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Matthew never showed up at our motel in Mammoth after the Banner-Ritter hike, so Michael and I got up extra early and drove down to Agnew Meadows to check on him. Fortunately, his car was gone. If it wasn't, I was going to have to slog back up to the Ritter-Banner Saddle and look for him. I was happy that Matthew was so self-reliant, never more so than for that hike he just saved me from.
We drove back out over the pass, through town, and out to the McGee Creek TH. We found Matthew there, sorting gear. We'd been relieved when we saw his car wasn't there, but we were thrilled when we saw him, and that he'd come back for more. He told us he'd decided not to climb Ritter's North Face solo and went back down the east side from the saddle. He had even more trouble descending than ascending, and it wasn't until 8p that he got back to the TH. He then stopped at McDonalds once back in town, afterwards going to camp at McGee Creek. We also learned that this was Matthew's first real use of crampons. That explained why he was going slow on the way up, and why he took his time getting down. Nothing like trial by fire!
The three of us set out for Red and White Mtn. at 6a. The sun rose on Mt. Baldwin as we started, another fine day weatherwise. The colorful rock on Baldwin's East Face showed even more color in the early morning glow. We hiked up the canyon, mostly in the shade which suited us just fine. The route along the canyon follows through four environments, roughly broken into four equal segments, each taking about an hour to ascend. The first is the lower desert-chaparral, second the forest, third the alpine meadows, and lastly the barren rock. After passing through the forest, the trail turns to the right and we got our first view of Red and White. Here the trail passes through some wonderful grassy meadows between Mts. Baldwin on the north and Mt. Crocker on the Sierra Crest to the south. The trail then took us above and past Big McGee Lake to the outlet of Little McGee Lake. This spot roughly marks the transition to the barren rock zone that continues a few more miles to McGee Pass, but also marked where we were to leave the trail. It was 9a when we turned off the trail. We'd seen no other parties in the three hours we'd been hiking.
The NE Ridge is advertised by Secor as "the best route on Red and White because it doesn't have as much loose rock as the other routes that are commonly used.". And it shows up in Moynier and Fiddler's Sierra Classics as featured route #72. Once we were done with the climb our combined opinion was that the route has lots of loose rock, can hardly be considered a "classic", and unless you simply need to tick this one off your SPS/PCS list, ought to be avoided.
From Little McGee Lake, we gained the ridge on the opposite side. The route looks quite promising in the lower part, and we found some fun, solid class 3 climbing for a hundred feet or so. Then, onto the fractured slate for 1,500ft. Some of it is at least firm, much of it is loose. We noted that Secor never lies in his description, the other routes are probably just that much crappier. Moynier and Fiddler must have run out of fun routes to list this among the top 100. My guess is that it falls in the 500th range - if that. Mammoth Rock and Lembert Dome are better climbs. On our way up to the Sierra Crest, we could see over the low point along the crest (that we'd be climbing along shortly) to the Silver Divide. I didn't realize it at the time, but we had to climb up several more hundred feet and then lose the elevation again along the ridge.
When we gained the Sierra Crest, we didn't find much of a knife edge. Just a long, tortured ridge of fractured rock with loose, but easy walking, and the aformentioned elevation loss. The three of us were stretched out over a quarter mile along the ridge, myself in front, Michael about 10 minutes behind, Matthew falling further back, another 20 minutes or so. We bypassed the false summit (not much of a false summit when the main summit is in plain view, but this is what Secor calls it) on the right, sidehilling across talus and boulder fields, sometimes loose, sometimes steep, sometimes both, but really just class 2. We kept waiting for the exciting class 3 to begin. The NE Ridge after the false summit looked like the steep and exciting stuff we were looking for. Maybe we would get 300ft of fun class 3. Not to be, we found out. The ridge itself is much tougher than class 3, the route actually goes up the left side of the ridge. The climbing is basically class 2, but the looseness in the series of chutes here makes it class 3. I arrived atop the summit at 10:30a, Michael about 5 minutes later.
The views at least were grand (NW - NNW - N - NE - E - SE - SSE - S - SW - W). We could see as far south as Mt. Sill, and as far north as Mt. Dana. The peak sits at the triple divide where the Sierra Crest meets the Silver Divide, so there is much to look at. We were surprised that we could even see Lake Thomas Edison to the SW. After 30min on the summit, Michael and I started to descend. We met Matthew about halfway down the summit mass, he was still 15-20min to the summit. He was still feeling good, climbing at what he described as just within his comfort zone. We assured him the remainder to the summit was no worse than he'd already climbed, and for the second day in a row we abandoned him.
Not wanting to return via the circuitous route we'd taken, Michael and I opted to descend the East Face via what looked like a steep, loose face. And so it was. We weren't quite able to see the whole route to the bottom, and there was some chance that we might get cliffed out and have to ascend 600ft back to the ridge. Happily, we were able to get all the way down. We even found some decent class 3 climbing on some semi-solid rock we dubbed the East Buttress. That was good for about 15 minutes until we could find some faster sand and talus fields to descend. It was clear that this route we descended was much looser than our ascent, so we figured Secor was good for his word, even if we felt a little deceived.
We talus-slid down to a small unnamed lake SW of Big McGee Lake. Here we found a use trail to our delight which we were able to follow all the way back to the regular trail a few hundred feet above Big McGee Lake. Then more motoring back to the TH. We passed many parties now, a few lone backpackers, a few larger groups, a couple of dayhikers, and two groups of horses out for joyrides. Some clouds offered a bit of respite from the sun and the heat, and we found that soaking our hats in the creeks we passed further helped to cool us during the descent through the lower, warmer parts of the canyon. We arrived back at the trailhead at 3p for a 9hr RT time. Much easier than the previous day we both agreed, but not as much fun climbing-wise.
We drove back to our motel in Mammoth for our last night's stay there. Michael and I went to dinner figuring Matthew would again be late in returning. We were right, and he showed up at the motel around 9p. That was good, because it meant he was alive, and also that we wouldn't have to drive out to look for him in the morning. Matthew must certainly appreciates the peace of mind we give him, knowing that his buddies are looking out for him so well. :-)
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Red and White Mountain
This page last updated: Wed May 16 16:47:03 2007
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