Banner Peak, East Corner, TR, very long, not for dial-up


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Trad climber
East Side, California
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 19, 2007 - 09:34am PT
So I was thumbing through a few of my Sierra Nevada routebooks looking for something fun and casual, and I came across the description for the East Corner on Banner Peak. In Secorís book, not noted for its accuracy, the route is listed as Class 4, and was first climbed way back in 1931 by Jules Eichorn and Robert Underhill, in canvas tennis shoes, with hip belays and hemp ropes. Jules Eichorn , on route grading, wrote: ďWe had a kind of simplified version of a rating system. If we did not have a rope Ė it was class 3. If we had a rope, but did not have the right pitons Ė it was class 4. If we had a rope and pitons (and used them) Ė it was class 5.Ē Sounded fun and interesting, I do like steep scrambling.
The route follows the right-hand skyline for multiple pitches

Further reading, this time in Moynier and Fiddlerís Climbing Californiaís High Sierra, second edition, gave a bit different picture. The route is listed there as III 5.7, and they write: ďÖthis route has come to be respected as at least as difficult as their (Eichorn and Underhillís) later route up the east face of Mt. Whitney.Ē and ďThis old-style ĎClass 4í in reality offers multiple pitches of fifth class with mandatory 5.7 climbing on the overhanging headwall pitch. There are lots of fixed pieces where parties have obviously backed off. It is considerably harder and longer than something like the north ridge of Lone Pine Peak or the west ridge of Mt. Conness.Ē

Well, I had thought that the west ridge of Conness was pretty long, but pretty casual, and easily done as a dayhike. So if this route was longer and more difficult, but still no harder than 5.7, well, it was sounding pretty good. Now, Iím basically pretty lazy, and I donít like to carry a heavy backpack out to make expeditions out of backcountry climbs, so I knew I wanted to do the route as a dayhike. I found one trip report, but they definitely hiked in and camped, and on top of that, they bivied on the route due to thunderstorms interrupting their climbing.

I started asking around for a partner, but everyone I asked, when I mentioned the out-and-back in a day, well, there wasnít a lot of interest. What I needed was someone who didnít know any better, so I asked my co-worker and friend David (more commonly known as D-Rod, his name is David Rodriguez, and you know how they call Alex Rodriguez , ballplayer with the hated NYY, A-Rod, well itís the same kind of thing). I sent him a couple of links with info, and he thought it sounded pretty good. D-Rod is pretty much fit, but he doesnít have a lot of climbing experience, nor a lot of cross-country travel experience, but I figured thatís the reason he agreed in the first place, so I could live with that. Plus, Iíd get to lead all of the pitches, which is definitely a bonus.

We agreed to meet just outside Mammoth Lakes, weíre both Eastside locals, D-Rod lives in Paradise, between Bishop and Crowley, and I live in beautiful metropolitan Bridgeport, home of outrageous fuel prices. Please donít ever buy fuel here, both fuel stations are owned by the same shyster, and I hate to have his gouging supported.

The outing started inauspiciously when I set my alarm incorrectly, and woke up 15 minutes before I was supposed to be there, but I jumped up, piled in the truck, and headed south. Even though I may have exceeded the legal speed limit by a fair margin, I was still 45 minutes late, and we didnít leave the Agnew Meadows trailhead until 0615.

We made good time up the trail, hitting Ediza Lake about 2 hours into it, and catching the use trail up toward the Ritter-Banner Saddle shortly thereafter. We left the use trail just past Nydiver Lakes,

Cross-country travel to the base of the route

The author enroute to the approach gully

and scrambled up slabs in an attempt to avoid a bunch of crappy loose talus.

We kept to the slabs as much as possible to avoid talus scrambling

The route description says to scramble up a steep chute

between Banner and Peak 11,440 to gain the ridge. The chute was steep, and about halfway up there is a chimney with a big chockstone lodged in it.

Entering the chute/gully

D-Rod heading up into the approach gully

Checking out the approach gully

The moves around it looked fairly easy, but the start is in an exposed and precarious position, so being the soft climber that I am, I elected to rope up for the moves. The moves were easy, and I didnít fall, and so didnít need to get the rope out, but I just donít free-solo much, and rarely on unknown terrain, so I guess it was worth it. And besides, I had to watch out for D-Rod, heíll try almost anything, and his wife would be really mad at me if I let him get killed. After those few moves, we put the rope back in the pack and continued up.

Almost to the start of the route

The rest of the chute was loose and steep, and third class, even by Eichornís standards. We gained the shoulder of the ridge, and roped up for the pitch to mount the ridge itself. There was a fixed pin at a steep section on this pitch, and I clipped it even though it was of dubious quality.

The old fixed pan and other tat. Who is so enamored of a $5 Ďbiner that they girth hitch a wire with a sling?

Looking down from partway up the first Ďformalí pitch

D-Rod following the first pitch

Once on the ridge, it was more similar to the Sunshine-Peewee (East Buttress) route than the East Face that it was compared to.

