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later climbed Mon, Aug 19, 2002|
I'd gotten to bed after 10p the previous night and was unable to get out of bed at 5a as I'd hoped. Day 3 brought the expected soreness after the long haul to Mt. Lyell the previous day. I "slept in" till 5:45a, then got up, showered, ate breakfast, and prepared to leave. At least I didn't have to worry about packing everything up in the car again since I planned to return for another night. David had not shown up as I'd hoped, and I still had no idea if he'd abandoned the Challenge voluntarily or otherwise. I thought he might have crashed elsewhere and planned to meet me at the trailhead, or at least that was what I was hoping as I got in the car at 6:30a. With my remote alarm still not working (I dropped it in Ireland Creek the day before), and my inability to recall precisely how to disarm the alarm, it went off once again as I opened the door in the early morning hours, undoubtedly waking a number of the other hotel guests. I had it shut off again by more flicking of the switch under the dash, but didn't know when it would strike next (as it turns out it never went off again, and with a change of battery when I got back to San Jose, it was good as new).
An early (or very late) start for Devils Postpile trailheads is desireable if one wants to avoid having to take the mandatory shuttle between the hours of 7a and 5:30p. No one was there to greet me at the booth near the Mammoth Mountain parking lot, nor at the one at the top of the pass. The Ritter Range comes into view as one crosses the pass, and from the looks of things, it was going to be another fine day, indeed. I drove down to the Agnew Meadows lot a few miles down from the pass, and parked my car. I looked around in the several lots in the area looking for David or his car, but found neither. I guessed he'd left me for good and returned home.
I decided to give my feet a rest from my boots today. Though they had done admirably for the 27 miles roundtrip to Mt. Lyell without blisters, they had left my feet a bit beaten and near blistering. Instead I decided on wearing tennis shoes. I had climbed Mt. Ritter the first time in tennis shoes only because I'd forgotten to bring my boots, but found they did quite well, even for the cross-country and glacier portions of the climb. My crampons fit nicely over the tennis shoes, and they hardly got wet at all in crossing Ritter's Southeast Glacier. I also decided to leave the crampons and axe in the car and go as light as possible. I figured I could cross the glacier at the low-angle portion and climb the loose rocks on the right side as I'd seen others doing before.
I headed out from the trailhead at 6:55a, as the sun was beginning to rise over the Sierra Crest and Mammoth Mountain. The trail heads gently down for 500 feet as it heads down to the San Joaquin River. A couple had started on the trail just in front of me, heavily laden with backpacking and climbing gear, heading most likely to Mt. Ritter or the Minarets. It was nice not to be carrying so much gear I mused as I passed them. I had to stop in the first ten minutes for a bathroom break, so I pulled well off the trail to do so. When I resumed hiking and passed the couple a second time, they looked a bit perplexed, wondering I supposed, if I might not be stalking them. That was the last I saw of them. A fine NF sign greets visitors as they enter the Ansel Adams Wilderness, a smaller sign indicates the junction of the Shadow Creek Trail with the PCT. I crossed the river at the bridge, and began the long climb up towards Shadow Lake on the canyon's western side. The sun was out with no shade cover, so I stopped to put on some sunscreen. In planning to be out all day for ten days in a row, I was worried that my skin might not be able to last that long if I wasn't careful about applying sunscreen. So at least twice a day I made sure to apply sunscreen, and always wore my hat for shade (and to save my poor scalp which is only thinly covered with hair!). I took in the views both near and far, enjoying the variety of wildflowers as much as I do those of the surrounding peaks. Nearing the top of the canyon wall, the switchbacks cease as the angle eases, and the trail follows the lovely cascades of Shadow Creek.
