HIGHLAND PEAK (10,935’), MT. RITTER (13,157’), BANNER PEAK (12,945’), AND THE THUMB (13,388’) September 2-8, 1973

Being a confusing time for me as far as my job career, I had been working for the State as a clerk in a summer job. The slot had ended, so now for Labor Day, I was free to do some peak climbing. Wishing to earn an emblem by the Peak and Gorge, I took the car loaned by family to head south along U.S. 395 on a solo adventure.

Hearing that these peaks could be double bagged, I started from the Noble Lake trailhead, on September 2, to climb Highland and Silver Peaks. I determined that I could climb right up the hillside, and so I did. Doing first Highland, I then figured to run the ridge over to Silver Peak. I did not have enough water. I ran out and became thirsty. Seeing a pond on the wrong side of the ridge, I determined that it was only about a thousand feet of loss, versus any other way, so dropped on down to slake my thirst. I had no purification tablets or any such thing, but cleared away the green slime to drink some water. I was drinking out of streams, on my other backpacking, and though there is cattle grazing, figured to see if I got sick.

Climbing back up to the main ridge, I turned back from Silver Peak, just short of the summit. I was inspired later to lead a 1978 Peak and Gorge trip to bag those two peaks, aided by the knowledge that I had gained from this attempt. Finding a fair descent route, I got back to my car.

My next destination was to try Matterhorn Peak, but on arriving at Twin Lakes Trailhead, looked up at the imposing, jagged peaks. I then had doubts about the guidebook rating of class 2, so figured not to do it.

Getting to Mammoth Lakes, I sought to climb Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak. These are quite the coveted peaks, and being only class 3, figured that they were well within my ability level. Backpacking up to Lake Ediza, I made camp, and then woke up early, on September 5, to start out for Mt. Ritter. I was frustrated by the guidebook description, and chose my own way, up a scramble route. I found the chute that leads up to the Southeast slopes, and climbed on upwards. I saw the crag that makes the top, way up there, so slowly climbed up the easy scree for it. Finally summiting, I enjoyed the views, albeit with no camera.

The way down directly to the Ritter-Banner saddle looked too steep and hard. I tried then to use the West slope, class 2, down to Lake Catherine to ascend Banner a slightly different way. Descending on loose, unappealing scree, I stayed careful, but seeking to stay off the loose scree, down climbed on rocks, to come to a short class 4 section. Bringing my rock skills into play, I was able to negotiate this short section, and continue on down.

To some lakes, I had to traverse talus to get to the glacier that leads back up to the saddle. This was a task, and involved some backtracking or precarious scrambling. Good that I had some rock climbing training. Getting some rain, it had been cloudy and overcast. I made it to the glacier, and stepped on up. I had my ice ax and crampons, but this part was easy. No crevasses to worry about. Reaching the class 2 boulder climb to head for the top of Banner Peak, I scrambled on up, and used some skill in negotiating the summit block, savoring this completion of a double climb, with perhaps some 5,000 feet of gain.

Late in the day, I had to get back to camp. There was the “black cliff," rated class 3. It was getting dark. I scouted for the route, climbing down some ledges to a bergschrund, putting on my crampons briefly. There was a roar, and a F-4 Phantom jet soared slowly overhead, so low that I could see the flames from the exhaust. I climbed down the icy snowfield, and made it to the base, and got back to Lake Ediza to find my campsite and things, despite the dark.

Packing out the next morning, I camped at Agnew Meadows campground, and the next morning, being cold, had to drive about to warm up the engine, belching clouds of black smoke, as this was well before smog control, and I had an old car. I made it out over Minaret Summit, and chose to head south for the Palisades.

Looking at my information, I figured that most of the Palisade peaks were out for me. They advised of difficulty, and being conservative, I chose to play it safer. I set out up the South Fork of Big Pine Creek to pass by Brainard Lake, and to a small tarn where I camped.

Setting out the next morning, September 8, I sought to go over South Fork Pass for an easier way to climb the Thumb. There was ice, and I remember having to chop steps. A bit precarious solo, but I made it. Down on the other side, I descended to a lake, and rested. From there, it was an easy slog to the top of the Thumb. Being a hitch hiker, I wanted this peak. Going back the same way, I got back to camp, and packed on out.

Running into a Peak and Gorge group on the trail, I told them of my climbs. Being happy and safe, I may have spoke a bit weirdly, as they later said that I was out of my mind. I had signed in the registers, but had no camera. They wouldn’t be checking, and keeping some track, the registers disappeared, and my climbs were never stated to be confirmed. They sought to climb Middle Palisade, but always turned back, as the guidebook is vague, and it is class 3, too much for them.

So, I submitted my climbs for the Peak and Gorge Emblem, and somewhat begrudgingly, I got my patch. The club does Ritter and Banner in large groups, and never both in the same day. I am cast as crazy, and no less doubted, but it is explained to me that badges and pins are given on the honor system.

Not going right back to college, I bagged more peaks, and lived at home, taking a break from school. The Vietnam war had ended, and I was safe from being drafted, so now it was a matter of what I’d do with my life. It looked like Sierra Club, with hiking and peak climbing. Getting into winter sports, I was happy with what I was doing. They began to look at me as ill, but I never had need of big money and a good career.