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Mount Ritter - Ansel Adams Wilderness - Trail / Approach Guide timberlinetrails.net
The Ansel Adams Wilderness Region Trail System - will not only give you great access for
climbing Mt Ritter and Banner Peaks, but it also skirts some of the most fantastic scenery in all the Sierra Nevada
Mountains. Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak along with the Minarets are awe inspiring for climbers and outdoors men of
all types. John Muir considered the alpine beauty in this area to be unsurpassed by any other terrain in all the range.
He also considered Ediza Lake to be the most beautiful of all the multitudes of lakes in the Sierra. Most climbers
use the shores of Ediza Lake as their base camp for climbing in the Ritter Range. But we choose to go higher and
set up camp on a high alpine snow field. We found this to be a good option because it gave us a nice high start for
our summit attempt. We also had no problem finding water in a large depression that had collected runoff from the
melting snow and ice not too far from camp. If you decide to backpack or fish in this section of the Sierra, you will
certainly not be disappointed. The meadows, rivers, lakes, streams, and alpine scenery are nothing short of
Once you leave the trailhead on the Shadow Lake / River Trail, you will
find yourself traveling down a fairly level path that skirts the edge of
Agnew Meadows shown to the right. The going is nice and easy in the
beginning, and the pine trees give you plenty of shade in this section. On
our return from Thousand Island Lake we saw plenty of people enjoying
this section of the trail. This including a lot of little folks possibly getting their
first introduction into back country travel.
After this initial (near level) section of trail the path
turns downward and you loose a few hundred feet of
elevation, as you descend into a canyon. It is always a
nice break to travel downhill for a bit.
But I would just as well have the trail go level or uphill
when climbing a mountain. For as we all know, that
downhill section is going to have to be made up for
latter on. Additional uphill sections will be encountered,
and you never gain as much energy on the down as you
loose on the up. Sean, Ben, and Garrett are shown
negotiating the downward section of the trail in the
image to the left.
When you reach the bottom of the canyon the trail
becomes level again and you soon pass by Olaine Lake
(shown in the photo to the right). We used this flat
area in an earlier trip to camp out for the night because
our permit required entry on the day we arrived. We
had arrived late at night and were forced to hike in
a couple of miles to make our permit legal. The
bottom of the canyon has ample flat areas for setting
up quick camp sites. If you decide on an option (such
as described above) make sure your headlamps are on
hand for the night time hike in.
Toward the end of the canyon, you will come across a trail marker (as shown in the above left image). The River
Trail pointing to the right is the quickest way to reach Thousand Island Lake. The Shadow Lake Trail takes you to
Shadow Lake (obviously), but is also the path you will want to take if you are heading for Lake Ediza. It is the
most direct route to climbing Mount Ritter, Banner Peak, or the Minarets. You can also reach Garnet Lake, Ruby
Lake, Emerald Lake, and even Thousand Island Lake by taking the Shadow Lake Trail option. To do this, you will
branch off to the north when you come to the John Muir Trail junction. I believe this is the more scenic route by
far to Thousand Island Lake, but it is also a longer and more difficult route to the aforementioned lake. So if you
are in a hurry, or want the easiest route to Thousand Island Lake, take the River Trail. It is the most direct method
of reaching this particular destination. If you choose the Shadow Lake fork, you will find yourself passing over a
cool bridge that spans the Shadow Lake Creek (above right hand photo) within a very short distance from the trail
On both our climb up Mount Ritter, and also on our
August 25, 2007 backpack loop trip, we crossed the
above bridge and the trail then turned upward and rocky.
This section of the trail is shown in the above left hand
photograph. In the above right hand image, you can just
see Mike rounding the corner with Shadow Lake Creek
roaring down into the canyon that we just exited from.
In the left hand photo Sean, Mike, and Eddie look off in
the distance at Mammoth Mountain. Hugely popular in
the winter with snowboarders and skiers, it is mainly
used by downhill mountain bikers in the summer months.
Once on top of the lip of the Shadow Creek Canyon,
the trail continues to push upward as you can see
in the photograph just above. It also snakes its way
along the roaring creek bed as shown to the right.
