A go at Mt. Ritter

Kristen made her way north this past weekend, taking advantage of a friend’s offer to join her on an equine endurance ride (hopefully she’ll find some time to write about her experiences soon). Her departure left me with no option to go out and find some adventure of my own! So I grabbed a couple of my old roommates (good friends who’ve been exploring new adventures in the high sierra for some time now) and headed off.

We made our way across the wide, flat, hot, and thrilling central valley of California, through the timely towns of Kettleman City and Lemoore. Exciting as they may be, we passed right on by, slowing only for the occassional CHP prowling about. The drive became legitimately enjoyable as we started our ascent into the foothills, moving out of Fresno, through Oakhurst and up to the gates of Yosemite National Park. Being Labor Day Weekend, plenty of ratards were out (reference The Hangover: “ratard”) and driving was slow. We patiently made our way north in latitude and (symbolic) north in elevation. Stopping only to pee at the base of Bridalveil Falls and catch a glimpse of the glimmering headlamps of climbers on El Cap, we blew right through that incredibly gorgeous and depressingly crowded natural wonder/tourist trap.

Our drive continued into the night, up past Tuolumne Meadows, through the back end of the park at Tioga Pass, and down and down and down into the valley below, bottoming out and cranking south at Highway 395. The three of us cruised past Mono Lake quietly, the old 4-Runner humming along, providing emotional comfort in a way only old Toyotas can. We made our way through Mammoth and into the access road for Devil’s Postpile and the Ansel Adams National Wilderness. The gate was unmanned as we knew it would be. They charge big money to get in there before 7:30pm. But as is true in all national parks, in the safety of night entrance fees all but disappear.

We pulled up to the trailhead at 10pm, kept our voices low and threw our sleeping bags into the dirt. We weren’t supposed to camp at the day use area, but that’s negotiable. One slept in the car while two of us slid underneath it. Stealth.

I slept horribly, but was incredibly comfortable. My ears filled the night with sounds and the mass of great-smelling food in the car caused me to worry incessantly about being kicked in the face by a bear. Or worse, a raccoon. But despite my convinced attitude, we were not eaten. The alarm rang out at 4:30am and we were on the trail just after 5.

The rest of the day was a mass of stepping, breathing and incredible views. Our initial goal was to summit Mt. Ritter, but as we laid eyes on the steep ice chute reaching up around the shoulder of the mountain, we knew we were ill prepared for such an endeavor. So instead, we simply enjoyed a thorough – and thoroughly exhausting – exploration of the mountain environment. The photos below describe our day better than I ever could, so here I leave you. Enjoy, and get yourself outside as soon as you can. It’s nice out there.

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