On the way up to Shadow Lake I began to have second thoughts about the day's adventure. It wasn't that I didn't think I could make it, more the opposite. I had already hiked Ritter as a dayhike when I first climbed it, so this peak along with Whitney were the only two that would be dayhike repeats. I wouldn't have minded so much if I'd had someone along who had yet to climb it, but by myself I seemed to simply be repeating a hike already done - and there are few hikes I enjoy doing a second time with so many others left to do. So I began to think more seriously about climbing Clyde Minaret instead. I had studied up on it the night before, and noted that the Rock Route was mostly class 3 with a 10-foot class 4 section. It was a longer hike and more difficult climb than Ritter, and the name of the peak conjured up wonderful images: "Clyde" the master of peakbagging in the early part of the 20th century, and longest list of first ascents in the Sierra; and "Minaret" with its image of 15 fantastic serrated pinnacles that line the Ritter Range. The Minarets are one of the most widely recognized Sierra features, seen by hundreds of thousands of skiers each year that view them in all their grandeur from the summit of Mammoth Mountain. Clyde Minaret is the tallest of these, and seemed a very fine alternative to Mt. Ritter indeed. In the end I decided it would be more fun to attempt Clyde and fail than to repeat and succeed on Mt. Ritter a second time.
At 8a I reached Shadow Lake, itself a great dayhike destination with a grand view of Mts. Ritter and Banner on the far side of the lake. The lake is not a natural one, but has a concrete dam at the outlet that holds in the water, courtesy of Edison Electric. The JMT crosses the Shadow Creek Trail just west of the lake's inlet over a very sturdy bridge that was also likely provided by Edison. Past Shadow Lake, the creek narrows and the bridges become more primitive. Even more spectacular than Shadow Lake is Ediza Lake, where I arrived shortly after 9a. The views of Mt. Ritter and the Minarets from this area are superb, and it is little wonder that this lake is such a popular camping locale. I spotted several campers across the lake on the western edge sitting idly on the rocks or fishing (I couldn't really tell from the distance), their tents tucked back in among the trees. I followed the trail along the east and south shores of the lake, missing the main trail altogether. I had gone nearly the length of the south side of the lake, several hundred yards, before realizing my mistake. I backtracked to where the turn-off was, a nice sign making it obvious, or at least one would have thought so...
The next lake above Ediza is Iceberg Lake, about 45 minutes more hiking. I had been this way once before in early July of a heavy snow year, and the route had been almost all snow above Ediza. Now it was quite dry, and very different. Large portions of the trail just below Iceberg Lake are deep ruts in the cinnamon-brown earth that provides a nice soil for the flora here. One has the impression of winding one's way through a maze as the trail zig-zags back and forth as it climbs the steep hillside. At Iceberg Lake I climbed up near the lake's outlet and was greeted by a beautiful alpine view of the lake situated in a deep bowl at the foot of the Minarets. Glaciers high on the steep north faces of the craggy spires combine with permanent snow fields lower down that reach to Iceberg Lake's southwest edge to give a stunning picture. Clyde Minaret sits as the vanguard on the left side of the scene. I could hear voices not far off, and in another 50 yards or so I saw a pair of campers relaxing in their folding chairs a short distance above the trail. With a nearby campsite and a commanding view of the scene, this seemed to make a very fine site indeed. I continued on the trail as it skirts the east side of the lake and begins a gradual climb of the headwall at the lake's southeast end. The trail climbs a huge rubble and boulder field that when covered in snow can make for steep climbing. I remember climbing here without crampons or axe, following on the hardened footprints in the snow left by others. A single slip and we would have been unable to stop ourselves before we reached Iceberg Lake several hundred feet below (at the time the lake was frozen over, but the fall would likely have banged us senseless before we even reached the frozen runout). Today, it was just a stroll...
