CalTrans' 800 number said 88 and 89 were closed, so we took Hwy 50 over to 395... a big waste of time, since 88 and 89 were both open. So much for up to the minute weather and road information! After surviving the (magnitude 5??) earthquake in Mammoth Lakes early Saturday morning, we met at the Mammoth Mountain Inn to get free overnight parking permits and drop our cars in their lot. Hwy 203 from the lifts to Minaret Vista was closed, but packed with snowmobile tracks. For some reason, they plowed the road to the Vista while we were away, making for an ice one-mile walk on the way out.
This was not a tough trip - it was intended to be a moderate snow camp, both to bag the peak and develop confidence in winter trips (15 miles, 4000' gain). We just planned to walk up the ridge to Deadman Pass, make camp, and continue on the ridge to the peak. It turns out most of the route was covered with enough snow to make walking hard but not enough snow to warrant snowshoes. Skis would have worked for the first few miles where the snowmobiles had packed a route along the 4WD road, but it would have been more icy than fun.
The wind was kicking up on the ridge, but there are good sheltered spots for tents right at Deadman Pass. We packed tent platforms (our only use of snowshoes), had lunch, and decided the weather might not hold for a Sunday summit attempt. Shouldering summit packs, we left the crampons and snowshoes in camp but took ice axes (which we never used). The cloud cover was now nearly complete, and kicking steps while balancing against the strong wind made it clear that this was really a winter trip. Everyone had plenty of gear so the wind was annoying rather than dangerous.
We found no summit register, but there was an old rusty can lying on its side. Perhaps the register lies buried in the snow? Anyway, the wind gusts were now making us totter around off balance, so we headed down after taking a few pictures of Ritter/Banner/Minarets backlit by the setting sun.
Back to camp about 6pm, well after dark, we confirmed that those $16 strobes from Campmor can be seen at least a mile away. They weigh 4 ounces plus a single D cell battery, and are supposed to flash for up to 60 hours. This was a test run to see if they're worth taking to Chile early next year. (There are reports of people having trouble finding the hut at 19k, a place where you do NOT want to be stuck in a bivy.)
There was some sleet overnight, but Sunday morning was clear and windy. We packed out in a couple of hours, had breakfast at Schatt's in Mammoth Lakes, and were home for dinner. Everyone on this trip did well both in terms of gear and conditioning. It's nice to see the PCS building a broad base of climbers comfortable with winter trips! Assuming I get at least one peak in December, I will have been on a scheduled trip in every month of 1997. Cool.
Photo of Ritter, Banner and the Minarets from San Joaquin