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Ascent of Mount Ritter
"This isn't boring!" I don't specifically recall, but someone must have uttered these words during our trip. We had the usual auspicious start: Thursday evening traffic was horrendous, and our camp at Deadman Summit was surprisingly cold. The next morning, we encountered a car driving north in the south-bound lanes of Hwy 395. And the weather report at the Mammoth ranger station predicted still cooler "autumn temperatures" and the possibility of thundershowers. However, when we arrived at the trailhead at 7:20, everyone was there and we were soon hitting the trail. The crew consisted of Charles Schafer and myself (leader and co-leader, and official photographers), Phyllis Olrich ("fashion poem"), Tony Cruz (Mr. Epic), Andy Skumanich (climber), Bill Kirkpatrick and Roger Crawley (comic relief), and Paul Magliocco (assistant to Mr. Kirkpatrick). Roger had previously climbed Ritter, and Phyllis and Paul had been up Banner, while some others had never before visited the area.
As we hiked the 6.2 miles to Ediza Lake and gazed up at the Minarets, we discussed our options for how to bag two peaks in the course of three days. Several people quickly vetoed the idea of climbing one of them on the last day. And only Andy expressed any interest in doing much altitude the first day. So it was settled: cram both peaks into a long Saturday. Friday afternoon was thus devoted to fighting mosquitoes and to long naps amongst one of the most scenic Sierra backdrops. It was at this time that a solo hiker set up camp nearby. He had a monstrous pack (Phyllis estimated 100 lb) and became known to us by several names: Mr. Mill Valley, Blue Eyes (who came up with that one?), and Eric.
That evening, we had the usual bear bagging adventures. On his second attempt, Bill threw the rock in a beautiful arc over the tree limb, only to have the rope part company with the rock at the apex and fall uselessly to the ground. At the other end of camp, Roger turned tree climber in order to reposition another bear rope. Even the squirrels were in awe.
Summit day began with a 6:30 departure. In no time we were on snow, a major theme of the climb. We traversed Ritter by ascending the SE glacier, then descending to the Ritter-Banner saddle. A quick scurry up Banner followed, then a descent from the saddle. The highlights follow:
Crampons proved very useful when the ascent to the glacier became steep. Except for a 100 to 200 yard class 2 rock band, the entire ascent was on snow and was straight forward. Neither the weather nor the summit views could be better. Several people tried to identify all the visible peaks, but finally gave up. It was with considerable regret that we left the summit.
From the top of Ritter, it appeared to be almost straight down to the saddle with Banner. The descent first involved heading down a loose class 3 ridge, where Paul earned enormous praise for his assistance to Bill. It was also here that Phyllis suffered the only notable injury, when she was hit on the calf by a rock she dislodged herself. We were then forced into front pointing down a 50+ degree snow-filled gully. Roger and others searched desperately for an alternative, but there was none. Though few in the group had ever been on such steep snow before, it was within everyone's ability, and the emergency rope stayed in my pack. One side effect was to render the later descent from the saddle on steep snow trivial, and a number of people later called it all a good experience. Everyone certainly got plenty of crampon practice that day.
From the saddle, Phyllis and Bill headed for camp while the rest of us scrambled up the class 2 slope of Banner. Tony was already completely spent, so he climbed purely on motivation - something we shouldn't have allowed. To get down safely, he became very slow and deliberate. The route was obvious and he eventually made it back to camp, with Charles monitoring his progress much of the way. It was almost 11pm when the epic ended.
Our return day was pretty routine. We met Eric for lunch in Mammoth, then Roger and Phyllis basked in Hot Creek during a drizzling rain before heading home.
Side notes: I had my permit checked for the first time ever in the Sierra. Andy's noting that Phyllis was not a fashion statement but rather a fashion poem. The real fashion statement was in the form of a full-body bug suit, being modeled along the trail on our hike out. Several people were heard to comment that they had a good time.
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