Sun, Aug 10, 2003
There were four of us signed up for this second day of the 2003 Challenge, Michael Graupe, Matthew Holliman, Dan Siebert, and myself. To a large degree, this 10-day challenge and the two previous ones were inspired by Jim Ramaker's classic 1997 trip report on dayhiking Mt. Ritter. So motivated, I set out the following year in October to repeat the climb, completing the roundtrip time in a bit under 10hrs. Since then I have made a hobby of dayhiking the Sierra peaks, not having actually backpacked since sometime in 2000. Taking the Ritter dayhike a step further, it seemed the next thing to try would be a combined Banner-Ritter dayhike. I tried this with a friend Dave the previous September, but we were too slow and only managed to bag Banner that day. So I put Banner on the Challenge schedule to give me another crack at the famous duo.
We set out from Agnew Meadows at 5a, headlamps ablaze, though only for about 30 minutes or so until the new day brought sufficient daylight to negotiate the trails by. Down to the San Joaquin River, then up to Shadow Lake, arriving there at 6:20a. The sun was gloriously illuminating Ritter and Banner to the west, though both were beset by threatening dark clouds above them. Fortunately these would dissipate and completely disappear before we reached the Ritter-Banner Saddle. By 7:15a we reached Lake Ediza, and in attempting to cross the lake's outlet to the north shore, I was the only one who managed to actually fall in the water, soaking my shoes. One of the advantages of dayhiking came to bear - who cares if your shoes get wet? You can get new ones at the end of the day. There were some delightful flower gardens along the NW shore of Ediza Lake, and I took a few moments to photograph some of these as the others hiked by.
In the high valley above Lake Ediza, we came across a couple out to climb the North Face of Ritter. The warning sign we noted immediately was that the guy was carrying everything and his girlfriend was still walking slowly behind - she didn't look like she cared to be there at all. Later we found that they modified they plans and climbed Banner instead, which was more than I thought they were going to get done that day. To avoid the tedious talus on the way to the snowfield, we crossed a low-angle snowfield and climbed the class 3 rocks that follow straight up, just left of the stream. This was a fun bit of climbing with delightful grassy ledges and some interesting climbing problems. At the snowfield we put on our crampons and headed up. The four of us were spread out over quite a distance as we made our way up the fairly hard, early morning snow. I arrived at the saddle at 9:40a, and two of the others were less than ten minutes behind. Matthew was moving very slowly at this time, and it was only the next day that we learned this was his first real use of crampons - nothing like baptism by fire! Michael and Dan were soon off the snow at the top of the saddle. This was the first time Dan had climbed with us and while we waited briefly, he asked Michael and I where we planned to have lunch. We sort of looked at each other and mumbled like we didn't understand what he was talking about, and mentioned that we generally just have a few granola bars every now and then. Dan found this either offensive or incredulous, possibly both, and remarked, "You don't eat lunch? Who are you guys?!"
Leaving Matthew (yes, not recommended backcountry policy), the three of us headed for the summit of Banner, arriving at 10:20a. Looking across at Mt. Ritter, we spotted a solo climber nearing the top of the North Face. He was moving slowly, and seemed unsure about which way to go. We would run into him again on our way up Ritter shortly. We signed into the summit register, but stayed at the summit only a few minutes. Ritter's North Face was calling us and we were eager to tackle it's impressive looking face.
Halfway back down from Banner's summit we ran into Matthew on his way up. He was about 40min behind our pace at that point. He said he still planned to climb Ritter as well, though he knew it would likely be several hours after us that he would return to the trailhead. I made sure he understood the directions up the North Face, and for the second time we left him. Back at the saddle we gathered up our stuff and headed for the North Glacier. The lower part was easy to crampon up, but the upper section was rather icy. The hardest part was trying to cross about 20 feet of ice to reach the ramp into the right-hand chute. Michael and Dan had almost no trouble with this, primarily because they were wearing more serious crampons with large, sharp pointy teeth. I was trying out a new Kahtoola "traction system", a lightweight pair of aluminum crampons that the manufacturer swears were highly recommended by RJ Secor himself. Here they were showing their limitation and I was feeling a bit sketched like I might find myself down at Lake Catherine very soon. As Michael got off the glacier, he handed his axe (via Dan) down to me, and I used two axes as ice tools to give me the extra traction I needed to traverse the icy section. I found this the crux of the entire day.
