Toshi, Sachin, Marc and I set out on a mission to climb Banner and Ritter. Well, they were on a mission to climb the two peaks, I was content with the journey to get there. The climbing would involve some gear and skills that I am unfamiliar with and am not that keen on acquiring anyways because of the risks involved. It turns out that the journey to get to the two peaks would involve enough uncomfortableness learning how to handle some new mountain travel challenges.
The loop began from Toulomne Meadows, following the Sierra High Route (SHR) to Catharine Lake. Catherine lake sits at the base of a glacier that leads up to the saddle between Banner and Ritter. Then the SHR is followed to Thousand Island Lakes where we would then follow the north shore up to the John Muir Trail (JMT). We would then take the JMT back to Toulomne Meadows. The SHR is not necessarily a trail. It follows some trails sometimes, but more often than not the SHR is a red line on a map that is basically someone's idea of a good way to travel around the Sierra. There is a lot of off trail travel over challenging terrain that requires decent navigation skills. We were off trail from mile 15 to mile 35 of our trip. The loop we ended up completing was likely around 55 miles.
We started from Toulomne Meadows at approximately midnight on Friday after driving from the bay area after work. One of the first things we noticed was the prominant haze in the air which was smoke from the Yosemite fires hanging around the Meadows. I was a little worried about the air quality that we were going to get and how the smoke was going to affect the trip. The worries quickly dissipated though as we climbed up towards Vogelsang and out of the valley where the smoke was drifting. There was a bright moon out and the sky was clear, which allowed us to put away our headlamps and do some moonlight hiking. It was wonderfully peaceful.
About four miles up we decided to make camp for the night. We bivied up and got about 3-4 hours of sleep before awaking to the sun, packing up, and heading on our way. Before we reached Vogelsang Lake we came across the High Sierra Camp. This is a fancy semi-permanent camp up in the mountains. There are tent cabins set up and tore down for the summer months. When we dropped by to refill our water people were having breakfast in the dining tent. It was quite posh. I think they have a five star chef up there cooking for them. We saw the menu: all kinds of fancy fare that I don't even get at home! Marc decided to see if he could procure himself a cup of coffee. Apparently when he entered the tent with his Western States shirt someone approached him and talked passionately about helping out with the race. Marc walked out of the tent with a free cup of coffee - Score!
Vogelsand lake and it's surroundings were the first "Wow" moment for me this trip:
|Vogelsang Lake with Vogelsang Peak in the background|
|Sachin and Marc approaching Vogelsang Pass|
|Views on the other side of Vogelsang Pass|
|We saw several of these cool waterfalls that just run down the side of giant rock faces.|
|Half Dome stands in stark contrast to it's surroundings.|
|View of Lyell fork.|
Our first attempt at following the SHR was a total fail. We knew we had to leave the trail and head east at some point, but we had the toughest time figuring out exactly when. We theorized about this or that stream or dried up creek bed that might have led from the lake that we were trying to reach to get our bearings for the next move, but ultimately we just picked a stream and followed it up the hill until we got to an open meadow. This is where Toshi explained his "dried up lake" theory, the first of many to come. So we assumed we were standing in a dried up lake and then studied the map for our next move to get up to Foerster Pass. The lines that we were studying didn't make much sense to us, so we just picked our own route to the top. It turns out that we were not actually at the lake and if we were, the SHR as shown on the map would have matched up pretty close to the line that we picked. We found the lake as we were nearing in on the pass...a little too late.
|Foerster Peak is the big mountain. We had to make up a route to get to the pass to the right of the peak.|
|Looking down at the valley as we climbed to Foerster Pass.|
|Sachin was being a trooper fighting some pretty pronounced altitude sickness symptoms.|
|The plumes in the distance emanate from the colossal forrest fires in Yosemite.|
|Just a couple of dudes climbing mountains.|
Scree is a collection of broken rock fragments at the base of crags, mountain cliffs, volcanoes or valley shoulders that has accumulated through periodic rockfall from adjacent cliff faces. Landforms associated with these materials are often called talus deposits. Talus deposits typically have a concave upwards form, while the maximum inclination corresponds to the angle of repose of the mean debris size.
