Mt. Ritter P2K SPS / WSC / CS

Sat, Oct 10, 1998
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile
later climbed Sun, Aug 10, 2003


I woke up just before 7a in the Rodeway Inn of Mammoth Lakes. For 10 minutes or so I lay there pondering the pros and cons of going hiking today, trying to determine if I have recovered sufficiently from my previous day's adventure to Koip and Kuna Pks. My headache and blurred vision are gone, the sun is out, and there is no sign of wind. I get up, stretch my legs a moment, and decided, "What the heck."

The idea for this day hike came from Jim Ramaker's trip report from 1997. My goal was to start and finish at more reasonable hours, about 3 hrs less than the total that day.

After showering, I packed my waist packs with the usual supplies (plus a flashlight which I had forgotten on yesterday's romp), stopped at Safeway for a couple pastries and a quart of chocolate milk, and headed up hwy 203 to Agnew Meadows.

At the trailhead, there were tons of cars and at least 4 groups of backpackers preparing for one last wilderness trip. Starting Oct 15, overnight parking is prohibited in the area, in preparation for the coming winter. Ice axe in hand, I set out on the trail at 8:10a.

I stopped on the hill below Shadow Lake to remove my gloves and jacket. The sun is shining brightly, there is no wind, and the weather appears perfect. After passing several dayhiking parties, I arrived at Shadow lake just past 9a.

I'm not jogging or running, but I'm moving quickly, and without companions I don't stop for breaks. At 10:15a I'm at Ediza Lake, and start the hike around the right side of the lake. Going across the large boulders in this area, I used extra caution as I remembered my friend Terry and the smashed finger he got at this very spot three years earlier.

Going up beyond Ediza there is a nice use trail which I make good use of until I got to the creek flowing in the open area above timberline. From here I studied the cliffs below the southeast glacier and went with Jim Ramaker's advice to ignore Secor in this instance and head up the left side of the cliff, east of the glacier. It is relatively easy climbing with a few class 3 moves (which I'm sure could have been avoided as there seems to be dozens of possible routes in this area). By 12a I have reached the southeast glacier on it's eastern side. It had snowed a foot the previous weekend, and much of it remained, particularly at the higher altitudes. The glacier was covered over with the new snow (no sun cups), and it was still too firm to kick steps in, and too sloped to walk unaided.

I put my crampons (they're only four pointed, so they're easy to pack, but not good for really steep snow/ice) on over my tennis shoes (I neglected to mention previously that I had forgotten my boots back in San Jose. After hiking yesterday in tennis shoes, I decided to try Ritter the same way), and travelled rather easily over the glacier. I noted the spot where one could travel scree on the right side of the glacier on the way to the gully, but I found the glacier travel much easier and stayed on as far up as possible to the base of the gully.

It's now 12:30p and I've reached the point where glacier meets gullies, and I stop to put the crampons away. At the base of the gullies I was surprised by Jim's comments that it was unclear which of the two gullies to take. Secor's description of a single gully seemed more accurate as I wouldn't have considered the left one unless I had read Jim's account. The obvious one on the right was wide and class 2 from the bottom to the top where it met the upper snow field. From his description I expected the upper portions to be out of view, which would certainly put doubt into the choice. In any event, the narrower gully on the left was much narrower and half full of snow, quite treacherous looking to me standing there in my tennis shoes. I chose the right side.

Although not difficult technically, the gully was wet from the recent snow and the scree slid easily. Quite often my foot would slide farther down than I had lifted it, and with the altitude somewhere around 12Kft, it was wearing. 20 minutes into the gully I reached the top, and ponder choosing the left or right route around the snow field to reach the summit. Although it looked longer, I chose the right side as it afforded lower angle climbing for the last stretch where the air is thinnest and the legs weakest.

I reached the summit at 1p. Still cloudless and nearly windless, the views were both expansive and breathtaking. Just about every peak for 60 miles around (and some further) were visible. The registers dated back only to 1995, a testament to the number of climbing parties Ritter gets each year (the last register is completely full, btw). I stayed on the summit for half an hour, long enough to have a snack, write in the register, take some pictures, and enjoy the moment.

By 2:15p I reached the bottom of the gully. I decided the snow had softened sufficiently to allow some nice glissading. With the new snow covering the summer potholes, the glacier made for some wonderful glissading. In 5 minutes I had reached the point on the glacier where I had entered on the way up the mountain.

At this point I could either go down the way I came up, or continue glissading off the left (the side of the cliff closer to Banner) and find a new route down. The fun of the glissade got the best of me, and on I slid for another 300 ft or so. This turned out to be a mistake. After I got off the snow and started down the rocks, my options narrowed and many paths appeared headed to cliffs. One route lead me down a narrow gully and came down to the base of a towering 50 foot waterfall that was cloaked in a stunning sheath of ice (I hope the photo turns out). I had to put the crampons back on and carefully pick my way down the narrow channel, water flowing underneath, and the snow on top turning alternately from powder to ice depending on where I stepped. I could see the snow field below the cliffs and a nice path leading nearly up to where I was. Unfortunately, it would have required a 10ft leap onto the ice below at the closest point and I decided to retreat and retrace my steps.

Going back up I chose another path down which seemed it would likely lead to a cliff again. One of the routes off this path lead to a clear route down to the snow field, and I was rather relieved I didn't have to retrace back up to the glacier which was likely an hour's time back up. It was 3:10p when I exited the cliff.

It was a quick haul at this point to retrace my steps and head back. I reached the mouth of Ediza Lake at 4p and the mouth of Shadow Lake at 4:50. The sun was still shining on the hills above me as I pulled into the trailhead at 5:50p. No flashlight needed, but glad I brought it. 9hr 40min total and quite a trip.

After changing socks and packing up, I was off for the 6hr drive home. Needless to say, I slept quite soundly that night and next morning. :)

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