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Ski Mountaineering on Mt Ritter

Mt Ritter has been on my list of peaks to ski for a really long time and as soon as I found out about the Ritter Range tour offered by Sierra Mountain Guides, this trip has been on my bucket list. I had signed up for this in October of last year and have been looking forward to it for a really long time but since we did the Sawtooth’s traverse which is less technical and demanding the dates kept on moving for this.

The conditions didn’t allow for a 6 day trip as originally planned so we shortened it to a 4 day trip with Mt Ritter being the primary objective. Howie warned me that it would be a schlep and we would have to carry regular hiking boots since the snow levels were relatively high so he gave me option of rescheduling for next year or waiting till road to Agnew meadows was plowed all the way. I didn’t want to delay this trip any further so I was ok with hauling all the gear so it was finally on.

Instead of leaving on Saturday we decided to leave on Sunday for better weather and it worked out great. Friday was a really long and stressful day at work and I didn’t get to Mammoth until 2am on Saturday. I received text from Howie on Sat that there would be one more person joining us which I didn’t mind and the trip would cost little less which is always nice.

I headed over to Stellar brews on Sunday morning and I met Abe who was going to join us and he was using a split board which was going to be interesting. We sorted out the gear and by the time Howie got permits etc it was already around 9.30 am when we got going from Main Lodge. They had started plowing the road to Minaret Vista so that slowed us down and getting to Agnew meadows we had to take off our skis on few occasions. This was a sign of things to come.

Heading towards Minaret Vista

We got to Agnew meadows and soon enough after some skinning it was time to put our skis away, there was no snow. We hiked all the way to Shadow lake in our hiking shoes. It was pretty slow going and we were afraid that we might not be able to make it to Ediza lake in time to set up camp. After we stashed our hiking shoes, it started pouring and to top it off the snow wasn’t consistent. I think we must have taken off our skis at least 20-30 times by the time we got to Ediza lake.

Carrying all the gear

Camp at Lake Ediza with Mt Ritter in background.

We managed to make it to Ediza lake at around 6 pm, it wasn’t ideal by any means and it mean’t that we had to change our original plans a bit. We decided to go for a small easy warm up tour the next day and then attempt Ritter on Tuesday.

Next day we woke up to clear skies and It was great. I thought we would sleep in little longer but that wasn’t the case and after breakfast we were ready to head out at around 8.30 am and explore the area near by. We decided to head towards Ritter pass and then ski around that area. The views from the pass were really awesome, we decided to put on our crampons and practice using them.

Day tour around Ritter Pass

Looking back at our tracks.

We got some good turns in and were back at camp at around 1.30 pm. It was time to dry out all of our wet stuff and rest up for the long day ahead. The plan was to wake up at 3.30am and get going around 5am and we successfully managed to do that. If we got late to the summit it wasn’t a major concern because of the snowpack stability but we also wanted to pack camp at Ediza lake and start heading down the same day so that the last day would be a shorter hike out.

We started skinning at around 5.15 am and soon enough after an hour sun hit us, I couldn’t help myself and stopped constantly to take pics. At our first break we were going to switch to boot crampons and rope up. I wasn’t comfortable being roped up and specially being at the end which meant that I had to manage slack for Abe who was in middle. I am pretty comfortable using my crampons and confident in my technique so I asked Howie if I could un tie from the rope and follow their steps. He agreed to let me do that and I felt lot better.

Sunrise on Mt Ritter

Banner and Ritter peaks sunrise.

We booted for couple of hours until we reach the cirque, skinning would have been faster in certain places but it would have been difficult for Abe so we decided to keep on using our crampons. We put on our skis soon after and then after another hour we reached the last steep section which would lead us to the summit slope. I thought that after booting up this last steep section we would start skinning the summit slope but that wasn’t the case. I went along with it but after the while snow started getting sticking to my crampons and I was getting little frustrated with the progress I was making.

Steep section before final summit slope

I asked Howie if I could skin the final summit slope by myself and he felt confident in my abilities to do so and didn’t mind it. As Howie and Abe were booting up the final slope, I was taking my sweet time skinning up. I was trying to not to set a steep track but I think it was little bit on the steeper side but I was really happy about the fact that I could skin up this slope by myself and even managed to do throw in some kick turns on firm snow.

We managed to reach the summit at around 11.30 am and it was a wonderful feeling. The views were better than what I had imagined, I was surprised to be able to see half dome in the background and all the high sierra peaks in the distance. It was truly breathtaking. There was no wind at top and it was so peaceful, wish I could have taken a nap but it was time to start descending.

Half Dome from Summit of Mt Ritter

Mammoth Mountain from Summit

The snow was in great condition and it was corn skiing at its finest. I felt in great control and really let it loose. It was the first time that I let it rip in the backcountry and just open up my skiing so to say. It was such an adrenaline rush and a high which I don’t remember feeling often, something I can’t really describe in words. I totally felt on top of the world and really enjoyed the way I was skiing more than anything else. Simply amazing from my perspective and totally worth everything. All those Ski lessons, Mammoth trips everything, so so worth it for this great feeling. I was pumped up beyond belief and felt like I could do anything.

We got back to camp at around 1pm and decided the start heading towards Shadow Lake at around 3pm so that we could get easy start on the final day and it wouldn’t be a long day. Getting to Shadow lake was less frustrating since we didn’t have to take off our skis often and there was no rain. We found a pretty good campsite by running water and decided to call it a day at around 5.30pm. It had been a long day and I was expecting to doze off right away after dinner but we chit chatted for little longer and I wasn’t in bed until 8pm.

Reflections in Shadow Lake

Next day we woke up at around 6.30 am and got moving at around 8 am. We didn’t even put on our ski boots and used our hiking boots all the way to Agnew meadows. Skinning up the road from Agnew meadows to Minaret Vista wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be and we managed to get there in under hour and half. They had started plowing both sides of the road from Mammoth Main lodge to Minaret vista so it made for some interesting skiing. We got to Main lodge at around 2pm and then decided to head over to the Mammoth brewery for some beer and food to celebrate a successful trip.

I throughly enjoyed this trip and to be able to Ski Mt Ritter in such great conditions was a wonderful experience, little bummed out that didn’t chance to explore the Minarets but I am going to save the 6 day tour for future and it is still on my list. Between the Sawtooth’s and this trip, I have gained lot of backcountry experience and learned so many new things, reinforced previously acquired skills, and overall have become better in being able to handle myself in mountains.

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