The SR 201 was still closed at the Mammoth ski lodge, even though it was free of snow, so we had to park at the resort and walk the 5 miles of road to Agnew Meadows. Overall, we had a 10.74 mile hike and 1,780 feet to gain to reach our planned campsite on some tree-covered hills west of Ediza Lake. Oddly, there were artificially frosted pine trees lining the road between Mammoth Ski Resort and Minaret Summit. When we reached Minaret Summit, we walked across the open meadow to get a nice view of our climbing objectives before short-cutting down the open slope to the road. We made good progress on the road while keeping at a relaxed yet steady pace. Midway down the road we met two backpackers heading out from Shadow Lake. According to them the snow was solid and began between Shadow Lake and Ediza Lake. The occasional forest service car that drove by us rubbed in the irritation of having to walk in on a clear road, and we were more than happy to get off of it.
At Agnew Meadows we stopped for a food break, where Kevin and I experimented with ways to eat up the jar of peanut butter that we had brought for a source of concentrated calories. I came up with a yummy combination of spreading peanut butter on the cream of an Oreo cookie and putting the cookie back together. As a trail food, it tasted surprisingly good. Sadly, my idea of wrapping a ball of peanut butter in a wad of sandwich meat proved less palatable, even after two days out.
Our next good view of Banner and Ritter was at Shadow Lake. It was late afternoon by then and the long shadows made the glacier between them, now in full view, look extremely steep. Kevin expressed his doubts about the climb, but I had experienced similar views before, and reassured him that the route wasn’t nearly as steep as it looked. I was caught off guard by how much snow was still up there, though. Snow line on my earlier trip to climb Mt Corcoran and LeConte was at 10,500 ft, and Mt Williamson was nearly melted out the day before. The snow line here began at 9,000 feet.
By the time we reached Ediza Lake the trail was no longer visible, and we took off along the north side of the lake, scrambling along the cliffs at the mouth of the lake before crawling over a combination of snow, talus, and brush on the north shore. We were too eager to head up the slopes and left the shore of the lake too early. After scrambling through a series of cliffs and realizing our error, we backtracked and found a nice campsite under some pine trees and next to a river that was fed by the glacier above. The camp was on the edge of a granite cliff, so we had a dry place to sit and prepare food and a gorgeous view of Clyde Minaret.
Since I still had plenty of energy, I ran on up the valley wearing nothing but boots, shorts, and a t-shirt to get a better view of our route. I managed to climb about 300 vertical feet to the bowl below the cliffs that contained the glacier that we would climb the following day. I picked a route staying to the east side of the lower cliffs, staying to the edge of the glacier, before ascending a narrow chute to bypass the cliffs and gain the saddle. There were no signs of crevasses, rock fall, or recent avalanching activity. By then the sun was setting and my bare skin was getting numb, so I stumbled down the never-ending series of drainage channels, some of which were several feet deep, before getting back to camp. Coming down I was able to pick out an easier route through these ridges than when coming up, and following my footprints the following morning in the dark proved very helpful for making efficient progress up the mountain.