Mount Ritter, Banner Peak and the Minarets are collectively the centerpieces of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. With numerous lovely alpine lakes surrounding these mountains and their close proximity to Mammoth Lakes it is no wonder this region is so popular with hikers and backpackers. It had been since 2007 since I last climbed Ritter and Banner and three years since I was in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (I did a climb of Clyde Minaret in 2009) so it was time to return this past July 29th. I aimed to do an aesthetic loop of the region and tour as many of the spectacular alpine lakes as possible (and take a ton of photos), particularly timing Garnet and Thousand Island Lake in the early morning when I figured (correctly) that lighting would be ideal. Many more photos here.
Joel and I started at Agnew Meadows and took the River Trail up to an unmarked junction with a short but steep use path that ascends to Garnet Lake, a spectacular lake nestled among granite cliffs with a grand view of Mount Ritter and Banner Peak. The reflections of Ritter and Banner in the calm waters were superlative and we stopped to take many photos. We continued along the John Muir Trail to Thousand Island Lake, which featured more awesome reflections of Banner Peak. We contoured the north shore of Thousand Island Lake and then began a climb up to North Glacier Pass. The pass includes a great view of Lake Catherine and the small glacier descending to the lake between Ritter and Banner. I contoured above the lake and then scrambled up some rocks to reach the upper portion of the glacier. After traversing some hazardously loose hardpan I found myself on the glacier which was showing some blue ice. I put on crampons and ascended the icy slopes to the north face route on Mount Ritter. I was happy I brought the crampons as the steep slopes to the start of the route on Ritter would not have been possible without them. The scramble up the north face of Ritter is not very difficult and goes mostly as class 3 but it requires energy, both on ascent and descent, and it is not hard to stray off route and find more difficult and technical rock. The summit of Mount Ritter provides a wonderful vantage of the Minarets and nearby Banner Peak.
Back at Ritter-Banner Saddle I embarked on the talus slog up to Banner Peak, which features the finest view of the region’s lakes from Thousand Island Lake to Lake Ediza. Descending the south side of Ritter-Banner saddle entailed more steep and icy snow slopes and then slow travel over choss before I reached the use path heading toward Lake Ediza. Ritter and Banner tower above the meadows here and I stopped for many photographs. The backdrop of the Minarets over the clear waters of Lake Ediza is always lovely. Back on the trail, I ran most of the way back to Agnew Meadows. The Ansel Adams wilderness did not disappoint and even surpassed expectations from my previous trips here with many memorable views. Complete photo album here.