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[pct-l] Ansel Adams Wilderness Area & High Sierra's

Dear List,

I just returned from the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area (AAWA) in the high Sierra's. A beautiful time with several friends, phenomenal scenery, great weather and a challenging ice climb of Mt. Ritter (13,154'). We (eight of us) camped at Ediza Lake (9,300') at the foot of the Minarettes and Mt. Ritter.

This post is rather long as I provide an account of the Mt. Ritter climb at the end. So, scroll as far as your interest carries and discard thereafter.

Temperatures: Highs in the high 70's, Lows in the high 30's.

Weather: Sunny and clear with few scattered high clouds. Light to high winds out of the west (the AAWA is known for high, consistent winds, especially around 1,000 Island Lake). The view from Mt. Ritter was estimated at about 100 miles radius on Sunday!

Snow: Patches in the shadows, forests from 9,000' to 9,500'. Open patches on north facing slopes from 9,500' to 10,500'. General coverage above 10,500'. All melting fast. Abundant snow visible on all high Sierra peaks from Ritter looking south at their north facing slopes.

Mosquitos: Light for the first three days due to wind and not yet full hatch. On Monday they hatched at Ediza and drove us out. 100% deet kept them from biting but not landing for about ten minutes! Warm weather accelerated deet absorption, shortening effectiveness.

Bears: We hung our food and had no incidents or sitings. Large, fresh prints in the snow on a pass at 10,000' near Iceberg Lake. We spoke with many groups of hikers in the area and on the trail, with no incidents.

Water: Water, water everywhere! Run-off is high. It was difficult finding a camping site at Ediza that wasn't saturated, puddling, running or within a few yards of a stream. Several streams running at full force and difficult to cross. Waterfalls and cascades are full and beautiful. The cascades coming out of Shadow Lake are spectacular, as are several between Shadow and Ediza. There are also two waterfalls above Ediza, one coming from a high snow field on the ledge beneath the Minarettes and the from the glacier between Mt. Ritter and Banner Pk. on the south east side. Both are great photographic opportunities.

The Climb: We (Jeff Zimmerman, who climbed Mt. Ritter 21 years ago with me and is a PCT thruhiker from '77, my brother-in-law, a female friend and myself) started at 6:45am and reached the first ledge at about 11,000' by 9:00am. This entailed front pointing with kicking steps in compacted snow that provided about six inch depth and ample support. Once on the first ledge we worked our way into the high valley on the south side of the peak. The temperature and moderate winds forced me to put on nylon pants over my shorts, up to then, and a nylon shell over a fleece top.

Previously, in 1978, we had three choices to ascend to the upper glacier, from east to west: a class 3 snow and rock route, a class 3+ ice couloir and a class 2+ snow/ice couloir. We decided to climb the later, couloir at the back (west or left, facing the peak) of the valley in order to reach the upper glacier. It appeared much steeper and longer than either Jeff's or my memory from our previous climb. Perhaps this is due to poor memory, or, to being more cautious later in life! Closer to class 3 than 2 and near the top, it steepened to 3.5+.

We front pointed / kick stepped up this and plunged our ice axe handles into the snow as anchor as the pick or adze wouldn't provide ample support in the compact snow. We were tempted by an apparent rock route over the east side of this couloir about 2/3 of the way up. We attempted it and had to back off when loose rock and steepness beyond our equipment and skills stopped us. We then climbed to the top of the couloir, skirted over the top ridge to the east and found ourselves on the upper glacier. A simple climb on compact snow to within 500 feet of the summit and a rock scramble the rest put us on top.

The snow is melting fast and suncups are forming that will grow in size with time over the summer. Right now they are about 6 to 12 inches deep, still small and soft enough to rough over when glissading down.

At the summit the wind was blowing at less than twenty miles per hour, by far the calmest I have found on my previous Ritter climb and two previous Banner climbs. I estimate the view to be approximately 100 miles in every direction! We could see Mt. Whitney and further south, the coast ranges barely as a dark line on the other side of the obscurred foggy, dusty central valley, Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, Toulumne Meadows and Lyle Canyon and many peaks in Northern Yosemite. To the east the basin and ranges of Nevada ran off into the dusty distance beyond Mono Lake, the White Mountains and Crowley Lake.

It was agreed that it was arguably the most spectacular place to be in the U.S. on July 4th and a finer cathedral for the celibration of GOD than any in the world on this Sunday!

We stayed on top taking pictures and discussing our thoughts for an hour and then started our descent. The snow on the upper glacier was too hard to glissade and the couloir too steep. We backed down the couloir retracing our kick steps. About 300 feet down I lost my footing and started sliding. Self arrest brought me into control very quickly as the snow was now in the shade and the pick caught a lot of resistance. Jeff decided he was going too slow and similarly slid in self arrest past the other two, shocking them as they didn't know if this was accidental or intentional! Knowing the snow condition and having a feel for the braking effect relaxed and sped us up, enabling us to drop down the high valley in a matter of minutes.

Descending from the lower shelf I slipped off my feet glissading down and started slidding down on my butt. I self arrested with much more confidence this time, except now the snow was in the sun and at lower elevation and therefore softer. I applied more and more pressure to slow myself when suddenly the axe was ripped from my hands, even though I thought that I had a death grip on it! The wrist strap kept it from being lost and I quickly retained it and reapplied it to bring me to a stop about twenty yards from a large boulder in my path. Exhausted but elated, we returned to camp and a beautiful evening on the lake.

It took us about seven hours to ascend and three to descend. Jeff and I dont think that we can wait another 21 years to climb it again.

Greg "Strider" Hummel * From the Pacific Crest Trail Email List | http://www.backcountry.net *