Banner Peak P750 SPS / WSC

Tue, Jul 2, 1996

With: Terry Davis

  Etymology Story Map Profile
later climbed Sun, Sep 22, 2002

Terry and I headed to the Minarets for our first visit to the area, a two-night backpacking trip planned to precede a larger group gathering in Mammoth for condo camping later in the week. We arrived in Mammoth late in the afternoon, got our permit and waited until after 7p so we could drive our own car down to the Agnew Meadows trailhead. It saved us a few bucks for the shuttle, but meant we'd only have a bit of daylight remaining before the sun went down. We'd hoped we'd be able to reach Ediza Lake, but didn't quite make it that far. While we were hiking along Shadow Creek between Shadow and Ediza Lakes, flashlights showing the way, we managed to get separated at a creek crossing that was particularly noisy. We couldn't hear each other by shouting, and we managed to get ourselves far enough apart that we couldn't see each other's light. It seems Terry had continued on up the trail after crossing the creek while I was wandering back and forth along the trail looking for him. Terry eventually realized I was nowhere nearby and came back to find me after being separated about 10 minutes. We decided it was a good time to make camp rather than lose each other again. We simply set out our tent as a groundcloth and slept on the trail where it was flat.

The next morning we packed up and headed up to Ediza. The lake was far more beatiful than the pictures we'd seen were able to do it justice. We left the trail to pass along the north side of the lake through a small boulder field. In the middle of it, Terry moved a large rock with his hand and it shifted, pinching his finger. After extracting it, he found that it had cut the flesh to the bone and it began bleeding profusely. Applying pressure, we wrapped it up, and considered what to do next. Ultimately it was Terry's call whether to continue our trip or return and seek medical attention. It could probably have used some stitches to close it up properly. Had it been me I would have been worried about infection and chosen to return. But Terry was made of tougher stuff, and after wrapping it up nicely decided to continue. Though it looked pretty ugly during the trip when he opened it to wash it, it eventually did heal fine and leave no lasting marks.

We continued to the west side of Ediza Lake where we set up camp under the forest cover. Still morning, we then set out for Banner Peak. Terry was uncomfortable on class 2 terrain and quite slow on it, so he had no expectations about going to the summit (we had only one axe anyway), but decided to join me as high as he felt comfortable with. This turned out to be just below the East Face of Banner before I began the traverse over to the snowfield leading to the Ritter-Banner saddle. Terry returned to camp while I continued on, donning crampons (4-pointers) and axe. The snow was very soft around noon and I was able to kick great steps in the steep snow slope quite easily. I doubt I needed either axe or crampons, but it was nice to have them for reassurance. It was a straightforward climb up Banner's southwest slope once I reached the saddle. Upon reaching the summit I was elated - it was the most difficult Sierra peak I had climbed to date, and it felt great to make it with little difficulty. Looking across to the North Face of the higher Mt. Ritter was another story. The face looked like a cliff and I seemed years away from being able to tackle such a route with confidence. It would be another two years before I climbed Ritter, and five years after that before I climbed its North Face.

I descended without incident, reusing the steps in the snow I had made on the way up. When the angle eased sufficiently I turned around and used plunge steps to descend further down where I glissaded to the bottom of the snowfield. Back at camp I recounted my exciting adventure to Terry who had used the afternoon to laze about and do some reading.

The next morning I talked Terry into a bit more adventure than we'd planned. Rather than head back out via the Shadow Lake Trail we'd taken coming in, we decided to make a loop of it, going past Iceberg and Cecile lakes and down the Minaret Lakes Trail. The trail past Ediza Lake did not appear to be maintained, but was good enough to find our way up to Iceberg Lake. It was a beautiful alpine setting. Across the lake on the eastern shore the trail disappeared in a steep snowback that covered the hillside leading up to Cecile Lake. We found some footsteps traversing diagonally up and across the snowfield - we wouldn't be the first across this season, but the snow was quite hard. There was no way we would be able to arrest should we slip, and a fall would take us down 100-200ft into Iceberg Lake - a chilling possibility. This led to some heavy concentration as we made our way with packs across the slope. The fact that the route grew steeper and the fall line longer didn't help. I had given my axe to Terry to help steady himself, but it probably wouldn't have been able to arrest him. After some time, we finally emerged at the outlet of Cecile Lake above.

The Minarets were in full view before us and it was awesome. It would be another five years before I tried an ascent of Clyde Minaret, the largest and most prominent of the group before us. Cecile Lake, lying at over 10,000ft, was still half frozen over. We passed around it on the west and south shores, ignorant of the use trail going around the other side of the lake. At the other end we then descended some steep talus fields on the south side of Minaret Creek (again missing the use trail on the north side) before finding the trail. By now it had been many hours and much work getting us back on the trail, and we were tired. But we had a long, long way to go still, some six or seven miles. The downhill was long and the trail dusty, and we were none too glad when we were able to finally reach Devils Postpile and the ranger station there. I recall that Terry very nearly collapsed, though due to exertion or out of thanks to be delivered from the punishing trail, I don't remember. We took the shuttle bus back up to Terry's truck still parked at Agnew Meadows, then to town of Mammoth Lakes for refreshing showers and a hot meal.

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