A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

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Vaca Russ
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A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by Vaca Russ » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:18 pm

“Did you know him?”

We were often asked this question. It is always asked by non-mountaineering people.

Maverick had broadly put out a request on the forum asking for help in the search. I, like most, noted it and subconsciously thought “calendar issues”.

Then he personally asked me to help. “You are one of a very small percentage of the population who has the skill, equipment, knowledge and resources to help in this search. The only question is… do you have the will?”

I immediately asked myself, “If not me, then who?”

The first day was just a hike into Ediza Lake. Maverick had said he would set up camp in the meadow above the inlet.

These are the falls at the outlet of Shadow Lake.
1 Falls Shadow Out.JPG
Here is the stream above the falls.
2 Steam Above Falls.JPG
The area has been well placarded.
3 Sign.JPG
4 Poster.JPG
The hike in is quite beautiful.
5 Stream Below Ediza.JPG
I helped one elderly hiker carry his backpack over these logs.
6 Bridge Below Ediza.JPG
He awarded me “The Good Samaritan of the Day” award!

This is part of the search area.
7 Minarets.JPG
We camped next to this stream.
8 Inlet to Ediza.JPG
I found the camp, set up my tent and then saw Oleander hiking below on the trail. I was able to signal to her our location.
9 Maverick's Meadow.JPG
This is a view of the lake from our camp.
10 Ediza.JPG
To be continued…

"...Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?"

Kahil Gibran.

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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by Vaca Russ » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:22 pm

On day two we awoke to a beautiful sunrise. We were blessed the entire trip with perfect weather.
1 Ritter Banner Daybreak.JPG
Maverick clearly had learned his excellent leadership skills while serving six years in the USMC. He paired me up with Oleander and assigned us to explore the area along the Clyde Variation route up Ritter Peak.

Oleander had hiked with Maverick in the past. She is a tenacious young lady with the resolve to keep up with that avid backpacker.

The approach to the bowl on the east slope of Ritter held many wonderful scenes including this waterfall.
2 Falls Up.JPG
Here is a picture looking back at Ediza and Shadow.
3 Ediza and Shadow.JPG
We hydrated at the tarn in the bowl. Oleander was excited to see a dipper.
4 Dipper.JPG
We traveled south toward the talus chute leading to the SE bowl. We maintained a distance of about 25 to 35 feet between us. We tried to stay “off route”. We would take about 10 paces, stop, look all around (even in areas already looked at…the angle has changed).

This is a picture of the Minarets. You can see Riegelhuth in the center of the picture above Cecile Lake. Matthew climbed Riegelhuth on July eighth last year.
5 Cecile and Riegelhuth.JPG
This is Ritter Pass.
6 Ritter Pass.JPG
Often times we would stop and break out the binoculars and conduct another slow, methodical visual search. We concluded there is really no “wrong” place to search.

It took us quite some time to search this talus slope.
7 Nydiver and Talus Slope.JPG
Those are the Nydiver Lakes in the background.

Eventually we made it up to the southeast snow bowl. It was no longer a snow bowl. All of the “snow” was now solid ice. This is a picture of Oleander searching the bowl. That is the SE col above her head.
8 Oleander on SE Snowbowl.JPG
The search of this bowl presented a new danger. The snow and ice had melted but the rocks and boulders had to still aggregate. You can feel the rocks move under your feet with every step you took. Sometimes you could jump on top of a boulder the size of a sedan and feel the thing move under your feet.

Look at this rock perched precariously on a block of melting ice.
9 Boulder on Ice.JPG
We weighed the risk / reward ratio to be gained by climbing the col. It was getting late in the afternoon so we decided to slowly search the talus on our way back to camp.

There are quite a few decent places to camp just east of Ritter.
10 Falls.JPG
To be continued…
"...Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?"

Kahil Gibran.

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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by Vaca Russ » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:29 pm

Day #3: The Trek of the Three Tigers

The next day Maverick assigned me to search with Southern California surfer dude, Art, and his lovely girlfriend, Brenda. Oleander and Jim would team up with Maverick to explore the Ritter / Banner area.

There is no wonder why Maverick often hikes with Jim. He is one of only a few people who can keep up with Maverick. His cool, calm, collaborative personality certainly doesn’t hurt. If we had 100 guys like Jim in Congress all of the country’s problems would be solved.

Maverick tasked us with climbing the North Notch of the Minarets. We could then circle around the west side of the Minarets. Pay close attention to the fall zones of Michael and Eichorn.

Maverick said he picked us because he knew there was ice in the North Notch and the three of us had crampons and ice axes.

He wanted us to take the use trail from Ediza to Iceberg and then climb along the ridge on the west side of Iceberg. From there we could approach the North Notch.

He said we could then cross over the South Notch and hike our way back to camp via the Cecile / Iceberg Lake trail.

