Mt. Ritter SW Ridge, and Peak 12,344

5 Sep 1999 - by Craig Clarence

The days are getting kind of short for Grade VIs, but we had to get in one more "obscure Sierra classic" for 1999. The SW ridge on Mt. Ritter looked like a good candidate, as Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler had pulled the route in a very long day from Agnew Meadows. Not trusting our ability to get it done in a day, we took sleeping bags, 2 ropes, a small rack and a bit of food and water up to Ediza lake on Saturday night.

Sunday started with a quick ascent of Ritter Pass and then descent into the canyon beyond. We filled the water bottles from snow melt and gained the SW ridge as low as was reasonable. The first part of the ridge was easy scrambling, but we soon came to a notch requiring a double-rope rappel. The high point above this notch contained a large broken old-fashioned looking glass bottle, with a lump of paper at the bottom that looked like it was once a note.

Above the notch was an unclimbable 30 foot high gendarme, which we traversed around to the east of the ridge. A few more hours of simul-climbing through the ridge brought us to the summit of Peak 12,344. According to the "100 Sierra Classics" this peak was one of the last peaks to be climbed in the Sierra, and we'd believe it. We saw no signs of human presence except for the sturdy register bolted onto the summit boulder by Clevenger and John Moynier in 1990. They were the only climbers to have signed it, so we figured we were the 4th and 5th people to stand on the summit of this peak.

Now came the exciting part. Standing on the summit of 12,344 in 1990, Clevenger remembers wondering how he and Fiddler survived the first ascent of this route in 1984. We were beginning to wonder the same thing. Difficult downclimbing brought us to another notch filled with snow, and we decided the quickest way was to rappel down to the glacier on the north side of 12,344. After a free-hanging rappel over a huge bergschrund, we walked on the glacier about one hundred feet over to the next notch. Regaining the ridge from this notch, we filled our bottles from snow melt and continued simul-climbing the ridge. Several notches requiring rappels were encountered. We finally ran out of daylight just below the last high point on the ridge before the summit of Ritter itself, and dug in for our bivy.

The next day we didn't take the ropes out of the pack except for one double length rappel, and were on the summit of Ritter by 10:00 am. Descent by the SE glacier route was kind of exciting in approach shoes. Squirrels had eaten all our food at Ediza lake, which made the 6 mile walk out somewhat punishing, but we made it to Agnew Meadows by 2:00 p.m. Monday.

This climb turned out to have better quality rock than we anticipated, more like the SE Face of Clyde Minaret than the junky red stuff found elsewhere in the Ritter Range. Not too dangerous and relatively short for a grade VI, definitely a classic Sierra ridge climb. Given a bit more daylight we think it would go in a day from Lake Ediza, but doing it in a day from Agnew Meadows would be pretty tough.

Craig A. Clarence, CPA
P.O. Box 8757
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

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