Fishing in the High Country

Minarets Sunrise (Photo Credit: Paul)

Day 4: Ediza Lake to Garnet Lake (August 25, 2012)

I woke up at 4am to Paul’s alarm. He moved just enough to shut it off and I wondered if he would have the motivation to get up and hike to the other side of the lake for some fishing like he had planned… No movement.

At about 5am I woke up again, this time to his headlamp. He had convinced himself to go fishing, and I began debating whether or not to find a spot with a view of the mountains to watch the sunrise. It was still dark, but I decided that if I was still awake in half an hour I would do it… I was still awake.

In the dark I climbed to a place I had found the previous day with a great view of the Minarets. The sunrise was spectacular!

After the sunrise I made my way back to camp where I was joined by Paul. He, once again, returned from fishing empty handed.

We took our time with breakfast and packing up camp since we were only going 5.5 miles to Garnet Lake. While we were cooking, the two hikers we had seen on Mt Ritter the day before walked by our camp and talked for a bit. They had climbed the lower cliffs route as I suspected.

Paul looking out over Garnet Lake

The hike to Garnet lake followed the John Muir Trail and was quite crowded, but went by fairly quickly. By 3pm we had crossed the ridge and found a place by the lake to set up camp. I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the lake watching Paul attempt to catch a fish…

After a couple of unsuccessful hours of fishing, we returned to camp for some dinner.

Disappointed that he didn’t have fresh fish for dinner, Paul went back for a second try as the sun was setting. Another half-hour of nothing and he was ready to call it a night, “Just one more throw.” Apparently that little statement was all it took. He hooked one!

With the sun gone and the stars out, it was time to call it a night.

(Photo Credit: Paul)

(Photo Credit: Paul)

Day 5: Garnet Lake to Silver Lake (August 26, 2012)

We awoke to a fairly cool, but clear, morning. The sun was climbing quickly as we made breakfast, but our camp was in the shadow of the ridge, so it was quite late in the morning before we felt the warmth of the sun’s rays.

We had about 7 miles to hike back to the car taking a slightly different path than we took on day one. We hiked directly to Agnew lake rather than repeating the loop around Gem lake.  But before leaving camp, Paul got in one more round of fishing.

Paul casting his line for the last time on this trip

We returned to Agnew lake through Spooky Meadow. The scenery here was different than any we had seen so far. The gray granite had been replaced by reddish lava rock and the meadow itself was strangely calm for how windy it was elsewhere on the trail.

Descending the steep slopes towards Agnew Lake

Leaving the meadow started us on a grueling 3,000ft descent over a short 3 miles of trail. By the end of the hike my feet and knees were sick of walking on the unsteady, fist-sized rocks that covered the trail. I was definitely glad to have not come up this route on day one.

Back at the car we celebrated a fun trip. Even though we didn’t reach our target summits, we returned from 5 days in the back country safely with plenty of good stories and pictures.

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Be sure to check out the first 3 days of the trip!

Day 1: Into the Wilderness

Day 2: In the High Sierra

Day 3: Mt Ritter Summit Day

Mt Ritter Summit Day

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.

One of the many waterfalls along the approach trail

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.

Looking out at Ediza Lake under the morning sun from the lower slopes of Mt Ritter

Grassy ledge leading out of the lower chute

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.

Standing at the base of the SE glacier with the SE pinnacle in the background (photo credit: Paul)

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.

Paul standing at the opening of Secors Chute with the SE Glacier of Mt Ritter behind him

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.

Looking at Ediza Lake from the lower chute of Mt Ritter

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!

Day 1: Into the Wilderness

Day 2: In the High Sierra


Mt Ritter Summit Post

SE Glacier Route

In the High Sierra

Day 2: 1000 Island Lake to Ediza Lake (August 23, 2012)

I awoke around 6am. The night had been fairly warm and I had slept on top of my sleeping bag for most of the night. The lake was still and the sky clear, and even though it was early, I could already tell it was going to be a hot day.

1000 Island Lake reflecting Banner Peak in the morning sun

We took our time getting out of camp since we were only going ~7.5 miles to Ediza Lake and had minimal elevation change along the way.  I made a hash-brown and egg scramble for breakfast, and we hit the trail by 9:30am.

We followed the JMT to Garnet Lake. The JMT had a fair amount of traffic on it and we were passing people regularly. Many of the hikers were traveling with dogs, and one group was guiding a couple of goats along the trail!

Descending the ridge towards Garnet Lake

At 11:00am we arrived at Garnet Lake where a couple people were taking a morning dip. We stopped at the lake outlet to have an early lunch and re-apply some much needed sunscreen.

Continuing past Garnet Lake, we made our way over the next ridge towards Ediza Lake. Here we came across several groups that had come up from Agnew Meadows.

When we arrived at Ediza Lake it was about 3:00pm, and there were many tents visible along the opposite shoreline. We circled around the lake and worked our way up a stream towards the valley at the base of Ritter. While our camp was nestled in the trees giving us almost no view of the mountains, the trail around the lake offered a spectacular site!

Ediza Lake with the Minarets towering above

Mt Ritter and Banner Peak from Ediza Lake

R/B base camp at Ediza Lake

Our camp this night was away from the lake but not far from a stream of glacier melt. The water was ice cold and refreshing! The camp had an established fire ring, and the rock ledge above offered more tent spots as well as a great view of the Minarets.

By 4:30pm we had the tent up. We were near 9,500ft, and while there were quite a few people by the lake, our camp felt a world away.

