On October 28, 2006, Zafer and I (Hakan) climbed Mt Ritter via the standard Southeast Glacier route. To acclimatize for this climb, we hiked Mt Morgan (south, 13748’) the day before. The hike to Mt Morgan was relatively easy, but offered impressive views of the Rock Creek area. In comparison Mt Ritter was much more demanding. To be able to summit Mt Ritter in a short day of the late fall season, we started at 6:30am at Agnew Meadows. This was not an early start at all, but it was still dark. By the time we got to the bridge over the San Joaquin River, there was enough light, so we turned off our flashlights to save battery for the return trip. When we arrived at Shadow Lake, the sun was up already. When we got to Ediza Lake, we were treated to wonderful mountain scenery. The reflection of Mt Ritter and the Minarets on the lake was absolutely stunning. The spectacular landscape at Ediza Lake is probably one of Sierra’s finest. We took a few minutes by the lake to enjoy the gorgeous views.
We crossed the outlet of Ediza Lake to take a use trail from there. Last time I was here for my first Ritter attempt with my wife Ayla and Gordon Ye on a July 4th weekend, there was solid snow cover here and the creek was a raging torrent. In sharp contrast, the creek was very gentle this time. We took the use trail on the north edge of the lake and followed it until it ended at the base of the cliffs beneath Mt Ritter at an elevation of 10,500 ft. This is a nice flat area with a creek running through it. The time was 10:15am, and we took a break by the creek and studied the cliffs to determine the best route to reach the Southeast Glacier. The straight-line route up to the base of Southeast Pinnacle seemed reasonable, Class 2 maybe Class 3 in some places. An alternative is to follow the zigzagging ledges that eventually end at the bottom of East Buttress. We decided on the first route, and tried to follow the path of least resistance. However, midway up the cliffs we ran into ice and frozen streams. The temperatures of the fall season were below freezing level at night. Plus these cliffs are somewhat shielded from the sun. Our progress eventually came to a halt on ice-covered rock. Several times we backtracked and tried alternate paths, but to no avail. Finally we descended low enough to reach a ledge from where we could traverse to the right and make progress diagonally. After doing several zigzags on mostly Class2 terrain, we arrived at the bottom of East Buttress. We could have taken this ledge system from the beginning. But our original route also looked good from below, and if it were not for the ice, it would have been just fine.
Once we got to the edge of the Southeast Glacier (11,500 ft), the route became fairly obvious. We followed the edge of the glacier until the bottom of the chute that leads to the summit (aka Secor’s chute). We didn’t have to walk on the glacier, fortunately. We had our ice axe and crampons with us just in case, but didn’t need to use them. At about the same elevation as the bottom of Secor’s chute and across the glacier is a col on the uphill side of Southeast Pinnacle. Another route for Ritter called Clyde Variation goes to the summit via that col. In my previous attempt of Mt Ritter, we were on Clyde Variation and tried to cross the glacier from this col. It was right there that Gordon took a slide on soft and steep snow. Fortunately his slide was not long, and he was stopped by the rocks of Southeast Pinnacle. The glacier looked really steep from this vantage point. I’m glad we didn’t make another attempt to cross the steep glacier on that trip – there is no safe runout. This time, though, I was safe on the other side of the glacier.
Secor’s chute was free of snow and ice. There was some water flowing down the chute, making small waterfalls. From there the summit was about 1000 ft vertically above us. While climbing the chute I started feeling the effects of elevation. I slowed down, and at one point I had to rest for 5 minutes and took an advil. Meanwhile Zafer was pressing hard ahead of me. I could only see him on and off. I fell about 15 minutes behind. Later on when I saw him again, he was waving from above. He waited for me to catch up. When we finally got together we were only a few hundred feet below the summit. I started feeling better – advil must have finally kicked in. As we neared the summit, we saw two people coming down*. They said they had done the North Face route and wanted to go down the Southeast Glacier, our ascent route. Shortly afterwards we were standing on the summit at about 1:45pm. What an incredible view! We could almost see the entire Ansel Adams Wilderness. Ritter Lakes and Lake Catherine were at bottom of Ritter on the west and north sides of the mountain respectively. Just to the east, Banner Peak looked very tempting, and if we had time, we could have considered climbing it. Of course this would have required descending the famous North Face. But not enough time or energy on this trip.
After 15 minutes on the summit, we started our descent by retracing our steps. It was a very fast descent. I could barely keep up with Zafer. In short time we caught up with the duo we saw earlier. We then passed them and went down the cliffs. With the advantage of knowing the route, we quickly got to the flat ground around 3:30pm. Here we took a half hour break to relax and eat some snack. When the two climbers got to the bottom of the cliffs, we were on our way on the trail. The rest of the hike was boring in comparison to the climb. It became dark at Shadow Lake at 5:30pm. With our flashlights on, we continued down the trail back to Agnew Meadows. The uphill part of the trail from the San Joaquin River was extremely annoying, but we were back at the car at 7:10pm, making the total trip time 13.5 hours. Overall it was a great and enjoyable trip – also serving as a reconnaissance mission for some of the peaks we saw from the summit including Lyell, Banner and Red Slate Mountain.
* Recently one of the two climbers we met on the summit kindly contacted me
and told me who they were: Bob L. and Bob W. Congrats to Bob & Bob for bagging Ritter following Muir's footsteps on the classic North Face route.
Great to hear from you. I didn't think I was going to make it, and the icy cliffs were not promising. But it turned out to be OK. It was amazing, though, to see how different the conditions were from the time of our attempt. I hope you'll go back there soon - the Ritter area is truly beatiful.
Thanks for dropping a line.