Cecile Lake is even more barren than Iceberg Lake. Very little grows along it's rocky shore. But it stands as the highest of the regular lakes in this area, and its views at the feet of Clyde Minaret are hard to beat. The impressive Minarets tower up 2,000 feet above Cecile Lake to the right of the summit from where I stood at the lake's outlet. Though it is the easiest route, the Rock Route looks downright impossible from here. The route appears to go straight up the jagged walls, though later I found that when viewed from the east the angled slope is readily apparent. The trail more or less ends at Cecile Lake, and I struck out cross-country towards Clyde Minaret. Before the route can be reached I had to climb 1,000 feet of class 2-3 shelves and ledges that turned out to be quite enjoyable. The rock is fairly solid, and the walls steep enough to keep route finding far from easy. Up and up I climbed, far higher than I had expected before I could even reach the beginning of the route. There is a good size snow patch blocking the way to the ramp that leads up to the rock route. Without crampons or axe, and hiking only in tennis shoes with no tread, I was reluctant to make my way across the snow. So instead I headed up to the right of the snow to the chimney that marks the bottom of the Rock Route. At the time I thought this entrance was class 3, but later found it was a "difficult 5.5 chimney". The view from the bottom of the chimney was imposing indeed. It was very cold in the shade here, and there were pieces of dirty ice that remained buried deep in the corners. The walls of the chimney were almost claustraphobic, at times only three feet apart. Very cautiously I climbed the narrow steps and cracks that led into the chimney, slowly observing each foot and hand placement so that I could reverse the moves on retreat. I climbed 25 feet up hoping the way would open up and get easier, but it didn't. It was very steep in the chimney, and a fall would be very serious indeed. I climbed higher, another 25 feet or so, and found that the route still did not open up to easier class 3 as I'd hoped. Instead, the narrow central crack that I'd been climbing with easy but exposed foot holds ended. Ahead I would have to actually do some chimney climbing to make further progress, and it looked to be difficult for another 20 feet or so. I paused to take stock in my situation, and had to admit it would be folly to continue. Even with rock shoes I would probably not have been comfortable without a rope, but with tennis shoes I felt especially vulnerable.
I reversed 50 feet of the chimney in the same manner I had climbed it, and found myself quite confident in doing so. In times past I had found myself climbing things I could not downclimb, and this little piece helped make me feel better about my ability to extract myself in retreat. Below the chimney, I climbed back down towards the snow field and examined it a little more closely to see if I could make it to the ramp above. It still looked as dicey as it had earlier. I retrieved a red sling that I found on the snow, one of three I was to find up here. It was about 11:30a, and I decided that I wasn't going to be making it to the summit on this visit. It would have to wait for another time. I think the the four-point crampons would be sufficient to let me reach the ramp safely, and perhaps with a pair of rock shoes in my pack I could feel better about the class 4 section along the ridge near the top. Already I was planning a return visit.
I still had plenty of daylight left, all afternoon in fact, so I decided to take a different route back, via Minaret Lake. Rather than descend to Cecile Lake via the route I'd taken, I headed east, following the lower edge of the snow field, making my way along the rocks. I couldn't tell if this alternative descent was going to get me off the bottom half of the mountain, but it seemed worth a try. I found the other two slings along the edge of the snowfield here. None of them seemed to be at the base of where you might expect climbers to drop them, and I wondered if avalanche or some other mechanism had brought them down to the runnout here. At the far end of the very broad ledge I was walking along, I was finally able to get a look down the east edge for my descent, and found it steep, but no more than class 2. In fact it was an easier route than I had taken on the way up. Once off the lower section of Clyde Minaret, other peaks in this group were visible behind it including Ken, Michael, and Kehrlein Minarets. To the northwest, I had a last look at Mts. Ritter and Banner.