Once across the glacier, we found ourselves on the easy ramp leading to the Right Chute. Climbing the Right Chute proved to be easy class 3 as advertised in the trip reports, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time climbing to the NW Ridge. We were almost sad to see it end. Just before we reached the ridge we heard a voice calling to us - the solo climber that we had seen earlier had backed off and was heading back down. He had made good progress to near the top, so we wondered what he had found to back down from. We followed the NW Ridge until progress was blocked, then explored our options. The west side seemed most obvious (advertised as class 2), but less interesting. Looking around to the North Face again, we could see a fine ledge system that would take us over to the final exit from the classic North Face - a steep ramp that ran up diagonally to the NE Ridge. We decided to go for the classic finish. The ramp was partly filled with snow (ice, really), but this was avoided by some fun class 3 rock on the outside edge of the ramp. From the exit point on the NE Ridge, it was a short distance up to the summit where we arrived at 12:30p. Needless to say, we were all elated. Dan finally got a chance to eat the sandwich he'd brought for lunch, though the yogurt that had exploded all over it made it look decidedly unappetizing to Michael and I. Our granola bars seemed just fine to us. I took a few photos from the summit (west, southeast) but not the full suite I often do.
We descended via the SE Glacier route, descending much loose talus and sand, some of it quite wet. It would have been possible to descend the entire route without touching snow as the glacier had melted back on the north side. But we chose to glissade as much as we could, the afternoon sun warming the snow nicely now, and we had long runs on several snowfields. This brought us to the top of the classic Secor route up to the SE Glacier that is very confusing and riddled with cliffs and dead ends. Fortunately I had been down this route on my previous climb of Mt. Ritter and it was easy to talk the other two into giving it a go. Without having to backtrack once and finding the route much to our liking, we were soon down off the mountain. We paused to regroup and collect some water from the stream found here before continuing on.
From there is was a three hour haul back to the trailhead, where we arrived at 5p, precisely 12hrs after starting out. Dan drove back to his home in LA that evening, while Michael and I got room in Mammoth Lakes and enjoyed a sumptuous dinner (anything would have been sumptuous after hiking 12hrs). We waited until 7p for Matthew to show up before going to dinner, but he didn't make an appearance. After dinner, we expected to see him there when we got back, but the room we'd left open was empty, no notes on our cars, no sign of his car. We worried, but didn't know what to do. It seemed too early (and dark, besides) to call for a rescue. The most likely place for him to have gotten injured would be on the North Face of Ritter, or descending the saddle. We decided to wait till morning and then go look for him and call in rescue if needed. We went to bed around 9p, tired from a long day, with another long day out to Red & White Mtn. planned for the following day (assuming we weren't out trying to find Matthew).
Hello Bob, I'm Ron Martin. I was reading your web site about your Sierra climbs, today. I climbed Mt Ritter on Aug.10 2003, so naturally I was interested in your remarks. I have a few corrections for you. You did come upon my wife (Vita) and I about 500 yards below the Ritter- Banner glacier, my wife's intention was to just go as far as the glacier and then return to Lake Ediza.
I was putting on my crampons to start up the glacier as you got to the narrow part of the glacier. I caught up with Matthew when he was on the narrow, I spoke to him for a moment to see if he was OK and if he needed anything like water, etc.
In your story, you have words or phases that when clicked on, pictures appear (very nice). In the picture that corresponds with the words, "Mt Ritter", part of the north face of Ritter is in the picture. The route I took up Ritter can be seen entirely in that picture. I went straight up from the highest point the glacier on the saddle. The route finding was very easy, and I was on top by 11:00 am. I signed the summit register and took about 20 pictures. I came upon Matthew again on the way down, He pointed out that you and two others were now beginning the climb on Ritter.
From the time I left my wife and until I got back to camp (at 1:00 pm), I never spoke a word except to Matthew. Your story speaks of me crying out for help, and never making it to the summit. Look for my name in the registry next time you're on Ritter. And I do remember seeing the four of you again nearing Lake Ediza near sunset.
I know you climb almost daily; it could be easy to confuse some events of the Ritter climb with other climbs, its understandable. However, I enjoy your stories and I love all the pictures, I'll read them frequently.
The only thing Ron got wrong was that it couldn't have been us passing by Ediza near sunset. There were only three of us at the time, not four, and we passed by there at 2p, not near sunset. I wrote Ron to apologize for getting the facts wrong.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Banner Peak - Mt. Ritter
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