Water is a very powerful force and you are advised to
stay away from slippery river banks. Falling into a
torrent of water as shown to the right could very likely
be fatal. I have great respect for fast moving water and
I certainly know of its great power. Every year is seems
that people die from falling into fast moving cascades
as this. But nevertheless, they provide for great scenic
beauty and wonderful photo opportunities. The right
hand image was taken in mid July of 2006, but we found
Shadow Lake Creek still running in good form in late
August during the dry year of 2007.
When most of the Sierra
Nevada is fairly dried out
by late August, the Ansel
Adams Wilderness still has
good water flow. It receives
a good amount of snow
every year and this keeps
the region green and
The sign to the right is
posted here and there along
the trail, and this one is
displayed near the Shadow
Lake outlet. It informs visitors
of camping regulations.
In this case, it lets you know
that there is no camping
around Shadow Lake
After the second upward rise in the trail (after the canyon section), Shadow Lake is finally encountered. The
upper left photo shows Mt Ritter and Banner Peak beautifully reflected in peaceful Shadow Lake. The trail
skirts along the lake, and then reaches another major point where it intersects the John Muir Trail. The bridge
shown in the upper left image (where Ben, Garratt, and Sean are standing), is in the southern direction of the John
Muir Trail. We just walked across the bridge for a photo opp, but we went to the north on the John Muir Trail to
Garnet Lake and Thousand Island Lake on August 25, 2007. But on our Mt Ritter climb, we crossed over the
John Muir Trail, and picked up the Ediza Lake Trail in mid July of 2006. The below section first shows the
terrain along the Ediza Lake Trail, and then further down the page, we switch over to the northern part of the
John Muir Trail and show some of the spectacular scenery of that section of the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Beautiful meadows with lots of greenery delight the
senses. Very refreshing locations for rest stops, or areas
to enjoy a snack or two. We most often get so busy
scurrying up the trail in order to get to our destination
that it's nice to have the photos from the trip. The images
allow us to review the beauty of the trip when we are in
a less hurried mind.
Lots of moisture on the mountain. The trail in the upper
right hand photo shows the grassy meadow portion of the
trek. It was still under water in mid July 2006. Water
proofing your boots is a must. Keeping your feet dry
avoids all sorts of problems such as blisters and all other
sorts of ailments that come with wet feet.
Mount Ritter in the background with the beauty of the
pinkish red wildflowers make for a nice photo opp. It is
views like this that make all the work that it takes to get
to places like this worthwhile.
Mountain terrain can be a very fragile environment.
Some people get upset about back country rules, but I
appreciate those who take responsibility for keeping the
wilderness from being trampled by droves of people. It
preserves it for future generations to enjoy. Because of
the short growing season at high altitude, delicate wild
flowers can take years to develop, and only a moment to
destroy. It is always important to consider this fact when
traveling cross country.
Mike (upper left) examining what we called the "Elephant Tree." We saw several of these structures not too far
from Ediza Lake. We were not sure what caused this phenomenon, but the trees were curious sights to say the
least. Eddie on a great log crossing (upper right). Trail builders went to some work here shaping this natural bridge.
It makes for a much easier crossing. Still, there is no railing
here, so you do not want to stumble. Falling into the rushing
water below could be fatal. I have the greatest respect for the
power of fast moving water.
The trail turns upward once again before reaching beautiful
Ediza Lake. The winter of 2005-2006 had a fair amount of
snow, and we ended up having to kick in some steps in
order to negotiate the trail in places above the intersection
of the John Muir Trail and the Ediza Lake Trail.
Once at Ediza Lake, the Minarets come into full view.
They make for spectacular mountain scenery in this
rugged landscape. Ansel Adams Wilderness is truly a
remarkable place to visit. John Muir considered this area
to be one of the most beautiful places in all the Sierra
The trail runs along the southern portions of Ediza
Lake, and then the it ends and you must now
switch to cross country travel for the rest of the
approach to the climbing portion of Mt Ritter and
or Banner Peak. As beautiful as it was at Ediza Lake,
we did not camp there. We wanted to get a higher
start for the next day so we climbed up to an upper
snow field and camped there. Our campsite is
featured in the High Camp section of this trip report.
