Day 3: Mt Ritter Summit Day (August 24, 2012)
The plan was to get up at 6:00am and be on the trail by 7:00am. Unfortunately, Paul’s watch alarm wasn’t loud enough to be heard outside of his sleeping bag. Despite this, we were on our way up the approach trail by 7:30am.
The trail made its way up to the R/B valley along a small stream that tumbled down many beautiful waterfalls.
We made it to the upper valley by 8:00am and made our way towards the lower chute. The sky was clear and we were already feeling the heat of the morning sun as we started up the chute.
The chute quickly steepened to class 2 as we climbed up the scree. It wasn’t too loose, though the occasional small rock would take a short tumble.
We gained elevation quickly, and before long spotted our first landmark, the “tree rock”. Our route description said to avoid this and continue climbing.
A short ways above the “tree rock” I spotted a cairn on a ledge above us. We suspected this to be where we were to exit the chute, and sure enough, it led us to a nice grassy ledge. Traversing the grass ledge brought us into view of the SE pinnacle. From here we could scout our route, contouring beneath the pinnacle.
Our traverse under the pinnacle (just above 11,000ft) brought us across the first snow field of the climb. Crampons made crossing the 100yd stretch of snow fairly quick, but the mountain was very dry, and we were back on rock after only a few minutes.
From here we continued around the pinnacle, climbing our way to the base of Mt Ritter’s SE glacier. The sound of running water filled the air. We were surrounded by several streams flowing down the mountain from the base of the glacier.
At the base of the SE glacier, we found ourselves standing on a large rocky plateau. With Mt Ritter and the glacier towering above, and Ediza Lake in the valley below, I couldn’t help but feel like a tiny speck on the side of this mighty mountain.
The glacier was a light icy blue and covered in dozens of steams flowing down the face. Rock fall had sprinkled the surface with dark boulders of all sizes. Midway up the right side of the glacier were the two chutes that we could take to the summit ridge. From route descriptions, Owens chute sounded like the easier climb, but with the low snow level, there was a significant stretch of wet rock slab that looked very slick. Below Owens chute was Secors chute. Though it is described as being a steeper climb, it wasn’t blocked by streams and slick rock.
Before continuing our climb, we stopped for a quick lunch. While sitting, we heard a loud crash come from high above. Looking to the top left of the glacier, we spotted a large rock, maybe the size of a dog house, take a pitch off the ridge and come bouncing and sliding down the face of the glacier! Fortunately we were not directly beneath its path, though it made its way fairly close to where we had been climbing up about half an hour earlier.
After lunch we loaded up and began the climb towards Secors chute.
The snow increased in steepness as we approached the base of the chute. Here, at the bottom of the chute, the snow stopped. We looked for a good place to get off the snow, but the chute was filled with very loose rock. I took two steps off the snow and could barely get purchase on the loose rock, sliding back towards the snow. Another step nearly kicked loose a large rock.
After a brief discussion, we decided that the lack of snow, and the loose rock made it unsafe for us to continue. We turned back…
Back at our lunch spot, we decided to try and descend the lower cliff via the grassy ledge route. We spotted a cairn to the left of the left-most stream, as mentioned by the route description, and made our way towards it. This led us to a second, and then a third cairn!
I was feeling good about this descent until we reached the third cairn. We were standing atop a cliff with no apparent way down. The route was supposed to be class 2 the whole way, but we were looking at a whole lot of class 4.
After looking at the pictures and a bit of debating, we determined that the cairns had led us to far over to be standing atop the lower cliffs. Because of the warmer season and quickly melting glacier, the left-most stream we had followed may not be there during normal years. We had to turn back.
It was now mid afternoon, and rather than continuing our route finding towards the lower cliffs, we returned the way we came. After traversing back under the SE Pinnacle, we spotted two people sitting on a grassy ledge below. They were tiny figures giving a grand perspective of the valley far below.
Continuing across the mountain, we returned to the chute we had climbed at the start of the day. From here the descent was strait forward.
Back on the valley floor we ditched the helmets and made our way back to camp. It was good to be back and get the boots off. A day of climbing over rocks had taken a toll on my feet.
On the descent we got a good look at the upper chute leading to the Ritter-Banner saddle. The snow did not go all the way to the top of this chute either. Thinking that it would lead us to more steep, loose rock like today, we decided not to attempt Banner the following day. Instead we would take two easy days before heading back to reality in the Bay Area.
Continue reading with Days 4 & 5 HERE!
Be sure to check out Days 1 & 2 of this adventure!