If you stick to the well beaten path, that is, a maintained trail of some sort, you will probably never have to deal with travel over talus. Well, it is different from hiking, it is different from running, it is it's own movement. Lots of hopping, skipping, explosive jumps followed by concentrated steps. It is a disjointed, jerky type of movement, but like all things, you get better with practice... Travel over talus is actually quite exhilarating when you can count on the solidness of each footstep. It becomes nerve-wracking when the rocks move from under your feet, or when you cause miniature landslides.
|Toshi is in his element studying maps at the top of Foerster Pass. That's Foerster Peak behind him.|
|Views down to Blue Lake on the other side of Foerster Pass.|
|Joanne liked this pic of the evening views of Bench Canyon.|
|Toshi's setup for the night. No bears up here!|
Credit: Sachin Sawant
|Cool Peak with no name (on our maps).|
|Traveling along the ridges with Ritter Range looming in the background.|
|Special lake that we pretty much stumbled upon.|
|Ritter Range was evil looking. Reminded me of Lord of the Rings.|
|Twin Island Lakes, lake #1|
|Marc and Toshi are reviewing our options of climbing to that pass that you can barely see in the top of the picture. Notice the awesome waterfall?|
|Alpine Meadow looking up at where we are going next.|
|The ledge along the mountain that we traveled before following the waterfall to the left. Pretty scary cliffs on either side.|
|Looking down from the waterfall|
|The Crack, and I don't mean Marc's.|
Credit: Sachin Sawant
|The first of the "Ritter Lakes" that we saw after doing some scary scrambling over the pass.|
|Finally reaching Lake Catherine. Two happy guys at the base of Banner and Ritter.|
After reaching Lake Catherine we had to make the tough decision to put off the summit attempt of Banner and Ritter. The awesome SHR travel ate up a good chunk of our time and we just didn't have enough of it to bag the peaks and get back to work on Monday. After the decision was made we descended through North Glacier Pass down the last of the great talus fields for this trip. This led us to Thousand Islands Lake were we sat down to eat lunch. It was at this time that Marc proposed that he run back to the car over the twenty miles of JMT we had left and take a nap so he could be fresh for our drive back to the bay area. This sounded like a pretty good idea at the time because Sachin's altitude sickness was not allowing for very fast travel and we knew it might be late by the time we got back to the car and then we still had 4.5 hours of driving to get home. So Marc took off.
Credit: Sachin Sawant
|Ridges on the north side of North Glacier Pass.|
|Toshi and Sachin with Thousand Island Lake in the background.|
|The quintessential shot of Banner behind Thousand Islands Lake from the JMT.|
- Olympus T-320 camera: Grade: A. Still capturing beautiful vistas and taking a beating.
- SOG Flash I Knife: Grade: A. Sharp and light.
- Jetboil Sol Stove: Grade: A. This thing has seen some heavy use. It had no problem boiling water for all four of us to cook our meals with. It is just so fast.
- Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spoon: A+. Although I heard about a titanium version...
- REI Minimalist Bivy: B. Seen a lot of use, taken a lot of abuse, and is still good to go. Could be lighter.
- ThermaRest Neo Air X-lite: A. I love this thing. A little spendy, but you pay if you skimp on this one...
- Zissou Lite Nautical Long Sleeping Bag: A. Still trucking.
- Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack: B+. Has a few rips from some off-trail adventures, but still performs.
- MSR Hyperflow water filter: A. It is aging gracefully, but I have had my eye on the Sawyer Squeeze filter...
- Outdoor Research 10 L dry sack for sleeping bag: A. I used to use the stuff sack that came with the bag and then put a trash bag around it to protect it from moisture (if your sleeping bag gets wet, you are screwed!). But this option cuts out the failure prone, clunky, trash bag. And removes one more packing step...
- Adventure Medical Kit UltraLight: A. Have never used this thing since my first trip when I explored it's blister kit. I suppose that is a good thing.
- Black Diamond Ultra Distance Hiking Poles: A. Still the best, but have not aged gracefully, the locking mechanism seems to have rusted shut. Oh well, still work.