I found a spot near camp from which I could see our route up Mt Ritter. The mountain was very dry with little snow covering the route. From here, the SE glacier and the chutes that would take us to the summit ridge were obscured by the SE pinnacle, so we would have to wait until the next day to see what the conditions were like up there.

The day had been quite warm, and much of our hike had been exposed. Now that we were in the trees and the sun was setting, the temperature began to drop. Nothing too cold, but definitely enough to make me dig out my down jacket and fuzzy hat as I began to prepare dinner.

Daylight fading on the Minarets

The menu this night was a new dried chili mix I had found to take the place of the pizza I couldn’t make due to the fire ban. It took almost half an hour of simmering to hydrate (probably because of the altitude), but I added some peppered jerky and cheese to the mix, and it was quite tasty and very filling!

I climbed into the tent about 8:30pm. Paul set his alarm for 6:00am to be on our way to the summit by 7:00am. Tomorrow would be the first of our two big days…

Continue reading with Day 3


Be sure to check out Day 1 of this trip HERE

Into the Wilderness

To the southeast of Yosemite National Park is the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Named after a man known for his black-and-white photography of the Sierra Nevada, this region marks the northern end of the High Sierra. With summer coming to an end, Paul and I set out on a 5 day expedition into the wilderness to climb Mt. Ritter (13,149ft) and Banner Peak (12,936ft).

Driving to Silver Lake (August 21, 2012)

Leaving the Bay Area after rush hour gave us a fairly uneventful drive down, at least until we reached Tuolumne. Rolling through on Tioga Pass at 10:30pm behind the only other vehicle on the road, we suddenly had lights flashing behind us. A park ranger got Paul for not having a license plate light! After getting a flashlight in the eyes, a brief chat and a warning, we continued on our way.

We had to make a quick stop in Mammoth Lakes to grab our permit before heading to the campground at the trail head in Silver Lake. The rangers had left our permit with a warning that there had been a lot of bear activity reported in the area, especially around 1000 Island Lake. We didn’t think to much of this as we made our way to the campground until we came up on a bear taking a midnight stroll across the road!

We rolled into camp shortly after midnight and were treated to a light show by the storm clouds circling the valley. It was quite the site!

Day 1: Silver Lake to 1000 Island Lake (August 22, 2012)

Packed and ready to go under a gray sky

It rained through the night and I awoke shortly after 6am to the sound of a generator. The park’n pitch campground we had pulled into was largely populated by RVs and our neighbor was apparently an early riser. With wet grass and puddles all around, we pilled our gear into the car and headed to the trailhead parking lot to repack and get on the trail.

We started up the Rush Creek trail shortly after 8am and immediately began to climb a fairly steep grade. The trail criss-crossed the tracks for a cable tram that went strait up the side of valley to the dams that created Agnew and Gem Lakes. There was no cable on the tracks and I wondered if the tracks we still used.

Cable tram at Agnew Lake

As we neared Agnew Lake, we began to hear sounds of hammers and drills. Agnew Lake had been drained for repairs to the dam and the cable tram was how supplies were carried up from the valley below.

We continued past Agnew Lake towards Gem lake. The clouds had cleared, and we hiking under a brilliant blue sky.

As we crested the ridge at Gem lake, we got our first glimpse of the High Sierra!

Our first look of the High Sierra from Gem Lake

Continuing around the lake, we found a place to grab lunch. It was about noon, and we had climbed about 2,000ft… it was a well deserved meal.

Dark clouds rolling in over the Clark Lakes

After lunch we turned away from Gem Lake, and continued to climb towards Clark Lakes, a group of several small lakes at 9,800ft. It was now around 2pm and a layer of dark clouds had moved back in. We decided to pick up our pace a bit incase these clouds were bringing another evening of rain.

Just past the Clark Lakes we crossed our first pass of the trip at ~9,900ft. From here we got our first look at the reason we had come into the wilderness… Mt Ritter and Banner Peak. They rose high in the sky seeming to punch a hole in the gray clouds above.

Our first view of Mt. Ritter (left) and Banner Peak (right)

About an hour later we arrived at 1000 Island Lake. As we stood looking over the lake at the Ritter Range towering in front of us, we realized we were standing in the same spot Ansel Adams had stood almost 90 years ago! (His photo can be found here)

My attempt to recreate Ansel Adams’ photograph of Banner Peak from 1923

We made our way around the northern edge of the lake and set up camp on a rocky ridge that gave us a great view of Banner and the lake. It was not quite 4pm, and having gone from sea level to 10,000ft in under 24hrs, I was exhausted!

After a short nap on a warm rock, I began to get my gear situated for the night. While doing this I discovered I had developed a rather large blister on my left heel. This was a bit of a surprise because I hadn’t noticed any of the warning signs of a blister while hiking… Bummer…

As we sat in camp, we watched several more groups arrive behind us. Farther up the shore we could see a group of 8-10 tents. We wouldn’t be alone in the mountains tonight, but at least there was plenty of space and, best of all, no generators!

As evening began to settle in, it was time for dinner. I had hoped to make a couple backcountry pizzas on this trip, but the fire danger in the Sierra was at the highest level in over 20 years making it unsafe to light up my twiggy fire. Instead I used my Fry-Bake to whip up an excellent dinner of stir fried rice in the shadow of Banner Peak!

Fry-Bakin’ beneath Banner Peak (Photo Credit: Paul)

Over 3,000ft of climbing had made for a long first day, and by 8:30pm it was time for bed. The next day we would be heading 7.5mi to Ediza Lake where we would set up base camp for climbing Ritter and Banner.

Sunset behind Mt Lyle from 1,000 Island Lake

Continue reading with Day 2 HERE!