Waller Minaret P500 CS

Mon, Aug 15, 2011

With: Tom Grundy
Adam Jantz
Bill Peters
Michael Graupe
Jeff Moffat
Sean O'Rourke
Jared White
Jonathan Bourne
Evan Rasmussen
Scott Hanson
Pete Kirkham

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


It was another fine day, the fourth of the 2011 Sierra Challenge. We had almost a dozen folks meeting up at the Agnew Meadows TH at the usual 6a. Today we were heading to Waller Minaret, the northern most in this chain of impressive pinnacles in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I've been interested in eventually dayhiking all of the minarets, having done the easier ones at the southern end of the range. Waller is rated class 5.2 by its easiest route, the one we intended to use today. I carried a thin 30m rope in case we might need it, but we managed nicely without it. Only about half a dozen of our group were heading to Waller, the rest heading to Volcanic Ridge, Clyde Minaret (previous Challenge peaks) or just out for a hike with the group. We were 45 minutes in reaching the bridge over the San Joaquin River, the lowest elevation point at some 500ft below the TH. Twenty minutes later we had worked our way up the switchbacks to the beautiful Shadow Lake where we paused to take the customary reflection photos with Ritter and Banner in the background.

By 8a the front group was at Lake Ediza. Waller Minaret looks quite impressive from the lake, though truth be told, so do the rest of the Minarets further to the left. At a trail junction on the south side of the lake we turned right to follow the south shore of the lake to the west. We followed along this trail for about 10-15 minutes, making some distance above the lake before it petered out in the alpine meadow below Ritter Pass. There were six in our group at this time, though we were not always close together. At the far end of the open meadow we crossed a large, low-angle snow field, then up a snow-free slope for about a hundred yards before we ran out of easy terrain. Here we switched to crampons which we would need for a long mile up late season snow slopes to reach Ritter Pass. Our beta described the approach to Waller Minaret as over Ritter Pass and around a buttress to reach the West Face/Ridge of Waller. As we neared closer to Ritter Pass, we eyed a secondary pass further south that looked like it might get us to Waller more directly. This was a bit puzzling since there was no mention of this in Secor. A look at our map showed the pass to be no more difficult than Ritter Pass, judging by the contours. It seemed worth giving it a try, so we headed left in that direction.

The last 400ft or so were steep, meaning more careful foot and axe placements. The snow was in good condition for crampons, not soft, but biting well. Sean of course was the first to reach the end of the snow where a small headwall presented itself. He was almost to the top of this class 3 bit of rock when I paused to take off my crampons. The others were not far behind. I followed Sean up and over the crest, down the other side a similar distance, then a traverse across snow to the west side of Waller Minaret. Here I caught up with Sean who had paused for a break, the others in a line behind us crossing the snow slope. South Ritter Pass had worked out about as well as might have hoped.

We tried to follow the detailed description of the routes on this side of the mountain provided by Bob Sumner in Secor's book, but that didn't seem to work out. We thought we had identified the correct chute to climb, expecting it to lead to the main crest which we could follow for 300ft south to the summit. Sean and I climbed ahead of the others to the top of our indentified chute, only to find big air at the notch, impossible climbing along the ridge, and no way to get around on either side. We called down to the others regarding our find, suggesting they take a right-branching fork up an adjacent chute that led to a notch on a buttress west of the crest. Tom was the first to reach the top of this second chute with Adam and Michael not far behind. There was no way to climb the buttress directly, but we could safely cross over the notch and into another large chute that had a long tongue of hard snow lying in the middle of it. Tom was already on his way up this third chute by the time the last of us had crossed over the notch. We used the moat on the left side to climb up it, no one wanting to get out their crampons to climb the snow directly for so short a distance. This chute also led to the main crest where further progress towards the summit would be blocked, but just below at the top of the snow tongue, we were able to traverse further right to continue.

At the end of the short traverse we were confronted by the first of two cruxes. This first was a short 20-foot chimney with rock quality that was like much of the mountain, questionable. It wasn't terribly loose and dangerous, mind you, but one had to be careful as rocks large and small could be loose and needed testing beforehand. For the most part it was enjoyable and certainly interesting. The route-finding had become more challenging that we'd expected. We all managed to get up this first crux section without resorting to the rope. Above it, things eased as we now found ourselves making progress along the ridge. There was some confusion about where the summit actually was. Jonathan thought it was above us to the left while others thought it was further south along the ridge. It was not obvious from our position, but the description seemed to lean toward it being further south. Following the majority, we went right.

We were confronted with the second crux while following the ridge, needing to overcome a large step. This was done by a 5.4ish break in the step found on the right (west) side of the crest, which took some additional care. Again we managed it without the rope. Beyond this the terrain grew easier over class 2-3 rock. Sean had reached the summit well before the rest of us and was already relaxing and perusing the register when I showed up at 10:50a. It was under 5hrs to reach the summit, an hour ahead of my prediction. Jonathan was a minute behind me and the others came in over the next fifteen minutes. Michael was the last to make an appearance, having found the going rough and right at his technical limit without a rope. He was most happy that it got no harder. In all, six of us had made it to the summit on this fine day.

While Sean opened his lunch of tinned fish, we perused the contents of the summit register, an aluminum box left by the SRC in 1992. There were only seven pages in the register that was placed at the same time. The first page included signatures of Ted Waller and Jules Eichorn, the first ascentionists in 1934. Ours was the tenth party to sign into the register over the past 19 years. Interestingly, Doug Mantle had been to the summit twice, both times via the SE Ridge from The Gap. There is a fine view of the other Minarets from our high perch, Leonard and Jensen being particularly close. These might be the next ones I put on my list to completing the set.

I was interested in seeing if we couldn't take a different route back, thinking the SE Ridge our best option. Three others were similarly interested and we started down that way. Within a few minutes it became clear that this was no easy class 4 scramble and two of us turned back. Tom and Sean continued on out of sight, but they too had returned before we had gotten far in returning back the West Side route. We took our time reversing both the crux and the chimney further down, Adam finding a way around the lower part of the chimney that he felt was too loose. We then reversed the chute filled with snow, climbed to the notch and then down the original chute we had started on.

It was nearly 12:30p when we returned to South Ritter Pass, marking the end of the spicy stuff. From here we again broke ranks, splitting up into smaller groups and individuals. As usual, Michael and I were keeping a similar pace and stayed together the entire route. It was a delightful hike once we were off the snow, across easy terrain and alpine meadow, returning to Lake Ediza and the trail. We caught up with Sean who had gotten ahead but then stopped for a short nap. Down the Shadow Lake trail we went, enjoying the cascades along the way and views to San Joaquin Mtn and Mammoth Mtn, across the San Joaquin River and back to Agnew Meadows by 3p. An hour later Michael and I were at the Vons in Bishop stocking up on supplies. It wasn't hard to talk Michael into a last stop at Starbucks for a well-earned reward - onward to Bishop!

Jersey Strategy:
Michael still held a fifteen minute lead over me for the Yellow jersey. I could have used the technical traverse across Waller to gain significant time, but that seemed unfair somehow, and not as fun, either.

Karl had taken a rest day, giving Tom the lead for the Polka Dot jersey with a total of nine peaks in four days. Karl and Bill each had seven peaks in second place.

Bill had climbed Clyde Minaret as an alternate Challenge in 14.5hrs. So far he was averaging more than 12hrs a day on the trail and would keep this up for ten days. There should be some sort of reward for this amount of perseverance. Continued...

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