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

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Be sure to check out Day 1 of this trip HERE

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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!