You get great views of Ritter and Banner from Ediza
Lake. Many climbers use the lake for their base camp for
climbs in the Ritter Range. It is certainly a beautiful place
to set up camp and with the lake you will have no
problem getting water. (make sure to filter it). As
mentioned above, we choose to go up higher for our base
camp. The image to the left shows both Mt Ritter and
Banner Peak in the background. We found ourselves
having to cross several small water tributaries (some of
which we found a bit troublesome), before we hit better
ground above the Lake.
Sean crossing a large snowfield (image to the right) near our
high camp on Mount Ritter. Once in this amount of snow I
usually put on my crampons. Even though you can negotiate
this angle of snow easily without them, I find that they just
make travel a little faster.
Not far from this point we reached our high camp for our Mt
We will now backtrack to where we met up with the John Muir Trail (letter "E" on the map above), and explore
the northern portion of this famous trail (letter "N" on the map above) as it passes through the Ansel Adams
Wilderness. So, if you are planning on climbing Mt Ritter or Banner Peak, then continue up the slope as Sean is
doing in the upper right hand photo, and go onto high camp (letter "I" on the map above) for your climb. If you are
more interested in a beautiful loop, then continue down the page to explore your options (letter "N" on the map
We have now gone back down the trail toward Shadow
Lake, and meet up where the John Muir Trail crosses the
Shadow Lake Trail. In the photo above, you see the
bridge crossing taking the hiker south on the John Muir
Trail, and up to Ediza Lake and the climbing camps for
Ritter and Banner. If you want to make the Ansel Adams
Wilderness Loop toward Garnet Lake and Thousand
Islands Lake, then you do not cross the river, but go
North on the John Muir Trail as shown in the photo to the
right. This will take you past the Lakes as mentioned and
you will eventually meet up with the River Trail in the
Thousand Islands Lake area, that will return you to the
Agnew Meadows Trailhead where we began our
So, if you are a backpacker or hiker, you may want to take a side trip up to beautiful Ediza Lake and cross the
plank bridge as shown above, and then backtrack down and then go north to Garnet Lake and Thousand Islands
Lake, or you may want to just skip Ediza Lake, and go for the loop right away and head for the returning River
Trail at the Thousand Islands Lake area.
Getting to Garnet Lake from the intersection
of the Shadow Lake Trail, and the John
Muir Trail going north, is a mostly uphill
project. Only toward the very end just
before reaching the lake, does the trail turn
downward. We found this the hardest part
of the loop going from the Shadow Lake
Trail, then north on the John Muir Trail,
and then returning back to Agnew Meadows
via the River Trail.
You also could reverse this, and go up the
River Trail first, but I recommend the
Shadow Lake Trail first route, because you
get the hard work over with early on.
But all that hard work pays off, when you reach Garnet
Lake. Note the beautiful natural lighting of the above early
morning photo. We camped near the banks of Garnet
Lake for the night, and were greeted with this spectacular
scene in the morning.
In the image to the right, notice the different lighting
effect. The right hand photo was taken using a flash in
order to light up Russ fishing in the shadows of the early
morning. But the harsh lighting of the flash (needed to get
a better exposure for Russ), washed out the beauty of
Banner Peak and Mt Ritter as shown above. Needless to
say, the way you use your camera will have a profound
effect on your results.
Next comes crystal clear Ruby Lake. Above left you see Ben (left), Garrett, and Sean relaxing on its shores. Most
people hang around Shadow Lake, Ediza Lake, or Thousand Island Lake, and do not visit Ruby Lake or Emerald
Lake as seen above both left and right. But if you want to get in some great fishing on a remote lake, Ruby and
Emerald Lake (seen below) just may be your ticket. They are truly a couple of jewels in the Ansel Adams
Above left is beautiful Emerald Lake. The crystal clear blue waters make this lake inviting to all who visit its shores.