We set off toward the Iceberg Lake trail. It didn’t take too long for us to figure out we were all born in the year of the tiger. If Matthew was 39 last year he would be a tiger as well.

We climbed the use trail to the outlet of Iceberg. From there we climbed west southwest up the ridge above Iceberg. This was the first of a lot of class three climbing we would do this day.
1 Art Climb.JPG
We began a pattern we would follow all day. If Art climbed one crack, I would climb the one to the left or right. Brenda would follow up searching as well.
2 Brenda Climb.JPG
When we reached the top of the ridge Art would search left, I would search right and Brenda would cover the middle.

On talus strewn slopes Art would search left, I would search right and Brenda would cover the middle.
3 Art Cecile.JPG
That is Art in front of Cecile and Brenda searching the cracks in the middle.

We worked our way to the base of the pinnacle west of Leonard. We would occasionally stop and conduct a visual search with binoculars.
4 Pinnacle East of Leonard.JPG
We carefully searched all of the cracks and ledges with binoculars.
5 Riegelhuth.JPG
That is Riegelhuth. The views from there must be tremendous.

We spent our time learning about each other. Brenda told me about her sons, Robert and Brian. She talked about her little Yorkie, Rocky.

Art would tell stories about how he would hang his surf boards from the rafters in the ceiling with bungee cords. Sometime, when Rocky gets rambunctious, Art would hook Rockie’s harness on the bungee cord and send Rocky bungee jumping!

We worked our way south along the fall zone below Leonard, Turner and Jensen. I realized the slow progress of the search. I told Art, “Maverick gave us this assignment but I think he forgot we aren’t 18 year old Marines. Art immediately replied, “He forgot we are only human beings”.

Maverick, the “Bob Burd” of backpacking, could have completed this assigned task, but we could tell we would only complete a portion.

We followed the yet to be aggregated glacial debris to the glacier below the North Notch. Once again, just like yesterday, the search became more dangerous. The rocks would move with every step you took.
6 North Notch Glacier.JPG
At this point the camera I was using stopped working. We reached the glacier below the North notch and realized it wasn’t snow. Art, an experienced ice climber, said it was “blue ice”. He said some of it was “water ice”. It definitely wasn’t the snow I was use to climbing with my ice ax and crampons.

Brenda, the smartest of the three of us, said she would search from a rock while Art and I climbed the glacier. We put on our crampons and Art lead the way to the top of the icy glacier. About three quarters of the way up I shouted, “Art, I see something!”

My heart jumped. I could clearly see a man-made object sitting on a ledge on the other side of the glacier. It was over 20 inches long and mostly white in color. I could also make out some green. I told Art I would climb over to get a better look.

The traverse across this steep glacier was a little risky. The spikes of my Black Diamond Sabretooth Pros could barely penetrate the solid ice. I normally wouldn’t have tried such a move without protection but I really felt the need to get to that object.

I tried to use my Black Diamond Raven Pro as protection but I could not get the spike to penetrate the ice. One slip and I would complete a long slide down the glacier to the rocks below resulting in a serious injury or even death.

Luckily I made it to the other side. Now began the class 3 – 4 rock climb up to the ledge.

Eventually I made it to the object. My heart sank. This must be some sort of joke! I pocketed the object and took a picture when I got back to camp.
7 Mylar Balloon.JPG
For those of you who don’t follow my posts I often times hike off trail in Desolation Wilderness where I find so many Mylar balloons I have posted that I should change my name to “Mylar Balloon Boy”!

Perhaps we all could spread the word that releasing these items into the atmosphere might sometimes have a life threatening result.

I still needed to cross back over the glacier. Art had inspected the chockstone in the chimney of the North Notch and concluded it was more a class four climb and we should probably use rope and pro to complete.

We didn’t bring our harnesses and rope. A climb over the notch would not happen today. Art made it down the glacier but not without losing his crampon on the ice. He was able to secure it back onto his foot.

Once he made it down he provided me with much welcomed coaching on how to complete the down climb.

We three tigers were a little defeated but happy we could help in the search effort. We began our climb back to camp staying off route and still searching every nook and cranny we could.

We reached the ridge west of Iceberg and dropped down into the meadow below The Gap and Ritter Pass.
8 Meadow Below.JPG
My search effort this year came to an end but I have vowed to return with my favorite mountaineer and love of my life.
She wanted to search but had to spend her time saving lives the Emergency Room.

There are codes among mountaineers. One of these could be the motto of the High Sierra Topix forum, “Up here, we must look out for each other.”

No, I never did meet Matthew personally. I don’t have to have ever met him to know him better than many may realize. He came here for a reason. I very well understand that reason.
10 Minarets.JPG
I know why he came here. He is a member of my tribe. In this tribe we look out for each other and each other’s family. I am happy I could help search for a tiger I consider to be my mountaineering brother.

