Sep 22, 2002
This was a very ambitious outing, with plans to climb both Banner and Ritter in the same dayhike. I know that both have been dayhiked by parties in the past, but I don't know if anyone has combined the two in one very long day (that said, I'll soon get email that half a dozen others have done exactly this). Michael, Dave, and I had spent a rather full day the previous day in the Bud Creek drainage free-soloing the class 4-5 peaks in the area as a way to spend a day acclimatizing. Encamped in a cozy motel room at the Rodeway Inn in Mammoth, we were rudely awakened by the alarm at 4a.
As expected my legs were feeling it from the day before, but I knew they would loosen up once we started hiking. Dave and Michael were up shortly behind me, and we all struggled to get up, eat breakfast, and remember all our key items for our daypacks. We piled into Michael's Saturn and headed out towards Devils Postpile, pulling into the parking lot at Agnew Meadows around 5a. Michael had been unusually quiet since we had woken up, but I had just assumed it was due to the early hour. Apparently he'd been fighting inside his head as to whether he really wanted to do this hike. And now, after donning headlamp and pack, and taking a few steps towards the trailhead, he stopped and declared he didn't want to go. I was more than a bit surprised. It seems he'd already done the hard part by getting out of a warm bed and getting all his clothes on and gear ready, but of course that wasn't really true. There was still the matter of hiking some 14 or 15 hours to deal with. Dave and I tried to work on Michael a bit, but the bottom line was that he just didn't think he was going to have any fun. And having fun is perhaps the main reason for venturing out. So instead he decided to have a more leisurely outing to San Joaquin Mtn, and spend the afternoon relaxing. The new plan called for Michael to come back to pick us up at the TH at 7p that evening, and then Dave and I were alone, heading out under headlamp at 5:20a. I had no problem equating fun with a bit of suffering we seemed likely to encounter.
It was a bit cool in the morning, almost cold. But then we couldn't have expected much better for late September. The hike was mostly uneventful until we reached Shadow Lake shortly after 6:30a. Ritter and Banner come into view here for the first time, and generally make for great pictures across the lake when the waters are still. The sun had yet to rise, and the full moon was just about to set over Mt. Ritter, a short distance left of the summit. The picture we took looks like a black and white photo, and hardly did justice to the wonderous scene that we enjoyed. I had never been up this trail quite so early before.
We continued on our way, reaching Ediza Lake and the end of the maintained trail at 8a. We were making pretty good time up to this point. Ritter and Banner now loomed high to the west, no longer distant peaks. We skirted the lake on the north side, following use trails until they ran out above the treeline northwest of the lake. From here on it's mostly a combination of talus, scree, and boulders, a few solid ledges, and little else until we reached the snowfield below the Ritter-Banner Saddle. As the tedium of the terrain wore on, I began to lose Dave behind me. At first he was just a bit slower, but he soon reduced his pace to half of what we'd been going at. I found that I'd climb for 15 minutes, then wait another 15 minutes for Dave to catch up. This surprised me as Dave had shown no fatigue the previous day when we'd been out climbing around Tuolumne Meadows. But this was a bit different - less technical climbing, more distance, scrambling, and elevation gain. Dave had shown the previous day that he was the far better technical climber than Michael and I, but now the tables were in my favor it seemed. My concern grew as time wore on and we were still not at the snow yet. I had thought we'd be at the summit easily within three hours of reaching Ediza, but that was not to happen by a long stretch. I began to wonder if we'd have enough time for both Banner and Ritter as planned. Dave complained of an upset stomach. He said several breaks he took had been to keep from losing its contents and give it a chance to settle. He wasn't looking too good, and probably wasn't having so much fun either.
When we reached the snow below the saddle, we found it in awful condition - hard snow, runnelled and steep. Dave didn't own a pair of crampons, so I had brought my extra pair of insteps for him to use. Instead of the standard 10 points, these had only four on each foot, and aren't very good in icy conditions. We should have asked to borrow Michael's crampons when he bowed out earlier in the morning, as that could have saved us much trouble and time. A bit of a mistake it appeared now. It seemed it would be treacherous for either of us to venture up the steep chute with the insteps. I hit upon the idea of splitting the pair up, and we each took one good crampon, one bad one. That way we'd at least have one good foot to rely on. We headed up, and as earlier Dave went at a slower pace. There were a few small crevasses to get over, but these were mostly a small inconvenience that required a bit more diligence and care in foot placements. We had axes with us but they did not bite into the snow at all - they would be little help should we fall. The regular crampons worked well, and it would have been littler more than a steep climb with one on each foot. The slope steepens to something like 40-45 degrees as it narrows just below the saddle - another good place for caution. I reached the top of the saddle at 11a and took off my crampons and left them with my axe amongst the rocks. I took a few photos of Ritter's impressive North Face and the view down to Catherine Lake as I waited for Dave, now 20 minutes behind, to join me.