Above right, you see a trail marker identifying the J.M.T (John Muir Trail), the way to Shadow Lake Trail, the
P.C.T. (Pacific Crest Trail) junction, and the Reds Meadow cut off. The Ansel Adams Wilderness is so spectacular,
that all of these world class trails make sure to route their way through this region. The sign also reminds campers
that there can be no campfires above 10,000 feet.
Finally at the height of our backpacking loop, we reached Thousand Island Lake. We had planned to camp at this
fantastically beautiful lake, and we were certainly not disappointed with our choice. Even though you cannot see
Minarets from this vantage point, Banner Peak (most predominate) and the edge of Mt Ritter more than makes up
for it with their looming presence above the islands. As mentioned in other areas of Timberline Trails, Thousand
Islands Lake is a photographers and fisherman's paradise.
When setting up camp in the Thousand
Islands Lake area, or any area for that
matter in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, make
sure you place all your scented items in your
bear canister. Most likely you will have a
bear visit you in the night. We did. He went
through our stuff pretty good, and if we
would have left any food or scented items in
our packs, they would have been ripped to
shreds. So follow the rules, for both your
sake and the bears. Properly store all your
food, lip balm, sunscreen, and the like in
your bear box (needless to say, never put
any of these items in your tent during the
day or night).
Other than the Thousand Island Lake
section, the River Trail is not as
scenic as the Shadow Lake / John
Muir Trail option. But for a quick
easy route back to the trailhead (or to
Thousand Island Lake to begin with),
it is hard to beat.
We found the trail wonderfully shady
and much more gradual (in terms of
elevation gain) then the Shadow Lake
Trail. It is also the best trail option to
take from Agnew Meadows if you
want to reach Thousand Island Lake
or Garnet Lake in the quickest
manner possible, and the sandy
composition of the trail makes travel
easy on the feet for an additional
The photo to the right shows what was
left of the river that runs along the trail in late
August. I am sure in spring, this now meandering
stream would surely be a fast running torrent of
Well that's about it for the trail sections that we
traveled on in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
There is so much to this area, that we have
hardly scratched the surface. There is no doubt
that one could spend his or her entire life exploring
this region. It is so vast and so beautiful, that one
would never become bored. The photographic
opportunities are wonderful, and the subject matter
In the morning, we had our
breakfast, and headed down
the River Trail toward Agnew
Meadows. The scene to the
right shows the beginning of
the River Trail, and it is
beautiful indeed. You will
follow the river (thus the River
Trail name) pretty much all the
way down the mountain. But
in several areas, you will veer
away from the river a bit, but
then return back to it latter on.
The most beautiful part of the
River Trail is just before you
reach Thousand Islands Lake
going up, and just after leaving
Garnet Lake (reflecting Banner Peak and Mt Ritter)
Thousand Island Lake
Minarets from Ediza Lake
A - Agnew Meadows Trailhead
B - Olaine Lake along the first leg of the Shadow Lake Trail
C - Rosalie Lake
D - Shadow Lake
E - Junction of Shadow Lake with John Muir Trail. Head toward Ediza Lake "H" for the best position to climb Ritter and Banner Peak.
F - Cabin Lake
G - Iceburg Lake
H - Ediza Lake (Beautiful lake and wonderful surrounding scenery, including the Minarets. Used as a base camp for many climbers).
I - This is where we camped when we climbed Mt Ritter's North Face Route. Also excellent position for climbing the Southeast Glacier or Banner Pk.
J - Southeast Glacier Route on Mt Ritter.
K - Summit of Mt Ritter
L - Ritter / Banner Saddle
M - Summit of Banner Peak
N - John Muir Trail. This is the route you would take to do a beautiful loop trip from Agnew Meadows, or for packing north toward Yosemite.
O - Garnet Lake (Very popular lake for photographers and fisherman. Very Scenic)
P - Ruby Lake
Q - Emerald Lake
R - Thousand Island Lake (Extremely popular destination for backpackers, fishermen, photographers, etc. Very Scenic Location).
S - Continuation of the John Muir Trail heading north.
T - River Trail. (Use the river trail if you want to get to Thousand Islands Lake with the least amount of mileage from Agnew Meadows, or use for a