Madera County Highpoint Trip Report

Mount Ritter (13,143 ft)

Date: August 20, 2006
Author: Peter Maurer

Four days out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park (including a side trip to Mt. Lyell, Tuolumne County's HP - see trip report) we reached Lake Ediza, our base camp for climbing Ritter. Our route took us along the PCT up the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne, over Donahue Pass, past Thousand Island and Garnett Lakes on the John Muir Trail, and up Shadow Creek to Lake Ediza. We camped above the lake, in a grove of mountain hemlock below the bowl formed by Banner Peak, Ritter, and the Minarets. The initial plan was to find a route based on the brief description found in Gary Suttle's book and using USGS topo maps but fortunately ran into a climber on the trail the day before who had just climbed Ritter. He shared a route description downloaded off of a web site,, that saved us from possible failure or worse. Thank you, Gordon, from South Lake Tahoe!

The chosen route starts the same as most routes, following the stream up from Ediza toward the bowl between Banner and Ritter. Rather than climbing up the steep side below the southeast glacier from the bowl, we took a snow-filled gully between two round granite knobs, referred to as "landmark dome" and "tree rock". This is slightly south of the main southeast glacier. The snow was steep and we used crampons to assist us. While they may not have been necessary, the snow can be very slippery this time of year and I would not have wanted to attempt it without them. Once up toward the top of the gully, we climbed out of it and over the top of tree rock, then back onto a snow-filled bowl at the base of three pinnacles on the south side of the mountain. We crossed below the lowest of the pinnacles, over snow that was 45%, the most difficult part of the climb. Once beyond that, the grade lessens and we were on the southeast glacier. We worked our way up along the north side of the glacier, past what is referred to as the "three-toed buttress." Suttle's route describes going up a chute to the east of this buttress, known as Secor's Route, but that is often blocked by snow and ice at the top and can be quite technical. Going further up the glacier around the buttress, led us to "Owen's Route" a less steep chute that takes you up to the summit plateau.

The chute is full of loose and crumbling rock, even large boulders that look stable are not, so the going is slow. There are a couple of class 3 maneuvers, but nothing too difficult or exposed. Once out of the chute, there is another 1000 feet or so of elevation gain needed to reach the summit. A couple of snow fields need to be crossed and lots of loose boulders, scree, and talus. We kept to the west of the highest snow field and crossed over above it to the ridgeline. The ridge is nearly level, with a 50- to 100-yard scramble over boulders to the summit point. Once again, what a view! It was a calm and clear day, with a 360-degree view for miles in all directions. Sierra peaks going on forever both north and south, a shear drop to the west with ice-filled lakes below, the mass of Banner Peak in the foreground and Mono Lake, the Owens Valley, and White Mountains to the east.

We took a brief rest at the summit, then started the long climb down. We had to tread warily, due to the unstable rocks. More than once we had to make quick adjustments as seemingly stable slabs rocked or started tumbling as we stepped on them. Except for the part around the lower pinnacle, we did not need crampons for the descent, although our hiking poles came in handy for stability and one self-arrest when I got going a little too fast. Made it back to camp after a total of 11 hours (6 1/2 up, 4 1/2 down). Total elevation gain for the day was approximately 3,500 feet.

The following day we hiked out to Agnew Meadow (the trailhead if one did not take the week-long trek to bag Mt. Lyell as well). We caught the shuttle bus on the main road to Devil's Postpile NM, transferred to a free shuttle at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort into the town of Mammoth, and a free trolley around town to a cheep motel. A bus service (Yosemite Area Region Transit Service - YARTS) runs between Mammoth, Lee Vining and Yosemite to take us back to Tuolumne Meadows but it leaves Mammoth at 7:00 a.m., and only runs once a day. Wilderness permits are required, either from Yosemite if entering that way, or the Inyo National Forest. They can be reserved in advance but apply early. Private vehicles are not permitted past the Minaret vista point after 7:00 in the morning, otherwise one must take the shuttle bus for $7. A post-peak celebration is highly recommended at the Mammoth Mountain Brewing Company/Whiskey Creek Bistro. Half-price menu for happy hour and one of the best IPAs ever tasted!