gap went by fairly quickly, but the rest of the slope down to the saddle was just a nightmare for me. I had to watch every step, catching myself a few times when the boulders moved and almost sent me sailing. I was so glad to be done with the talus, however the hard part was now coming up.

Descending the steep couloir was, of course, the ultimate challenge of this entire adventure. It was already early afternoon when we started down, so the snow was in even worse shape. I turned and faced into the slope, proceeding to descend the couloir step by step, ladder-like. I used my axe to self-belay while front-pointing with my crampons. Since I was only wearing half-gloves, the hand I used to balance with in the snow went quickly numb. I cannot recall how long the whole thing took, but it seemed like an eternity. The longest 300' of snow downclimbing I can remember. We did the Hourglass on Mt. Dade in May, not even that seemed as mentally taxing.

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Descending the SE couloir below Ritter-Banner Saddle (photo by team member BC)

Eventually, the angle relented and I was able to face out again. I French-stepped to the bottom of the couloir, then continued down the snowfields through a combination of walking and sliding. The ever-present suncups managed to land most of us on our behinds at some point or another. Lower and lower, the mushier the snow, until we finally got off it and back on the boulder fields to the east. With crampons off, the rest of the descent went much faster. We got back to camp in the middle of the afternoon. While the others started breaking camp right away, I realized I was famished, having not eaten anything since the summit. I climbed the observation post, took off my wet boots, and gave myself half an hour to just eat and rest.

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The two giants towering above the cirque

Once that passed and my boots had dried a bit, I went back to camp and started packing. Right as we were getting ready to leave, the lead climber stormed into camp out of nowhere. We had previously discussed the possibility that he would come over the Ritter-Banner saddle after Davis, instead of going back around Thousand Island Lake. However, when we didn't see him on our descent, we figured he had gone back the long way. Not only did he choose the shorter (though harder route), he tagged the summit of Banner for the second time since he was "right there."

Now almost back to full strength, we circled around Ediza Lake on the use trail to the S and SE and began descending along Shadow Creek. A lot more backpackers had arrived over the last couple of days, making Ediza look like Grand Central Station. The climbers who went to Davis told us that, incredibly, there was hardly anyone at Thousand Island or Garnet Lakes. Everyone seemed to have chosen Ediza to camp, resulting in overcrowding you hardly see outside the usual Sierra 'hotspots.' Thus, I was glad we had decided to leave a day early. A large group greeted us below Ediza's outlet, congratulating us when we told them we had climbed Ritter and Banner. They were getting ready for the final push to Ediza and seemed shocked by the voracity of the mosquitoes, but little did they know what was waiting for them at the lake - both in terms of no solitude and hungry vampires.

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Mammoth Mountain from the switchbacks below Shadow Lake (photo by team member BC)

The rest of the descent went by uneventfully. The packs kept getting more and more unbearable as fatigue settled in. I wanted to take breaks, but the bloodsuckers were on us within seconds of stopping, so after reaching the San Joaquin, the majority of the team opted to continue hiking to Agnew Meadows, even with that good 300' climb still ahead. My back was aching badly, my knees were tired from the long descent off Banner, yet somehow I kept it all together and, mercifully, the trailhead finally revealed itself. We didn't get to enjoy dumping the packs for too long, as the local vampire population was eager to welcome us back. We threw everything in the cars haphazardly, then drove off in a cloud of dust. I didn't even get to change out of my boots until we reached Minaret Summit. Our exit was once again well-timed, with no one at the booth we saw no need to pay the $10 fee for using Reds Meadow Road.

It was time for real food. We had already agreed to dine at Cafe 203, which welcomed us with news that some items on their menu were unavailable due to the 4th of July rush. Bummer. We still enjoyed a good meal. Over dinner, the San Diego part of the team told us they planned on driving back the same night. Seeing no reason to hang around anymore and uncertain we would find camp sites due to the holiday, we all decided to drive back as well. My carpool alternated drivers, putting us back in the LA area shortly after 2am.

Despite the exhausting last day, it was an absolutely incredible trip. The ascents of both Ritter and Banner featured some of the best mixed climbing I have ever done, anywhere. Camping at Ediza Lake was superb, despite the mosquitoes and the crowds. And team effort and camaraderie were second to none. This trip was truly a blessing.
Last edited by orbitor on Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby jessegooddog » Mon Jul 08, 2013 7:12 pm

Really looking forward to the photos, and your interesting trip report was NOT too long!! Glad you avoided those crowds.
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby artrock23 » Mon Jul 08, 2013 10:52 pm

I enjoyed the TR, all the more because a Ritter/Banner trip is on my shortlist.

Can't wait to see your photos.
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby chrisdiercks » Tue Jul 09, 2013 9:13 am

Thanks for the mosquito report. About what I expected. Like the others, would love to see the photos!

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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:56 pm

Thank you very much Orbitor for the detailed TR. Also looking forward to the
photos. :)

PS Thanks for adding the photos. :thumbsup:
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby orbitor » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:28 pm

Thank you all for your comments. I added some photos and will continue to update the TR as time permits.
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby chrisdiercks » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:47 pm

Awesome! Thanks for getting the shots up so soon. I haven't been on Banner and Ritter in a long while and this brings back great memories of that area. I'll be skirting along the base of each in about 6 or 7 days so I appreciate the conditions report as well.

Chris
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby Shawn » Tue Jul 09, 2013 5:37 pm

Great TR and photos - thanks for posting the details.
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby orbitor » Tue Jul 09, 2013 9:17 pm

chrisdiercks wrote:Awesome! Thanks for getting the shots up so soon. I haven't been on Banner and Ritter in a long while and this brings back great memories of that area. I'll be skirting along the base of each in about 6 or 7 days so I appreciate the conditions report as well.

Chris


@ chrisdiercks
Happy to help with info on the conditions. If you need specific landmarks, let me know. I also have GPS tracks for each day of the trip. The two guys who went to Mt. Davis via Thousand Island Lake indicated the route is mostly snow-free to North Glacier Pass.
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Tue Jul 09, 2013 10:29 pm

Thanks for the report and photos. We are hoping to be there in a few weeks.
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby kpeter » Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:25 pm

A very nice report and very nice photos. Not being a peak bagger myself, I was particularly impressed with seeing Thousand Island and Garnet from just about the only perspective I have never seen them before--from Banner! Thanks!
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Re: TR: Ritter and Banner from Ediza Lake 4-6 July 2013

Postby orbitor » Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:08 pm

I appreciate everyone's time in reading the trip report and sharing opinions. If there are any parts of the trip you'd like more info on, just let me know. Can also provide conditions on water, mosquitoes, etc, but these will soon be outdated.

I finished adding the photos. Hope they make the story better. The panoramas from the top of Banner are in high resolution so they can be enjoyed to the fullest.
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