Following the ridgeline up, this pitch is perhaps 1/3 of the way up

The Ďcornerí is actually a narrow ridge or arÍte with lots of flat spots where the ridge top had toppled off, interspersed with steep towers along the ridgeline that we mostly clambered over.

And up, we're about halfway by my guesstimate

Some of the towers were so steep that the first ascentionists found it necessary to traverse out and around. There were three notable spots for these traverses.

When we arrived at the first (I didnít realize right away where the route went), I looked over to the right and saw a very old and tattered sling hanging and flapping in the breeze, and I first thought that it must be a bail anchor. But after looking around a bit more, I saw a piece of old cord hanging out of a crack, but disbelief suspended logic for me. You see, if I went right, I would be stepping out into a situation of tremendous exposure, and Iím deathly afraid of heights. Youíre probably wondering why would I be climbing if Iím afraid of heights, but climbing is actually my therapy, Iím way better about heights and exposure than I used to be.

But I still didnít like the look of the traverse. So I went left, where it didnít look so scary. I messed around for a while, until I determined that my variation wasnít going to go with my skill level, and I backtracked and reconsidered the traverse right. I could see the moves, after all they couldnít be any harder than 5.7, there and no sandbag routes in the Sierra, particularly none that are rated class 4 (a very common rating for the Ďold-skoolí climbers, who were so far ahead of me that I couldnít even carry their lunchboxes).

So I eased out over the abyss, and it was actually and really a scary spot for me as the moves are on a section of rock that is undercut, so if you fall, you will be hanging below the rock, suspended in midair. I know, a nice safe fall, but in addition to not liking heights, I donít like to fall either. So I plugged in gear about every 2 feet along the traverse, as well as clipping the rusty old fixed pin (you know, I was looking after my second), and slimed over to the last lateral move, a long reach out to the edge of the arÍte over a whole bunch of air. It took me 3 or 4 aborted efforts before I committed, and it didnít turn out to be really all that bad.

And up some more, we're around 2/3 of the way up

We plugged along up the narrow spine, and the climbing was mostly fun and casual until the next traverse, also to the right, also exposed, and again protected with an old fixed pin (which really wasnít fixed too well, it wiggled like a rotten tooth). The holds were more positive here, but the wall above the traverse was way steep, but with nice positive holds. Once past the right traverse, the route traverses up and left back to the crest of the ridge.

There were lots of steep sections

It was getting to be late afternoon, and D-Rod was asking if the route was ever going to end.

D-Rod following some of the steep stuff. This pitch is probably at about 3/4 of the way up

We were in the shade, it was chilly, and we were watching Bannerís shadow grow longer and longer, covering Garnet Lake, then the Nydiver Lakes, then the Long Valley Caldera, and finally the shadow reached all the way to the Whites. I was definitely hoping to get to the top and then down below the Ritter-Banner Saddle before dark so we could negotiate the steep snow gully off of the saddle.

The sun is getting low as we approach the summit

We expedited our progress as the angle and difficulty eased off (eased off? You mean it got even easier than 5.7?), and we climbed back into the sunlight just before it went away for the night.

The sun was going away quickly as we summited

Our requisite summit photo

We hurried down to the saddle, and the snow in the descent chute was rock-hard and steep. I would say that we neglected to bring axe and crampons, but it was a conscious decision not to. We were hoping that between the afternoon sun softening the snow for step-kicking, and the fact that it was such a low-snow year that we would be able to find a way to scramble down without ice stuff. No such luck.

By now we were a bit tired, and so made the fateful decision to go down the other side of the saddle to Lake Catherine, and hopefully over the pass down to Thousand Island Lake to catch the PCT near the outlet of the lake. We did descend down to the lake, and tried to navigate over to the pass, but we kept cliffing out in the dark. We had headlamps, because if I bring a headlamp, I usually donít need it, sort of like dayhike insurance, but tonight we needed them. Even so, the route was not well illuminated by the 2 feeble beams. While sitting and considering our options, we had an epiphany, one that we should have had before we descended those extra thousand feet of vertical.

You know, weíve got a rope with us, maybe we should have considered rapping that snow gully? Yeah, maybe so. We regained that thousand feet, climbed into the moat on the skierís left, and started a new descent. Pretty quickly the moat became impassable, and we set our first rap off a rock horn, and rapped down 30 meters to a stance. There was a block frozen in the ice, and the tip was sticking out for a pretty good sling anchor, so we slung it and rapped another half-rope.

The stance there had a perfect rock horn to sling, but the next stance wasnít so nice. We searched around for a bit but could only find one stopper placement. It seemed secure, and it retrospect it was. We made one more rap off of a single stopper, and finally the angle eased up enough to venture out into the frozen sun cups.

Navigating the rock-hard frozen suncups @ 2 am

We were soon off the snow, and stumbling down a seemingly endless gully/field of loose, junky, talus by ever weakening headlamp beams. Finally got to the tarn at the base of the Southeast Face of Ritter, and joined the use trail to Ediza Lake. One more bit of talus getting around the lake to the stream crossing, and we were on the trail.

