Imagine my surprise when six of my friends were down to get after it. We rode our snowmobiles down to Agnew Meadow early in the morning and began hiking at 4AM. 16 miles, 6,000 vertical feet, snow, dirt, ice, rocks, creeks, lakes, clouds, sun, blisters, aches and pains awaited us on our summit attempt. The veritable bible of backcountry skiing around the Sierra’s states that, “A trip to Mt. Ritter usually involves at least 2 days….” I like big days and think they’re cool but mostly I just hate sleeping in the cold, trying to sleep in your wet, sweaty gear and waiting for your boots to freeze does not entice me. So Ritter in a day was the plan.
Travel was super smooth under a cloudy sky all morning with firm, fast snow. We were standing at the lower benches of the mountain around 8:30AM. Other then the fact that summit was totally in clouds, we were in great spirits. There was even talk about making it to happy hour back in Mammoth. How soon things can change. We were standing at a point 4,000’ below the summit so in reality we hadn’t climbed much since leaving our sleds.
After a few steps up the steep lower headwall it became clear things were about to get much more real. The slope itself is pretty steep on this lower section of the mountain but it was the snow that was proving to be difficult. A much thinner 2cm crust replaced the firm supportable crust we were skiing on all morning. This surface would brake immediately after stepping on it and we were sinking up to our knees. Our feet would barely make it out of the pits that would form after each step, needless to say, travel slowed. It was around this time that I found myself in a tough spot, super hungry, thirsty and in total disdain of every song on my ipod shuffle. This lasted over an hour as we made our way above the bench and were able to eat some food, drink some fluids and put our split skis back on and continue up the glacial valley.
Around 11,000’ you come to the end of the glacial valley where you’re greeted by a few couloirs. The main route up to the summit usually takes you up a wide snowy chute, and while it is fairly steep, it’s normally pretty straight forward, from what I’ve been told. But there we were, staring up at a mess of rock, ice and a few snow patches, the effects of the brutal drought year that was 2012. We picked our way through the rocky chute and were all feeling pretty gripped. A wrong move, slip or loss of focus could have been fatal. Nothing like an hour of absolutely no fall climbing to wake you up.
Once we made it above the chute things got real sweet. The sun came out and we could see our goal along with the massive SE face that backcountry sliders dream about. I was feeling super good and hammered some zig-zags up the enormous snowfield. . There was enough snow to skin right on to the summit block after an exciting few minutes on the ridge above the Ritter/Banner col. A fall to the north at that point would end 2,500 feet later at the bottom of a massive cliff. But there we were, 13,140’ above sea level on top of Mt. Ritter. The feeling really was incredible and the views of Yosemite, Mono Lake, Mt. Banner and all the way down to Mammoth were extraordinary. It was 2PM and unfortunately we didn’t have much time to chill, we had a LONG trip back.
We descended the SE face in perfect consolidated pow and split up to shred two couloirs that lead down the mountain. Tucker and I were forced to scramble over a bit more exposure to reach the entrance of the SE Chute but once there realized we were on top of one of the more inviting chutes in all of the Sierra. The run down to Lake Ediza was so damn fun with all types of different snow and terrain, and all of it good.
With our split boards in ski mode the trek back to our sleds was fairly grueling. The temps were up, the snow was sticky and a few of us absolutely suck at skiing. I ate shit a number of times with total yard sales being the outcome. Helmet, goggles, snowshoes, cramp-ons, jackets, shit was everywhere. Meanwhile Jimmy and Frank were killing it, jumping of little cliffs and laughing the whole way. Continuing to put one foot in front of the other we made it to our sleds around 7:30PM, 15.5 hours after leaving them. We slapped some fives and struggled to let out a few hoots but in all honesty I don’t remember much as we were so f-ing tired. I motored home, grabbed the wife and we made our way to Giovanni’s for some cold beer and pizza.
We climbed and snowboarded Mt. Ritter in a day. Big thanks to an extremely solid crew: Cory Rice, Jimmy Goodman, Frank Knab, Tucker Watson. (By the way, this was Tucker’s first splitboard mission ever.) Kevin Westenbarger and Willie Wood.