Minaret Traverse (attempt)

21 Oct 1999 - by Craig Clarence

The Ritter Range has a reputation for containing dangerously loose rock. We've spent a few weeks climbing in the area over the past two years, and have found this reputation to be largely unjustified. In fact, the area has become one of my favorites in the Sierra because of its quality rock and adventurous climbing. Looking over at the Minarets from the S Ridge of Ritter last month, we knew we had to try one more climb in the area this year. The Minaret Traverse seemed like a good choice.

Peter Croft called this his toughest day in the mountains, and did the whole traverse in less than 22 hours car to car. The 16 summit traverse was originally done in a three day push by Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler in the early 1980s. With the standard 4 to 1 Croft Ratio, we figured it would take us four days. Having only three (short) days, we knew we probably wouldn't make it, and we didn't. Our climbing went north to south, from Waller Minaret to Dawson Minaret. This was the opposite direction all others have gone, and we found the climbing in this direction to be more difficult than from south to north.

We tried to do some research on this traverse before we left, and found very little modern route information. Most of the Minarets carry an ancient 4th class rating, which we found translates to anything from 4th class to 5.9. While I'm not suggesting that the original ratings be changed, I've included below our assessment of each Minaret's modern Yosemite Scale rating to assist those interested in climbing in the area. Note that a "double-length" rappel is any rappel over 25 meters (i.e., two 50 meter ropes were used).

WALLER MINARET - West Side route Secor's West Side route is right on at 5.4. One single-length rappel on fixed slings gets you off the summit ridge.

LEONARD MINARET - West Ridge route The West Ridge route, first climbed by Clyde in the 1930s, is rated class 4 in Secor. Expect mostly (exposed) class 4, with a few short 5th class sections. Three double-length rappels will get you all the way down the west face of the minaret.

TURNER MINARET - West Face route (Grade II 5.7) Secor lists no route on the west side, but it looked pretty good so we gave it a try. Start on the far left side of the west face, scrambling 4th class for a few hundred feet until coming to a steep section. Three short pitches of 5.7 get you to the summit ridge, after which it is a 4th class scramble to the summit. We found this to be a fantastic climb on solid rock. One full double-length rappel (165 feet) goes into the notch between Turner and Leonard, and one more double-length rappel gets you down the west-side gully between these two peaks.

There is no register on this peak.

TRAVERSE FROM TURNER TO JENSEN MINARET Secor lists this traverse at 3rd class. This traverse is not less than 5th class the whole way, and was so intimidating we went back down instead of trying it. It would involve at least one rappel.

JENSEN MINARET - from the North Notch This route is listed as 4th class in Secor. We found the route to be four pitches of solid 5.7 and 5.8. Five single rappels on fixed gear and slings get you back to the North Notch. A fun route if you know what to expect.

We placed a temporary register on this peak.

NORTH NOTCH MINARET - from the North Notch The route listed in Secor (5th class) is accurate. The descent is one single-length rappel on fixed slings from the tiny, flat summit.

DAWSON MINARET - from the North Notch Listed as class 4 in Secor, this route is largely 4th class with some loose rock in the beginning. The last pitch is 5.7. One double-length rappel (off fixed slings) and some scrambling will get you to the notch between Dawson and Bedayan, and two single-length rappels on fixed slings and some scrambling puts you all the way down the west side chute. This was one of our favorite routes on the trip - not too hard, but continuously interesting and very unlikely looking from the west.

We hope to finish the southern half of this traverse next year, and I would be grateful for information anyone can provide on traverses in the area.

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