As I climbed down another steep section, several hundred feet further down, I heard voices far off. As I continued down and crossed a small rocky plateau, the voices grew louder. I thought they were very close indeed, sounding as if they were around a small mound of rocks to the south. I was surprised to find that the voices were from three climbers who were several hundred feet high and several hundred yards away climbing up a small sub-peak east of Michael and Clyde Minarets. They were actually speaking quite loudly, yodelling, and otherwise making sure anybody within half a mile could hear them. I stuck to the south side of the canyon that drops down from Cecile to Minaret Lake since I was naturally on that side as came down south of Cecile Lake. I could see several use trails climbing on the right side of the canyon, but I was too far commited to bother going back around. This was the last steep section of the climb, and with a bit of boulder hopping (ok, a lot) and a bit of bushwhacking, I landed myself on the trail just west of Minaret Lake. This is another fine lake with views of the surrounding Minarets on two sides. Now it was just a matter of heading back on the trail to Devil's Postpile, then hitching a ride on the bus back to Agnew Meadows. I found a group of three friendly gentlemen at Minaret Lake who were in the process of inflating their boat. Seems they had carried this large, heavy inflatable boat with them on their backpack trip so they could do some fishing from it. Neat idea, but a lot of work! Minaret Lake isn't all that big, and the fishing from shore is probably as good as it gets anyway, but they figured since they brought the boat all this way, they might as well use it. They grinned somewhat sheepishly as they explained this to me before I bid them good luck and was off again.
The Minaret Creek Trail is longer than I had remembered it, and it isn't nearly as scenic as the Shadow Creek Trail. It was a long way down, losing lots of elevation mile after mile. I stopped where the trail passes by the top of a nice cascade on Minaret Creek, and soaked my feet in the refreshingly cold water. I hadn't brought a map with me since I'd been in this area multiple times, and figured, "Why would I need a map?" As I continued down the Minaret Creek Trail, I recalled that at Johnston Meadow a few miles down the trail, there is a juncture with the JMT which turns north and heads back to Shadow Lake (I had seen the JMT juncture at Shadow Lake earlier in the day). If one were to look at a map it would be obvious that the quickest return is to head out to Devils Postpile, and not to take the JMT back to Shadow Lake and Agnew Meadow. But then I didn't have a map, did I? And somehow I got it in my head that it would be about the same distance either way, and since I hadn't been on that portion of the JMT, what an opportunity! So after descending 3 miles or so down to Johnston Meadow, I turned and head north on the JMT. Up and up the trail climbs through some very dry forest, dusty and without much in the way of views except some rather large trees. I climbed up for about a mile and a half and maybe 600 feet before I came across an older woman who was hiking the JMT with her husband (who was somewhere far behind her). They were eight days out of Happy Isle, a slow pace, but she didn't seem to be in any rush either. She was eager to get to Reds Meadow and was relieved to find it was but a few hours away. She let me look at the maps she carried with her, and after going through half a dozen or so I found the right one. It was then that I realized it was more like 7.5 miles between Johnston Meadow and Shadow Lake, not the 3 miles I'd expected. I continued on several hundred more yards before the full realization of my folly hit me. I still had 9 miles to go if I continued to Shadow Lake, my feet were begging me to quit. So I turned around and jogged back down the hill (passing my surprised friend again) until I got back to Johnston Meadow, then continued hiking (now that I'd gotten the 3 mile detour of the way).
I really don't like this last part of the Minaret Creek Trail. As part of the JMT it is heavily used, sandy, and dusty. I ran into several small groups of dayhikers out to see Minaret Falls. I was glad to reach the boundary at Devils Postpile, knowing my hike was about done. Over the bridge crossing the San Joaquin, then back north to the ranger station, arriving at 4:30p. I'd been out nine and a half hours, with a few short breaks, and was looking forward to a nice rest. I had to wait less than 15 minutes for the next bus which took me back to Agnew Meadows by 5p (its free of charge as long as you don't ride back out to Mammoth).
Back in town I enjoyed a refreshing shower and clean clothes before heading out to dinner. I checked at the front desk, but there was still no word from David. I was sure he'd left me. I went to Grumpy's for dinner, not because I liked the place, in fact I'd never eaten there though I'd been to Mammoth a dozen times. But it gets enough mention in other trip reports that I thought I should check it out. I can't say I was impressed. I never really liked sports bars, and the food wasn't much to write home about. At least I was able to consume a large quantity of calories in the form of grease-laden fries and burger that would easily carry me for the next day.
I was back at the Rodeway Inn around 8p, set about uploading some pictures, and packed things for the following day. I was 2 for 3 in reaching the summits so far, though far from disappointed. And I still had seven more days to go!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Clyde Minaret
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