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Trip Report: Banner Peak 10/26/17 - 10/29/17

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Trip Report: Banner Peak 10/26/17 - 10/29/17
October 30, 2017 09:37AM
Banner Peak - Summit October 28th, 2017

This trip started about 3 years ago with when I first saw a picture of Banner Peak from the mouth of Thousand Island Lake. "Most picturesque peak in the Sierras," they say, "Easy climb up Mt. Ritter & Banner Peak, easily can do both in a day." It lay on the bucket list for some time.

After doing Florence this past 2017 summer, I set my eyes on Banner/Ritter before the snow closed it off. I haven't done much snow/glacier traversing (read "none"winking smiley, so I wasn't interested in doing a winter ascent. As city life would have it, my only free weekend was Halloween. Coincidentally it was also the weekend the Agnew Meadows road would close and the last dry weekend before the snow started.

I made my REI & Safeway rounds and did the long drive to Mammoth from San Francisco. With a bit of traffic, the trip took 6 hours. I slept in my car Thursday night in order to hit the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center when it opened at Friday at 8am. Sipping on a coffee that morning, enjoyed listening to locals talking about the upcoming ski season at Looney Bean. I got my permit, parked at Mammoth Inn and hitched a ride over to Agnew Meadows. It took four cars before a very nice pair of locals picked me up.

The Route

The hike out was straight forward and fine. I was surprised to see a "9,000 ft" elevation sign on the road prior to the trail head. I knew I'd be in high country but I was a caught a bit off guard. I could have guessed from my lack of breath. The after 4 hours of hiking out, first good look at Banner was worth the entire trip

I got to Banner side of Thousand Island Lake with plenty of time to kill. Shade (the cold chill) hit my tent at 4:35pm and nightfall by 7pm. Mac & Cheese for dinner, bit of reading, and off to bed in anticipation of the morning. I seem to always put myself on routes that I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do. But then again I suppose I like the state of suspense.

Come Saturday morning I started up North Glacier Pass in order to catch Lake Catherine. The pass was easy enough

Coming over the pass and seeing Lake Catherine for the first time stopped me in my tracks. It was truly amazing. You could see the silence all around. The prep-pictures I studied before looked fun, but obviously nothing compares to the real thing. I traversed over clockwise around Lake Catherine to head to the glacier between Banner and Ritter.

I enjoyed yelling a bit to hear my own echo. Kinda like the Grinch in the How The Grinch Stole Christmas. About 2 min after my clapping and yelps I was on a snow slope, I heard another voice calling out to me. To my surprise there was another hiker putting on his crampons to do the same slope I was doing. Turns out we shared the same name and age. I wondered if I was talking to my imagination. Anyway, I soon found myself starting up the glacier I was seeking

The glacier was straight forward and icy. Like I said, I have very little experience on the ice/snow. Luckily the fellow I met had more than me and I learned a ton. Our crampons weren't digging too far into the ice but the route clear.

As we approached the top of the saddle I made sure to snag more pictures. A slip here would not be fun, but it wouldn't be fatal. That's Lake Catherine down at the bottom where we started.

At this point we are at the top of the saddle between Mt. Ritter and Banner. The north face of Ritter is looking daunting. The video's I watched before hand called the route a "Class 3 Plus" which we all know is code word for "things are going to get real up there." My new hiking partner and I started up this last ice slope with minimal penetration of our crampons into the glass. He led the way while I followed behind. We were in over our heads, but how was this different than any other time I chose a peak or route that was in over my head? "Keep your cool and just keep pushing."

About 15% up the red line below, my partner lost his footing and began to slide slowly down the slope. He quickly self arrested and landed in what was the equivalent of a snow's "catcher's glove." He landed softly into a depression into the ice that caught him gently. I looked down at my crampons about 1/4 in. - 1/2 in. beneath the slick ice and needed to take a couple deep breaths. My partner came too and said "if that happens one more time we are going to turn around and do Banner." I said, "what the hell? You can't plan for another self arrest. That might be The Time." Capital The. Capital Time. He insisted and pushed on. About 7 minute later he was about 15 ft ahead of me and as he would say later he "lost his concentration for a second," and slipped one more time.

This time I stood still as I watched him slide 15 ft. trying to self arrest without catching any ice. I felt totally senseless as if I was watching someone sliding off the side of Half Dome and there was nothing I could do. As he began to pick up speed I watched him slip past me frantically self arresting with the steep side of the saddle below him. He finally caught ice and slowed down for another 10 ft. Speechless, we both agreed that it wasn't the day, nor did we have the skill, to take on this slope. Witnessing two "this-is-not-a-drill" self arrests...Banner all of a sudden looked very appealing. We both said we would come back to Ritter with more skill and better snow on this slope. I learned my lesson and succeeded in sufficiently getting in over my head. That box was checked.

The climb up Banner was easy with multiple routes to choose from. Class 2 with hints of class 3 at times. The traverse up was obviously beautiful. Peak names, memories, and previous trips were scattered across the landscape as far as the eye could see.

View of the Ritter north face we attempted and retreated from about 30 minutes prior.

After a lengthy climb down, we were back on the glacier and headed towards Lake Catherine.

We stopped at the Lake for some water and views toward Mt. Davis. That low point on the right 3rd of the photo is the other side of North Glaicer Pass where we popped up from in the morning. We would head counter clockwise around the lake to get back there. Got back to our tents around 5:30pm, made dinner, chatted about the day and went off to our tents.

The next morning brought a beautiful site of Banner with an almost perfectly still Thousand Island Lake. Aside from the ducks flying, there was nothing else to break the silence of the moment.

The water was so still that I took a picture of the water as if it was the sky line. Below is the rotated image.

The hike down is always a special time. I tell friends "you're a bit exhausted, you're a bit low on nutrients, and endorphins are running high." Sometimes the smallest things catch your eye and make you stop. The picture below obviously does not do the moment justice, but spotting these aspens...on a late weekend in October...with 10am morning light...hiking solo...summiting Banner the previous day...pacing with the sound of your footsteps and bird chirps...makes these trips all worth it. The moment and feeling can simply not be replicated.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 10/30/2017 12:49PM by gkam2.
Re: Trip Report: Banner Peak 10/26/17 - 10/29/17
October 30, 2017 04:38PM
Nice photos and well spoken dialogue.

Long live glaciers.
Re: Trip Report: Banner Peak 10/26/17 - 10/29/17
October 30, 2017 07:48PM
Very helpful trip summary of Banner Peak and an entertaining read.

This guy sounds like a total babe.
Re: Trip Report: Banner Peak 10/26/17 - 10/29/17
October 30, 2017 11:40PM
Congrats!!! on a great trip and successful ascent/return. Banner is a fun one and on my list too.

The first look at the snow slope pic made me think that it looks rock solid. Glad to know that you found company and that the other hiker was safe. I have seen one 40'-50' slide in soft/steep terrain and it feels like someone is sliding in slow motion..and that feeling of helplessness. It's good that he didn't pick much speed and regained control.
Re: Trip Report: Banner Peak 10/26/17 - 10/29/17
November 14, 2017 05:54AM
Thanks for the report! I'm hoping to do Banner one day.
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