Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Returning to Lake Ediza: Climbing Mt. Ritter

When we were camping around Lake Ediza years ago we ran into a couple who were on their way up to climb Mt. Ritter. At the time that seemed like a rather strange thing to be doing... how times have changed for us. ;-)

While planning this trip we looked into climbing Ritter and decided that it was feasible for us and that we didn't need to carry too much extra equipment with us; crampons and ice axes would be adequate. So we planned an extra day at Ediza to allow us to give it a try. Monday's rain caused some doubts, but there were no clouds in the sky when we got up, so we packed minimal packs and set off. Our intent was to follow the so-called Clyde Variation, as described here.

We start by heading up the slope to the lovely bowl between Ritter-Banner and the Nydiver Lakes. There's no use trail on our side of the stream, but it's easy enough to pick a route through the woods and then, higher up, the meadow until we reach the bottom of the "Lower Gully". Along the way we spot a group of 4-5 deer who aren't overly concerned by our presence. Of course there's not even a trace of snow in the gully at this point, so we make our way up the steep grass/gravel/talus until we're at the top. We proceed there to make what seems to be exactly the same mistake described in the linked report and, by not turning right sharply enough, end up in terrain that's more difficult than planned. With a bit of careful scrambling and following Andrea's simple guidance: "there's no higher point on the map than where we're headed, so as long as we keep going up everything's fine" we top out and head towards the "Upper SE Snowbowl"; this has a bit of snow left on the steeper slopes, but is otherwise just loose talus with rock-covered ice at the bottom. We navigate the moraine-like side of this until down on the ice, put on the crampons, and then head to the chute that takes us to the "SE Col". This starts very loose and gravelly, so we leave the crampons on (they are great in loose gravel) until we're up on more stable rock. As we reach the top of the col, we realize that the "snow" wall that's been visible for quite a while (and that we saw on other days) is, in fact, ice.

From the col our plan is to get onto the glacier, traverse down a bit to a gap in the rock spine splitting the two pieces of glacier from each other, then head up and around the "three-toed buttress", following Alan Ritter's description. The problem is that we need to first get onto the glacier. In order to do that we have to get from the rock up a 3-4m vertical wall of ice. This is a problem. Our ice skills are not the best (not much practice), we have the wrong equipment (our ice axes are really not ideal for vertical climbing), we don't have anything with us to belay the transfer, the ice is pretty rotten, and the consequences of a fall are bad (~10m onto the rocks in an inaccessible narrow crevasse between the glacier and the cliff). Removing any one of those and we might have done it, but the combination was too much: we decided that we couldn't safely make the transition. We also rejected the option of starting on the ice on the col side and heading over the ridge to the transition: we weren't comfortable with the long stretch of exposed bare ice. Looking down, it's clear that the Alan Ritter's SE glacier route is not only doable, but the glacier has shrunk enough that it's probably doable without crampons. We picked the wrong route. Would we have known this if we had remembered to ask at the ranger station when we picked up our backcountry permits? Who knows. After a break and some gnashing of our teeth, we turn around and head back down.
testing the ice
parts of Ritter's South-East-glacier

view down onto Ediza Lake and Shadow Lake
We end up scrambling down beside the col instead of descending the steep talus/gravel bit. Back at the edge of the "snowbowl" we enjoy the fantastic views for a bit, then head down the correct (=nice talus hopping instead of scrambling) route to the top of the Lower Gully. Rather than continue back the way we came up, we opt to loop around and descend the head of the valley that lies to the West of Ediza (where we camped). This fun descent (including chancing upon a very curious buck who is too impatient for us to leave to run away) leads us to the valley floor, where we contour around, past a not-yet-dry tarn, and then climb up to the ridge overlooking Iceberg Lake. What a view of the lake, the wall up to Lake Cecile, and the Minarets! After enjoying the views for a while, we head back down to our tents where we do all the usual end-of-day stuff.
rest after a long day
Post-dinner stroll back up to the end of the meadow.

Dinner: chicken-noodle soup; freeze-dried chili with cous-cous added.

Track (there are all kinds of problems with the bits close to cliffs when viewed at high zoom levels):

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