Mt. Banner: An Introduction to Sierra Peaks

Mounts Ritter and Banner dominate the northern Sierra skyline and this area offers a perfect introduction to the pleasures of Sierra peak climbing. John Muir first ventured here in 1872 and we follow his footsteps into mountains little changed since his days here. Pack stock will carry gear to camp near Thousand Island Lake while we strike a leisurely and comfortable hiking pace. We spend a day getting our skills in order and then tackle our main goal: an ascent of Mt. Banner. Along with climbing, we include plenty of instruction as well as some time to relax and enjoy one of the most beautiful areas of the Sierra.

Anyone driving Highway 395 in the vicinity of Mammoth has probably noticed these impressive peaks dominating the Sierra skyline. Their spectacular appearance makes them a magnet for the climber, but while they are impressive, they are not unduly difficult to ascend. Noted climber and explorer Clarence King attempted Mt. Ritter in 1866 but retreated, calling the peak inaccessible. However the redoubtable John Muir proved him wrong and made the first ascent only six years later. In his book “The Mountains of California” he describes the view from the summit:

“Looking southward along the axis of the range, the eye is first caught by a row of exceedingly sharp and slender spires, which rise openly to a height of about a thousand feet, above a series of short, residual glaciers that lean back against their bases, their fantastic sculpture and the unrelieved sharpness with which they spring out of the ice rendering them peculiarly wild and striking. These are the “Minarets”. Beyond them you behold a sublime wilderness of mountains, their snowy summits towering together in crowded abundance, peak beyond peak, swelling higher, higher as they sweep on southward, until the culminating point of the range is reached on Mount Whitney…”



the_high_sierra_peaks_passes_trailsGuidebooks include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails.”

Since camp during the trip is over 9,000’ we highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000’) just prior to the trip. Though you will not be carrying a heavy pack during the trip, you will still be working hard hiking and climbing every day. Spending a night in Mammoth, either camping or in a hotel, would do it. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.

Mules have been a traditional way of accessing the Sierra backcountry. They make the mountains accessible to a wider range of people, both young and old. They do enable us to take along some extras to make camp life more relaxed and easy. But we do need to limit people to a 20 pounds per person (this does not include tents). We do weigh the duffles.

Return to Take a Load off Your Back

This trip uses the services of the Agnew Meadows Pack Station to get our gear and equipment to camp, enabling us to set up a comfortable camp from which to climb. On this trip we take care of the cooking, so you can sit back and enjoy the stunning surroundings.

Day 1

After dropping off our equipment at the packstation we hike nearly 8 miles to camp. With the mules carrying the loads
we strike a leisurely pace up the San Joaquin River from Agnew Meadows to beautiful Thousand Island Lake. Here we set up our
camp on the northern shore where we will base ourselves for the remaining days. The pack stock arrive with our equipment and
then leave.
Distance: 7.75 miles, 2200 feet of gain, 700 feet of loss

Day 2

We will take an acclimatization scramble up nearby Mt. Davis, which has a great view of the Minarets and the entire
Ritter range north into the Yosemite High Country. This also preps us for our ascent of Mt. Banner the following day.
Distance: 7.5 miles, 2600 feet of gain, 2600 feet of loss. The summit of Mt. Davis is 12,309’ (3752m).

Day 3

For Mt Banner we will make an early start to Lake Catherine via meadows, grass slopes and talus. We skirt the lake
and, donning crampons and pulling out an ice axe, climb an easy glacial slope to the spectacular Ritter-Banner Saddle. Above
this the route to the summit appears steep and difficult, but in reality we weave our way around the hard sections and scramble up
a final small rock slope to the summit and its spectacular views. We return to camp the way we ascended.
Distance: 7.0 miles, 3400 of gain, 3400 feet of loss. The summit of Mt. Banner is 12,942’ (3945m).

Day 4

We pack up, greet our packers who are returning to pick up our gear and arrive at the vehicles by early afternoon.
Distance: 7.75 miles, 700 feet of gain, 2200 feet of loss

Program Prerequisites:

No prior mountaineering experience is required but you should have some backpacking and hiking experience. You should be in good physical condition, ready to hike up to 8 miles off trail with a day pack at altitude.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, two-way packstock, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, Itinerary, and Equipment List
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Banner Map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.