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Backcountry ski and snowboard gear, camping

June 2001 


Basics:  Mt. Ritter is the tallest point in the Ritter Range, a subsidiary range of the Sierra crest.  It located in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (Inyo NF), about 12 miles northwest of the town of Mammoth Lakes, California.   Most people do not day-hike Ritter, so an overnight stay is standard.  However, like all wilderness areas, overnight stays in the Ansel Adams Wilderness require a permit from the forest service.  Because this area is very popular with hikers, there are two things to know.  First, there is a quota period in effect from the last weekend in June through September 15.  You may reserve permits in advance based on availability through the local forest service ranger station (click here).  Second, there is a shuttle bus to the trailhead that operates between the hours of 7:30am and 5:30pm during the summer months; passenger car travel to the trailhead (over Minaret Summit) is prohibited during these hours.  As a result, you must either take the bus to the trailhead at Agnew Meadows or drive outside the bus operating hours (click here).

Landmarks/Orientation:  For identification of the major landmarks on the mountain, please consult Alan Ritter's fine overview on climber.org (available here), as I use the same geographic references here.

Our route:  Borrowing from Alan's trip reports, our intention was to climb Mt. Ritter via the lower gully, SE Glacier and Owen's Chute.  While we stuck to the route most of the way, we had a couple of deviations.  First, we climbed all the way up the lower snow gully (way past the "tree rock") and found ourselves angling up above the SE corner pinnacle (this put us on what Secor calls the "Clyde Variation").  Second, we misjudged the top of the lower gully and missed the "landmark dome" on the descent, which put us about 1/2 mile to the south near Ritter Pass.  Click on the photo below to see the path of our ascent and descent.

Step by Step:  Set forth below is a description of each part of our climb with a photo link.  Click on any photo for a larger version with detail.  In each detailed photo, our route is shown in red.  You can also reference an annotated USGS topo map of the route.

#1.  Lower Gully:  We started the climb by hiking to the bottom of the lower gully.  After crossing the creek, we ascended the gully.  As mentioned earlier, the gully is fairly steep, and unless you are scrambling up the rocks (which is difficult this early in the year, due to snow), crampons and ice axes are highly recommended.

Click on any photo for more detail



#2.  Exiting the Gully:  We stayed in the gully almost all the way to the top, where it sort of terminates into a large bowl.  From here, we scrambled up a short class 3 pitch, and then descended very slightly to the bottom of this talus slope.  The climb was easy class 2 up this slope to the bottom of the horizontal snow ridge at the top.  The snow ridge is steep (about 45 degrees), but levels out very quickly to a horizontal band of rocks (just visible at the top of the snow ridge) that separates the snow ridge from a large suncupped snow bowl.  The snowy chute on the left is where we later descended.  We got carried away with our glissade, however, and ended up missing the lower gully and had to descend to the south of the landmark dome.


#3.  The Upper SE Snowbowl:  After getting to the top of the snow ridge and crossing the rocky band, we traversed across what I'll call the "Upper SE Snowbowl" and then angled up and to the left to get to what I'll call the "SE col" -- the narrow gap between this snowbowl and the SE Glacier proper.  (The Upper SE Snowbowl is marked on the USGS 7.5 minute as "Per Snow").  The suncups here were absolutely friggin' huge and were really a pain in the behind to cross, but the view from up here is unbeatable.

#4.  The SE Col:  After battling the suncups, we angled upslope to the SE col.  Once there, there is about a 150 foot gap between the Upper SE Snowbowl and the SE Glacier itself.  The gap is visible in the foreground of this photo.  I am standing on the edge of the SE glacier, having just contoured around the gap.  This is the sketchiest part of this route, as it involves a traverse across this steep slope over rotten snow with nice sharp pointy rocks below.  Of course, a safer option would be to descend slightly to the rocks, then climb back up the other side of the gap to the edge of the glacier.  I was too lazy to lose any vertical at this point of the climb, so I did the traverse, using my ice axe to self belay.  Above my head, you can see Secor's chute.


#5.  The Chutes:  As mentioned earlier, I followed Alan Ritter's lead and ascended Owen's Chute to the summit snowfield (the red line in this photo).  From there, the climb is a pretty straightforward talus slog/snow climb (depending on conditions) to the top.  Looking from earlier parts of the climb, there did not appear to be much snow on the summit approach, so I left my crampons at the bottom of Owen's Chute (the chute was bone dry).  However, once I got up there, there was no way to avoid the snowfield by climbing around it, so I did an uncomfortable crampon-less traverse of the snowfield at its upper reaches to get to the summit ridge.  Fortunately, it was late enough and the snow soft enough to allow me to kick in some good steps. 

Random Observations:

1.  Ritter in One Day.  Doing Mt. Ritter in one day from Agnew Meadows is quite arduous, even if you are spending the night after the climb at Ediza Lake.   Though it is completely attainable (some hardy souls have even day-hiked Ritter), I think the climb is more enjoyable if you camp at Ediza the night before and get an early start.  This beats the heat, and the mosquitos.  Besides, Ediza is one of the more beautiful spots in the Sierra, so it is better to be here than the Shilo Inn.

2.  Clyde Variation.  Although we did it by accident, I like the Clyde Variation route above the SE Corner Pinnacle.  I think it is a more direct and gradual route than contouring below the pinnacle (which requires climbing straight up the SE Glacier, rather than angling up across it).  However, the gap at the SE col is a little sketchy if you are not comfortable traveling on snow, and Alan Ritter advises me that in some years there is a nasty cravasse that extends down and may need to be bridged in order to gain access to the SE Glacier.  Snow conditions this year did not present this problem.

3.  Don't Miss the Lower Gully on the Way Down.  I know it sounds stupid, but it is easy to miss the lower gully if you are coming down from the SE col.  Griffin and I totally missed it, and Liz and EB (descending separately) nearly missed it and had to backtrack a little bit to get into it.  I think the problem is that the landmark dome is tough to see from that high up, plus there is a slight ascent required to get to the top of the gully from the bottom of the talus slope.  Add this to the fact that you are trying to get down quickly and there is a very enticing glissade chute to the side of the talus slope that quickly shoots you past the entrance to the lower gully.

Send me an email with any questions.



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