Mt Ritter and Banner Peak, Ansel Adams Wilderness

Notes by piero scaruffi | Other California trails
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Mt Ritter

Mt Ritter (4006m) is the main peak in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. It is more easily climbed from the Mammoth Lakes area.

Directions from the Bay Area: drive across Yosemite on 120 to Mono Lake and turn south (right) on highway 395 to highway 203 (Mammoth Lakes exit). Turn west (right) into 203 and continue past the Mammoth Ranger Station and Visitor Center following the signs for Devils Postpile (turn right at the second light). During the day you can only drive as far as the Mammoth Mountain Lodge, then you have to take a shuttle. In 2015 the Reds Meadow shuttle to the Agnew Meadow's campground started operating at 7am and stopped operating at 7:45pm. You can drive your own vehicle to the trailhead when the shuttle is not operating. Just before the road bends sharply south, there is a campground named Agnew Meadows: drive to the end of the dirt road and you'll find two parking lots on the left side. The seconds one is the trailhead. The trailhead is badly marked with a sign about the Pacific Crest Trail: you have to take the "south" direction (there is also a sign pointing to Shadow Lake, which is the same thing). You are on the "river trail".

The trail winds its way around a meadow and then goes downhill. Note that it is mostly downhill for a long way: it means that it will be uphill when you return. You pass the Wilderness sign, two junctions with Reds Meadow trails and then finally the junction with Shadow Lake. At this point the trail starts climbing towards Shadow Lake and the junction with the John Muir Trail. Ritter and Banner are visible from Shadow Lake. After Shadow Lake the trail is flat again for a bit and then a few more switchbacks lead to Lake Ediza. You have to hop over a few boulders to reach the western side of Ediza. Eventually you cross a tiny creek that comes down from the Banner-Ritter saddle. The trail follows that creek uphill. Walk all the way to the end of the trail, which is almost at the saddle. On the left you should see a big flat rock in the creek that makes it very easy to cross to the other side. Walk towards the bastion south of Ritter, to the left of Ritter's prominent southeast face (the face you've been seeing all the time).

There are several ways to get to the summit. As you approach the bastion, there is only one relatively gentle way to climb it. At some point you have a very visible class-4 chute. To its right is another smaller chute which is class-2 except for an obstacle. To its right is a steep waterfall. Choose whichever way you prefer, but the easiest to me is to continue to the right of the waterfall and climb the friendlier ledges that head diagonally.

(Note that in the afternoon these waterfalls could be much more challenging to cross than in the morning as ice/snow melts).
Eventually you reach the bed of another roaring creek. Climb up vertical to the right handside of the creek. This takes you very near the southeastern face of Ritter. Coasting that face as close as you can over loose scree, you make a 90 degree curve into the eastern glacier. Don't walk down where the snow is. Just stay high on the sort of ramp that coasts the mountain and is higher than the glacier. This ramp takes you straight into Owen's chute. This class-2 chute heads straight to the summit plateau.
The chute splits in two parallel chutes, the one to the right having a little creek. You can switch from one to the other easily as you ascend, picking the one that offers the easiest climbing.

At the top of this chute you start seeing Ritter's summit. You emerge on the summit plateau with the northern glacier.
Coast the glacier to the right and head up towards the summit. You soon realize that the real summit is hidden and is slightly behind the visible summit, but not too far back. There are actually two twin peaks joined by an arching strip of rocks. I did not find a USGS marker on either, but the summit register is on the left one.

From the summit of Ritter one can see Mono Lake, and of course the multitude of lakes that extend between Agnes Meadow and June Lake.

In august 2008 there was no snow/ice along this route. There was always a class-2 route to avoid the glaciers.

Milestones and Augusr 2008 time:

  • Agnew Meadow: start (2530m)
  • Half mile sign 15'
  • Reds Meadow junction 30'
  • Bridge 1h
  • Shadow Lake (2826m) 1h30'
  • Don't turn left at the bridge 1h45'
  • Junction with Garnett Lake (there's a confusing "Shadow Lake" sign - go left to Ediza) 2h10'
  • Ediza Lake: 12 kms (2826m) 2h45'
  • Creek crossing/ flar rock: 3h30'
  • Eastern chutes 4h
  • Eastern glacier 5h
  • Owens chute: 5h30'
  • Summit plateau/ northern glacier: 7h
  • Mt Ritter: (4006m) 7h30'

Banner Peak

Banner Peak (3946m) is just to the northeast of Mt Ritter. One way to do it (difficult) is to follow the same route as for Mt Ritter up to the Ritter-Banner saddle via Ediza Lake. The chute to this saddle is steep and icy.

A more picturesque (and easier) route to Banner Peak is via Thousand Island Lake.

From Agnew Meadow (see the traffic restrictions) take the River Trail and don't take the Shadow Lake left turn but continue straight until you hit Thousand Island Lake (you can also get there via the Silver Lake trailhead). Continue north coasting its eastern shore and as soon as it makes sense, leave the trail and head for the northwestern tip of the lake. You can already see the destination very clearly:

It should be pretty obvious that there is a gentle slope heading towards a pass, North Glacier Pass. It takes a lot of bouldering but eventually you reach Catherine Lake. Ideally, don't head for the lake: stay high to the left of the canyon. You will see Catherine Lake down below but never touch its shore. Basically you want to get into this chute as soon as possible:

Keep staying as high as possible as you enter the chute that leads to the Ritter-Banner saddle. In a normal summer month it is always possible to avoid all the ice and snow by staying as high as possible on the left side of the chute.

Whichever way you came, once at the saddle climb east (easy class 2). Eventually you will see the pyramidal summit and that becomes your reference point. This is not the real summit but it is a two minute walk to the real summit (and it may have a better view).

  • Agnew Meadow: start (2530m)
  • Shadow Lake junction 1h
  • Thousand Island Lake 3.5 hours
  • Northwestern tip of the lake 5 hours
  • Catherine Lake 6 hours
  • Saddle: 7.5 hours
  • Summit: 8.5 hours
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Ansel Adams Wilderness' Weather
Mt Ritter's weather forecast

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