Mt. Ritter South Ridge

3 Oct 1999 - by Craig Clarence

Climbing on the SW ridge of Mt. Ritter a few weeks back, we were amazed at the dramatic ridges dropping off to the west and south from the summit. The west ridge, which climbs Peak 12,344 and then continues as the SW ridge of Mt. Ritter, looked like a multi-day proposition. The south ridge looked a bit shorter and less technical than the SW ridge. After doing some research, it appeared that this part of the crest of the Ritter Range had not yet been traversed - basically, the section from Ritter Pass to the summit of Mt. Ritter. We decided to go up and have a look.

Driving in late on Friday, we reached Lake Ediza at 9:00 p.m.. Figuring an alpine start couldn't hurt, we started walking at 4:30 the next morning. 6:00 a.m. found us at Ritter Pass just as it was light enough to climb without headlamps. Huge streamers of smoke were flowing over the Sierra out into the Nevada desert, and the range was shrouded in haze. We later learned the smoke was from fires in the coastal ranges of Central California.

Four hours of simul-climbing 4th and 5th class rock on the crest of the ridge got us to the prominent tower looming over the SE glacier, after which the ridge doglegs west and hooks up with the last part of the SW ridge. Most of this first part of the ridge was classic Sierra ridge climbing, with long exposed 4th class catwalks broken up by steep steps and gendarmes.

The technical crux of the route came in climbing the high tower which connects the south ridge and the SW ridge. The climbing was typical of the area - smooth (sometimes slick) rock with many razor-cut edges. A bit runout in places because of the lack of continuous crack systems. After climbing this tower, we downclimbed its west side (4th class) to the site of our bivy a few weeks ago on the SW ridge. Gratefully passing by these "camp sites," we continued over familiar ground to the summit of Mt. Ritter. We summited at 4:30 p.m., and got back to camp just as it was getting dark. As I was taking my pack off, I noticed a bright light in the sky. It looked like a comet, with a huge bright tail. As I watched, it moved slowly towards us for about 30 seconds and then exploded. Quite a dramatic way to end the day.

The south ridge of Mt. Ritter is a less serious climb than the SW ridge, with less continuous exposure and more third class terrain. Still, it was long enough that we thought it deserved a grade V, as we climbed almost non-stop for 10 1/2 hours and simul-climbed most the way. A party using standard pitch-by-pitch climbing techniques would be hard pressed to complete the route in a day.

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