Finally on the trail!

It was about 0430 by now, and all we had left was the slog out, which seemed endless, but wasnít really all too bad. Next time, weíll leave earlier!

Social climber
St. Looney
Sep 19, 2007 - 09:49am PT
Wow. Great photos. Excellent TR!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Sep 19, 2007 - 10:48am PT
thanks for the TR bearbnz, the Sierra has such a store of wonderful adventures... one thing that would be great is if your pictures identified the pitch (or approximate height or percentage of the climb)... just so that us dreamers might get an idea.

Trad climber
East Side, California
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2007 - 10:57am PT
OK Ed, I made my best guesses on where we were and noted them. I'm not even sure how many pitches there were, I didn't keep track, but it sure seemed like a lot.

The Eye of the Snail
Sep 19, 2007 - 11:06am PT
All-nighters are the best, even though at the time it somehow seems the opposite.
handsome B

Gym climber
Sep 19, 2007 - 11:37am PT
wow, sounds brutal in a fun way, thanks for the TR!


Trad climber
Sep 19, 2007 - 12:17pm PT
happy too see a tr on banner-- several times i've been tempted to just run in there and do it-- now i'm glad i never acted on that impulse. i especially like the outing as the first real climbing experience for a n00b. bet yr buddy was feeling pretty authentic seconding that first steep traverse.

Trad climber
East Side, California
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2007 - 12:30pm PT
He was. That outing has had quite an impact on his outlook. He definitely feels a sense of accomplishment. And to his credit, he didn't whine at all through the long night.

Social climber
A prison of my own creation
Sep 19, 2007 - 12:50pm PT
All Right! Sounds like a great adventure.

Social climber
New Zealand -> Santa Barbara
Sep 19, 2007 - 01:48pm PT
Great TR and a fun outing; thanks for posting it up.

We were up there in mid summer with lake summer snow conditions and went up Banner via your descent route. The ice gully definitely gives you pause when you're in sneakers. Leaving a bit of gear is definitely worth it for coming down though. I've had to resort to having a single nut tool in the ice as my only protection for a similar after midnight ice field descent. Not comfortable.

Your TR is a great advertisement for the ridge route on our next trip up there.

Cheers, Roy


Trad climber
Lee, NH
Sep 19, 2007 - 02:07pm PT
I go away a few days and come back to find Supertopo swimming in TRs. With photos! Thanks for sharing your trip.

Trad climber
Woodside, CA
Sep 19, 2007 - 02:20pm PT
Nice work, Barry! This looks awfully similar to our last year's Mattherhorn "day hike"

Sep 19, 2007 - 02:37pm PT
Now THAT's what the Sierra is all about. Nicely done. I'm sure it'll see a few repeats now.

Trad climber
East Side, California
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2007 - 02:43pm PT
Thanks Misha, now that the routefinding is worked out, either of those routes could be done much more quickly. Matterhorn should definitely be a reasonable dayclimb.

Trad climber
SF, aka: Dirkastan
Sep 19, 2007 - 05:39pm PT

nick d

Trad climber
Sep 19, 2007 - 08:29pm PT
Top notch achievement! Thanks very much for posting up such a nice TR! Really quite an accomplishment for a guy who was essentially a novice climber,too. I bet it will be his number one conversation item for quite a while, at least until the next time!


Trad climber
Woodside, CA
Sep 19, 2007 - 10:55pm PT
It reminded me of when I dragged my friends who never climbed outdoors up Snake Dike in a day in spring (with cables down and a big pile of snow below the cables). Or when I took my coworker who never even scrambled up Russell's East Ridge in a day. Both parties survived and are now craving for more. Needless to say, they got hooked on the mountains. I figured that they will either get hooked or hate it and subsequently drop me as a friend. Fortunately, I did not misjudge their character :)

Oakland: what's not to love?
Sep 20, 2007 - 01:06am PT

Loved it. Thanks. Great photos and good, solid, unadorned writing.

You're not the first climber I've heard of who had a fear of heights. Though during that traverse, how can you be sure that you're not registering 'thrill' or 'exhilaration' pushing you out of your comfort zone, rather than 'fear'? Maybe it's the same thing.

I've never met a climber with a fear of heights who's done an El Cap route. So have you?


Trad climber
East Side, California
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 20, 2007 - 11:08am PT
Thanks for the nice comments. I have not yet climbed El Cap, but it is on my list. My fear of heights has gotten increasingly better as I have exposed myself to them more often. I'm pretty sure fear was my major motivator on the steep traverse, but it was definitely exhilaration after making it across.

Trad climber
Grand Junction, Colorado
Sep 20, 2007 - 11:47am PT
I love the vicarious thrill of 'living' the story and photos of a good climb. It has been a long hot summer here in the desert --dragging my arse to work, and I sure miss the alpine. Thanks for the posting!!
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