min-a-ret: n. 1. A tall, slender tower on a mosque, having one or more projecting balconies from which a muezzin summons the people to prayer.
clyde min-a-ret: n. 1. A tall, slender peak south of Ritter/Banner, having steep 3rd to 5th class faces from which a register summons the people to climb.
October is a dicey month for climbing. It can be crisp and wonderful, or it can be snowy and cold. Last month (September) we were snowed off Winchell, but there was an extended period of dry weather that beckoned me back to the high country. Perhaps I should have chosen a peak OTHER than Clyde Minaret, with its northeast facing rock, but I wanted to cap a month of grunge peaks with one last REAL climb.
Problem 1: Road Closed. It never occurred to me that the Devil's Postpile road would be closed at Minaret Summit (just past Mammoth Mtn Lodge) when there was no snow on the ground and no threat of impending storms. It was. We had an extra 3 miles to walk in each direction, and an extra 700' of climb-out at the end. (The road closes mid-october need it or not.)
Problem 2: Short Days. The Winter Solstice draws near, daylight "savings" draws near, and camp seems to drift farther away. We actually had a very nice hike in, except we lost the use trail above Ediza Lake and wound up looking down on Iceberg Lake instead of going past the outlet. Yep, it has icebergs in it (at least this year) and very large very icy snowfields on both sides. It also loses the sun by 4pm. We found a great campsite under some small trees and were in the sack shortly right about dark. It was actually warmer here than at the trailhead, but still in the 20s overnight.
Problem 3: Old Snow vs. New Snow. We had to crampon around Iceberg Lake, and we had to crampon up 45 degree ice at the base of the 3rd class rock (or do a mixed moat/rock scramble with crampons). I chose the open slopes, traversing into the center of the ice field to avoid TWO FEET of fresh and poorly consolidated sugar snow. The old snow is now completely iced, and an ice hammer would have been more comforting than my ice axe (despite recent sharpening). The others did a mixed bag of routes, but we converged on the narrow point of the snowfield where we planned to pick up the ledge to Secor's "Rock Route". (By the way, climbing straight up from Cecile's outlet to the ledge is class 2-3 and solid - I see no reason to use the "red rock" area which has been reported to be loose.)
Problem 4: I Want, Therefore I Will (damn the torpedos, full speed ahead). We were not climbing fast enough to get the peak, return to camp, and pack out before dark. I should have turned back all or part of the group at the top of the glacier. Jeff pointed out that this was the wrong time of year to climb after looking at his watch and the snow-littered third class above us, but David and I wanted the peak badly and Patt was feeling strong. We went up.
Problem 5: New Snow on Rock. The easy (Rock) route was covered with snow from the end of "the ledge". The Starr route had less snow, but it still obscured some of the moves. We got to the "prominent gendarme" where the Starr and Rock routes converge with two belays, but lost time trying to free the rope from a freak snag: The end of the rope dropped into a one-inch crack and would not come out. We cut off a couple of feet after sending Patt down to yank on it for a while. First time I've ever had to cut a rope during a climb! Above the gendarme the snow got positively deep, and we wished for gaiters.
Problem 6: The Sun. It was now mid afternoon, we were still climbing, we had been in the shade since leaving the glacier, we were mid-calf in snow on third class rock, and some people didn't have warm gloves that were suitable for climbing. Looking at the sunlit valley below didn't help, but no one was critically cold so we pressed on.
The Reward: The summit ridge was warm, sunny, and short, topping out at 3:30pm. We signed in and headed right back down after a bite to eat and some discussion of whether to downclimb or rappel.
Problem 7: The Downclimb. A few moves down on snowy rock with some loose stuff underneath convinced us we would mostly rap the class 3-4 slope. Ugh. This was very slow, but we did make use of old slings when we could. Even though we had limited the group to four people, getting on and off the rope took too much time and it was dusk. Somewhere above the gendarme I heard a noise above me and watched in horror as an 8" rock came spinning over the edge right at me, knocked loose from under the snow by the rope. Being on rappel I had few choices - I tried to lift my foot to block it, but was not fast enough to prevent a solid hit on my shin. I twisted on the rope for a few minutes before I could see/think/move again, and we continued down.
Problem 8: The Dark. We reached the top of the ice field just after full darkness hit. Downclimbing loose 3rd class to the moat without being able to see the holds seemed suicidal (a slip would drop you onto the ice for a fast ride into a bergschrund). Downclimbing 45 degree ice without being able to see the fresh snow plates on top seemed suicidal (same runout). A bivy with the possibility of single digit temperatures and no flat place to sit seemed suicidal. We were out of water. We had only my single-cell AAA mini-mag flashlight among us, having left our headlamps in camp in the foolish confidence that we would be back early. Patt and I chose the ice, Jeff and David did a mix of ice and rock. Both Patt and David walked out of their crampons, but eventually we all got into the moat and away from the exposure. Stemming between rock and ice, we got above the soft snow and headed down.
Problem 9: Splitting up. Should we stick together, moving at less than half the pace the faster people could, or should we try to get someone out to the trailhead? Should the fast people go get flashlights or sleeping bags and return? Several of us had significant others in town with specific instructions on when to call for a rescue. It was becoming mathematically impossible to reach the trailhead before a search was started... but we were all fine. We didn't need a search and rescue, we needed a cell phone to call it off! Reluctantly we all agreed that Patt and I would hike all the way to the cars while Jeff and David could spend another night at Iceberg and hike out the next day. I pumped water for everyone at Cecile Lake, then we split up. Patt and I reached camp just after midnight, packing quickly and heading down, while Jeff and David reached camp around 2am. No injuries, just lots of time moving carefully over boulders by starlight alone. (Don't try this at home, kids! Take a flashlight!)
Problem 10: Fatigue. Patt and I took only short breaks and tried to move as fast as we could. We both felt that we should eat and drink, but got cold quickly whenever we stopped. It was hard to stay focused and alert following the bobbing light of a headlamp down the trail, but we both felt surprisingly strong in spite of being tired. Arriving at Agnew Meadow around 5am, we allowed ourselves the luxury of a half hour nap before cruising up the 3 miles of pavement in about 70 minutes.
The End: We called all the people who were worried about us around 7am, averting any SAR false alarms, had breakfast at Schatt's and took turns driving and sleeping on the way home. Jeff and David got up late, hiking out from 11am to 7pm, and drove to LA where Jeff caught a plane home to the Bay Area. An epic that didn't have to be, but a memorable 23 hour day nonetheless. Many thanks to Patt Callery, Jeff Fisher, and David Underwood for their tenacity, their skills, and their companionship.