After an unfortunate speeding ticket near Yosemite Junction, we made it through the park quickly and then down to Mammoth to pick up permits. Drove to Agnew and hit the trail, and three hours later found ourselves setting up camp high in the valley above Ediza Lake. The trees down near the Middle Fork were turning, and it made for a beautiful hike in. As the last rays of sun were dying out, we saw a pair of climbers descending the small glacier below the Gap between Waller and Leonard Minaret and hoped they were either fast or had headlamps. Turns out they wouldn't need them -- a nearly full moon rising up over Volcanic Ridge completed a perfect day.
We left camp at 7:30 the next morning, aiming for the obvious chute to the right of the "Landmark Dome" described by Alan Ritter in his many trip reports. Unlike our June trip, where we climbed all the way up and out of this chute and followed the "Clyde Variation", this time we turned up towards the peak pretty much right after the first "tree rock" and followed some easy scrub and cliffs to a rocky plateau above a permanent snowfield tucked into a bowl below the pinnacle on the SE corner of the glacier. Not wanting to lose our hard earned vertical, we contoured around the snowbowl and found ourselves dealing with some unnecessary cliffs. In retrospect, this was a mistake -- we probably should have just bit the bullet and descended to the bowl, crossed it, and hiked back up the other side to reach the glacier. The views from the plateau to the south, over Cecile Lake and the Silver Divide, were stunning. We could easily pick out Mt. Darwin and many other high sierra peaks.
We did reach the snout of the glacier about 1 1/2 hours into the climb. From there, you just climb straight up the glacier. As with our last trip, we opted for the uppermost chute leading to the summit (called "Owen's Chute" in Alan Ritter's reports). We scrambled up the steep rocks and emerged to see the summit above us. We angled upwards slightly to the right, then angled back up and to the left to reach the summit at 11:30. The views from the top were perfect -- no clouds and no haze to speak of (except the haze down in the Central Valley). We had the hill all to ourselves that day.
The hike down was tough, involving constant talus hopping and concentration. We made it down in about three hours, made dinner and watched the sun go down. Well after sunset, we saw two more climbers descending the snowfield below the Banner-Ritter Saddle. Thinking they were coming down awfully late, we were very surprised to see two more climbers leave the saddle about an hour later. We looked for headlamps coming down but never saw them.
The next day's hike out was very fast, inspired by the thought of blueberry pancakes at the Stove in Mammoth. But I must say that the last 400' of gain climbing up from the river to Agnew Meadows is a lousy way to end an otherwise great trip.
Photos and more detail are posted on my website here: http://www.tahoebackcountry.net/features/ritter2/ritter1.htm
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