SHR Day 6 – July 8
Twin Island Lake to Minaret Lake
Corn Nut Crusher Camp to The Other Side of the Tunnel Camp
Passes: North Glacier Pass, Unnamed Pass, Whitebark Pass
Another exhausting and awesome day on the SHR. We followed up yesterday’s mammoth effort with another day of 5k feet of elevation gain. It just kind of happened as we shot to make it about ten miles before camping. My legs are tired, and I am proud of what we achieved, traversing 180 degrees around Ritter and Banner to the east side of those amazing peaks. Tough climbs, waterfalls, glaciers, and frigid lakes marked the day. I feel so grateful to be out here.
SpiceRack and I each slept hard. I awoke a little later than usual at 6am, feeling rested and recovered. Again I marveled at how well my body is putting the pieces back together again while I sleep. We were packed up and moving again by 7am, the hot sun already blasting down on us from above the high ridge of Banner’s northeast ridge.
Right back at it, we worked our way through a maze of granite lumps to the next Twin Island Lake. Sure enough, there was a teeny weeny island floating in the dark waters. We hopped the outlet getting one foot wet each then clambered up another uncounted lump of cliffy granite with just enough creases to help us through.
On the other side, an intimidating scene greeted us. Our next pass, North Glacier Pass, perched just out of sight on top of a thousands foot jumble of vertical cliffs and benches. Water cascaded in thundering waterfalls between each bench, the last and closest of which fell nearly 200ft to the valley floor. Looking at this obstacle, I would not have guessed that there was a passable route through, but as we looked at it piece by piece, seams appeared that would potentially allow our safe passage. This was going to be one heck of a climb.
And it was hard, but also fun and engaging. A talus traverse got us to an overlook of the first huge waterfall. Mist floated away from the cliff, turning golden in the Sun’s backlighting. From there, a crack in the cliff allowed us to zigzag up a narrow ramp of brush to the flat meadow on top. It was a beautiful place that was completely invisible from below. Some trees for shade, wildflowers everywhere, and life chirping and buzzing like electricity. One waterfall down.
A more gradual ramp brought us up to the top of the next bench. Again, a seam in the cliff face allowed us to make it safely and without drama. Two waterfalls down. Now hugging just left of the creek, we ascended granite slabs up and up, past waterfalls three, four, and five. The last one took a little scrambling. I was having a blast with all this.
Just a few hundred feet below the pass, we found ourselves on the shores of Lake Catherine, resting in a wide basin of Rocky crumbles at the base of the sheer faces of Banner and Ritter. A glacier hugged the notch between them. The lake was bright sapphire, the only color present besides the blue sky in this arena of rock and ice. This was a special place. Spice and I both felt it. We filtered water and sat for a few minutes, watching the wind ripple in waves across the huge lake. Now this place really did feel like a different Sierra. More like the Alps than Yosemite. Many minutes later, we finished our climb with a traverse to North Glacier Pass, just above the lake. It had taken us four hours to go two and a half miles. That was alright with us.
A mighty wind whipped us down the other side. At first, I was disheartened to see a mile of talus ahead of us, but it went quickly. Soon we were strolling down a grassy valley on a light use trail, passing hikers going up to the pass from Thousand Island Lake. We caught a view of this gem from a lump high above during lunch. We each recounted stories from our PCT hikes, which touched the opposite shore.
The heat was oppressive as we made our way around the western shore of Thousand Island towards an unnamed pass. We dunked our shirts and hats in a warm puddle before the climb. Not much to note about the pass. Just more good views of lakes and the ever changing Banner and Ritter. I ate a caffeinated Clif Bar to get me through the afternoon lassitude before a small down then big up to Whitebark Pass.
From there, we traversed across a slope to a bench overlooking a glacial tarn at the base of Ritter. A huge waterfall plunged from the glacier far above into a bleak basin of dark boulders. Spice dared me to go for a swim in the ice melt, but then committed to joining as well. The water was expectedly frigid. I did one push-up to submerge myself in the shallow water, then got the heck out of there. Invigorated and cured of our lassitude, we laughed and smiled. Getting in was the right decision.
Refreshed, we got strolling down the wide valley to Ediza Lake. A startling rumble behind us turned us around. It could have been a plane, or thunder, but there was nothing in the sky. Then we saw the plume of dust rising from the east face of Banner. Rock fall, and it was still going. It was a humbling and terrible sight. Hoping that there were no people harmed, we watched the dust rise and blow on the wind. Shaken, we continued on our way.
Four other SHR hikers coming up the other way were relieved to hear that it wasn’t smoke blowing in from a new fire. They looked worked, pushing hard to finish the whole route in two weeks. Too fast.
At Ediza Lake, we turned right up the trail to Iceberg Lake. Nestled at the base of the Minarets, it was a sight to behold. Good enough for camping. But we had more lakes to see, so we followed the rugged use trail around the eastern shore, slipping and sliding up to Cecile Lake, even better than Iceberg.
We definitely could have stopped there, but we kept going down to Minaret Lake, which took a short pitch of vertical down-climbing. I was nervous at first, but it was straight forward and easy. Spice could have kept going beyond the lake, but not me. I was hazy with fatigue and hunger. The best spots were already occupied, so we settled for a beautiful meadow spot with a view of the lake and the tall peak above. Not too shabby.