We were lashing our gear and eating a cold breakfast sometime before the sun rose on Labor Day weekend. A wrangler opened a nearby gate and whistled 20-odd pack animals through the parking lot, kicking up dust clouds and waking anyone still snoozing. Beware of the small sign at the Agnew Meadows parking lot, near the barb wire fence, that says "No Camping"-there's a good reason this time. The sixth person didn't show or got lost so five of us headed to enjoy some R+B, Ritter and Banner that is: Debbie Bulger-leader, John Baltierra, Dave Caldwell, Debbie Benham, and myself.
The pleasant hike into Lake Ediza went quickly and we continued on to a suitable camp at the base of Mt Ritter, about 10000 ft. The group stocked the day packs for an ascent of Ritter which is 13157 ft. We scrambled up the lower grassy slopes onto mixed rock which eventually led us to the base of the glacier facing the south side of Ritter.
We grabbed some energy food and it was here that I began to appreciate Dave's capacity for sweets. He hauled up what must of been a 3 lb. bag of rubbery creatures that some 60's psychedelic meltdown turned entrepreneur created. Everyone's heard of gummy bears but these were new to me, gummy dinosaurs. This was after eating a whole box of Entenman's coffee cake, with a little help from Debbie, before reaching Lake Ediza. I admit that the rest of us helped consume the little rubber monsters at each rest stop.
We trudged up a stretch of loose rock covered dirt onto some loose rock covered rock onto some loose rock covered loose rock. Nothing terribly dangerous but damn annoying. The gully we followed led us to the wide open south side which brought the summit into view.
At this point Dave was feeling a little less than enthusiastic about continuing and decided to relax a wait for us. We guessed that the large wad of multicolored pseudo-rubber in his stomach had reacted to the decrease in atmospheric pressure causing a rare condition called gastrogummyenteritis. The condition seemed to be spreading because John stopped to recline on a large slab about ten minutes later.
Debbie, Debbie, and I continued on soon reaching the summit. The weather had been absolutely perfect without a cloud in the sky. The views were exhilarating as usual. We could see much of the next day's route up the south side of Banner. The march back to camp was uneventful except for my finding a First-Need water filter sitting on a rock half-way down the mountain.
I'm only mentioning our dinner here for two reasons. One is because of the known fact that Svea stoves don't support pots very well as demonstrated by Dave's and Debbie's dinner splattered all over our cooking rock. The other regards Dave's sweet tooth which satisfied itself on a bludgeoned vending machine berry pie.
Sunday we rose fairly early to attempt Banner and decided on a route which almost proved to be too much. From camp we headed north over a ridge to Garnet Lake, then over another ridge to Thousand Island Lake, then heading east we took a steep "shortcut" over another ridge which led to a glacier on the lower north flank of Banner.
With the crampons still in our packs we attempted to cross the snow/ice/running water. Realizing our mistake we scrambled off the glacier and skirted it on the rocks. The gang ascended two more small ridges where Lake Catherine finally came into view.
The group was getting tired by then and we still had to surmount another ridge, crampon up the large glacier to the Ritter/Banner saddle and ascend 900 feet more to the summit. It was about this point in time that we began to grumble at each other every time there was a discussion on route selection. It's always curious and part of the fun to see whose experienced guess prevails.
Upon reaching the Ritter/Banner saddle from the east I ran into a solo climber who had come up a snow chute from the west. This route shot directly back at our camp. I was excited to tell the others of this much shorter route back to camp. When they reached the saddle they agreed to check out the route but had left their crampons and ice axes on the glacier below. Someone in the PCS told me shortly after I joined that your gear is pretty much worthless unless you have it with you.
We finally made the summit by about four o'clock, soaking up the rewards of eight hours of climbing. We had been following the progress of another party climbing Ritter from the saddle. Roper doesn't recommend this route because of the exposure and loose rock.
The party must have been experienced on rock because they summitted and downclimbed rather quickly. They ran into trouble exiting onto the glacier. Their route led them to the top of a crusty snow tongue frozen in the shadows. A scream echoed as a female climber slipped bouncing 60-70 ft. before bouncing off one side onto some dirt and rock. She was ok but very lucky because just below here was wide open glacier with lots of large rock and debris strewn about. Apparently they had no crampons or ice axes.
It was getting late so we cramponed up hoping the other party would get down. It was decided to use the fairly steep snow chute to descend from the saddle. The snow was soft on top and afforded decent footing but the going was slow. Eventually this opened up to a more gradual glacier .
It was getting dark when we dragged into camp and were glad to see Dave's headlamp guiding us in. He had seen us descending on the snow and had remarked "that had better not be my Debbie up there." I explained to him that we would still be hiking way after dark had we retraced our earlier route. We were promptly rewarded with a large bag of lime pterodactyls.
Monday we hiked out and ate a hearty lunch at a gourmet deli, the name escapes me, just as storm clouds began unloading on Mammoth and the Minarets. There's nothing like capuccino on a rainy day in the Sierras.