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,
climber.org, 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!