Mounts Ritter and Banner dominate the northern Sierra skyline and this area offers a perfect introduction to the pleasures of Sierra peak climbing. John Muir first ventured here in 1872 and we follow his footsteps into mountains little changed since his days here. Pack stock will carry gear to camp near Thousand Island Lake while we strike a leisurely and comfortable hiking pace. We spend a day getting our skills in order and then tackle our main goal: an ascent of Mt. Banner. Along with climbing, we include plenty of instruction as well as some time to relax and enjoy one of the most beautiful areas of the Sierra.
Anyone driving Highway 395 in the vicinity of Mammoth has probably noticed these impressive peaks dominating the Sierra skyline. Their spectacular appearance makes them a magnet for the climber, but while they are impressive, they are not unduly difficult to ascend. Noted climber and explorer Clarence King attempted Mt. Ritter in 1866 but retreated, calling the peak inaccessible. However the redoubtable John Muir proved him wrong and made the first ascent only six years later. In his book “The Mountains of California” he describes the view from the summit:
“Looking southward along the axis of the range, the eye is first caught by a row of exceedingly sharp and slender spires, which rise openly to a height of about a thousand feet, above a series of short, residual glaciers that lean back against their bases, their fantastic sculpture and the unrelieved sharpness with which they spring out of the ice rendering them peculiarly wild and striking. These are the “Minarets”. Beyond them you behold a sublime wilderness of mountains, their snowy summits towering together in crowded abundance, peak beyond peak, swelling higher, higher as they sweep on southward, until the culminating point of the range is reached on Mount Whitney…”
Guidebooks include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails.”
Since camp during the trip is over 9,000’ we highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000’) just prior to the trip. Though you will not be carrying a heavy pack during the trip, you will still be working hard hiking and climbing every day. Spending a night in Mammoth, either camping or in a hotel, would do it. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
Mules are a traditional way of accessing the Sierra backcountry. They make the mountains accessible to a wider range of people, both young and old. They do enable us to take along some extras to make camp life more relaxed and easy. But we do need to limit people to a 20 pounds per person (this does not include tents). We do weigh the duffle bags.