There was no way we were both going to climb Banner and Ritter, that was now clear. There were several options. We could choose to climb one or the other, climbing together and probably getting back to the trailhead before Michael was scheduled to pick us up. I could leave Dave to climb Banner and do both by myself. That seemed a bit too selfish, particularly since Dave was complaining of nausea. It seemed likely that he was suffering from altitude sickness, though I would have expected headaches before the nausea. No, I wouldn't leave him to get back down on his own, even though he was probably perfectly capable. I decided to give Dave the choice of climbing either Ritter or Banner. If he chose Banner, we'd both summit, then head back the way we came. If he chose Ritter, I'd give him a head start on the North Face while I went up to tag Banner, figuring I'd catch up to him before he finished the right-hand chute and reached the NW Ridge. I wouldn't tell him this last part (which of course would have been my preference) since I didn't want that to influence his choice of which peak to choose.
Dave finally reached the saddle and took some time to rest while I explained the change of plans, and laid out the choice we had before us. We talked about it a bit, he scanned the North Face of Ritter and the scree slog up to Banner, and then chose Banner, the more surer of the two. Though disappointing, it was only marginally so - I would still get to dayhike Banner which I hadn't done (I had dayhiked Ritter a few years ago), and would certainly come back to try both of them again next summer. At 11:30a we started up the South Slopes of Banner, mostly a pile of boulder and scree, though by choosing the route one could add some interesting class 3 climbing as well. I started up at a good clip, not waiting for Dave now. I would rather wait on the summit where I could enjoy the views than along the slopes. It took but 30 minutes to scramble to the summit from the saddle, a most enjoyable effort. I cooled off, rested, perused the summit register (in fact I read most of it), took pictures, put my jacket and gloves on, and waited. It was a long wait. The views are some of the best in this region, and in addition to the great view of Ritter's North Face, there are fine views of Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, and Nydiver and Edizia lakes to the northeast and east. To the southeast lay the Minarets and the Mammoth area, and from the southwest through the northwest lay the high mountains that lie along the crest of Yosemite's eastern boundary. The sun was out and barely a breeze, but not really warm enough to sit around in a t-shirt. I scrambled around the summit, climbing down the NW Ridge a short way, then back the other way, looking down the various views at the routes below, also looking back regularly for Dave. He wasn't feeling good at all and rested a great deal. I had been waiting an hour on the summit when Dave arrived at 1p. He didn't look beat or exhausted, just sort of like he suffered from a mild hangover - it mustn't have been fun climbing with a queezy stomach as he did.
After signing into the register, Dave noted that it was a government-issue booklet left by some soldiers in a competing branch of the military. Oddly enough he knew one of the climbers in the group, and proceeded to write several pages of deprecating comments in a humorous vein. This seemed to perk Dave up a great deal, he chuckled to himself as he wrote, even though his stomach was still bothering him. Giving someone a hard time, even in abstentia, seemed to provide at least a partial cure for his illness.
It was about 1:30p when we headed back down, retracing our steps down the boulders and scree to the saddle. Here we put on our crampons again and started down. The descent was a bit trickier than our ascent, since our downward steps were more likely to slip and cause us to lose balance, particularly with the ill-equipped foot sporting the instep crampon. A noise above us at one point gave us both a quick scare - it had sounded like a large rockfall from the low frequency of the rumble, but it turned out to be a large boulder lying partially on the snow had merely shifted its position about a foot. Had it come loose and started sliding down on us, it would have been a huge fright indeed. It was nearly an hour before we got down to the bottom of the snowfield, though it wasn't more than about 400ft or so.
We packed up the crampons, headed down more scree slopes, though this time in a more direct route down to Ediza. This provided a bit more interesting rock to climb down, as well as some surprising late-season flowers to photograph. It was 4:20p when we reached Ediza again, and then the long march down Shadow Creek. Two and half hours later we had returned to the bus stop along the road, 13 1/2 hours after setting out. The blue sky faded and twilight set in as we waited for Michael to come pick us up. Several busses came by that we could have ridden out, but we were afraid we might miss Michael heading in to get us. Finally at 7:30p, after we had put all the warm clothes on that we had with us, Michael pulled up. He was looking much too relaxed and chipper for our weary bones. But a hot shower and a fine meal in town soon revived Dave and I, and sleeping soundly that night was a just reward...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Banner Peak
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