Thanks for reading my post.

"...Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?"

Kahil Gibran.

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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by cefire » Tue Sep 16, 2014 1:37 pm

Thank you VR for your service (and everyone else involved) as well as this reverent trip report

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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by seanr » Tue Sep 16, 2014 2:22 pm


I've only been a frequent backcountry hiker for about a decade, but it would certainly take more than one hand to count the number of times I've seen no signs of humanity in an area aside from a mylar balloon and maybe some faint tracks.

I appreciate your efforts and report.  Matthew's skills and experiences were beyond mine, but our ages, careers, and recreational activities were strikingly similar. His story hit home for me as I hiked North Peak the same day he climbed it, and I was at home recovering from a broken ankle sustained on my next hike as his tragic story unfolded.

You may have seen in another thread that on Sunday the 7th, I looped Thousand Island Lake, North Glacier Pass, Lake Catherine, Ritter Lakes, Ritter's west slope, Ritter's SE col, and Ediza via Agnew Meadows TH.  I didn't have time nor equipment to get much off beaten paths, but, I'm sure like many visitors, I kept my eyes open and hoped to find something that might help. It is a beautiful area to search with lots of terrain to cover. Conditions are ripe to find something.

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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by SSSdave » Tue Sep 16, 2014 3:29 pm

Thanks deeply to each of you for sacrificing some of your precious time to engage in a dangerous strenuous searching effort looking for Mathew whose loved ones must be in depths of emotional pain. Let us hope someone eventually locates Mathew, though anyone climbing about in large talus will quickly understand how one could pass right near a person simply down between the dark boulders and not see anything.

When this started it reminded me of the famous search there for Walter Starr's son that puts into perspective difficulties. Snippet from summitpost.org Starr Minaret page:

There are 17 minarets In 1933, Walter Starr's son (Peter) went missing on a solo trip to the area. An intense search ensued, culminating in the discovery of his fallen body (by Norman Clyde) high on the slopes of Michael Minaret. His body was interred where it lay, and still rests there to this day.

A much longer version of the story:

http://www.traditionalmountaineering.or ... rStarr.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by markskor » Tue Sep 16, 2014 4:26 pm

Another TR...one from last year.

Trip Report: A search for Matthew Greene

by Cragman
Friday August 16, 2013 10:11am
With all due respect to the family and friends of Matthew Greene…..

The following report is factual, though the fact remains that no one knows where Matthew Greene went, or whether he is alive or dead. This report of our recent search assumes that Matthew went into one of the areas he and his friends discussed prior to his disappearance. Given that assumption, and given the facts that we DO know in regards to what equipment Matthew likely had with him, along with the severity of the terrain, I am of the opinion that Matthew is deceased, and we searched for him as such.

This event is a terrible tragedy…..I simply cannot fathom the grief Matthew’s family and friends are enduring. The following report contains information gleaned through years of climbing and SAR experience, and at times is rather blunt. As with any tragedy, hopefully there may come something good out of the circumstances…perhaps something learned by someone that may save a life…and save another family like Matthew’s the pain and sorrow they are living today. That would be my hope and prayer.

The opinions posited herein are my own, and should not be attributed to any other entity.

Again, my profound apologies for any additional grief this report may bring. Matt’s family and friends are in my prayers.

"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end."...Edward Whymper.

These mountains…..they lure us. Their stunning beauty and rawness stir deep emotions in those of us with a passion for the high and wild places. We reach one summit…..and we’re captured……and on the way down, we are plotting our next goal. With each success, we become more addicted…..a true mountaineer has a diet of this stuff that is insatiable.

I don’t know Matthew Greene….but I believe that he could have identified with my words above. And I suspect I speak for most of us when I say that all of us have likely ventured into the mountains alone, pitting our honed physiques against all the mountains have to offer….and gotten away with it.

Though we may never know, Matthew Greene, in all likelihood, did the same thing, and paid the ultimate price. Though I will speak more to this issue later in this narrative, if Matthew did die in the Ritter Range, he made his biggest mistake by not telling anyone where he was headed.

I could not help but think that Matthew’s family and friends were now experiencing that same dread, and there was no question I needed to try and help. I won’t review all the facts here….they are well divulged . However, after hearing that Matthew had discussed the Michael Minaret area as well as the Ritter/Banner cirque…..had mentioned wanting to get on some ice and snow…… and had left his campsite with only his boots, crampons and ice axe (no bivy gear), I felt a strong leaning towards the Ritter/Banner theory. Frankly, it’s what I would have done had I been in Matthew’s position of wanting a fun, full value day in the mountains, and from all reports, the mileage was well within his capability.

With any search or rescue event, the Sheriff and the SAR team have one critical criteria that is of the MOST value to them……information.

Within any county in the State, the Sheriff is mandated by law to provide SAR services for both residents and guests alike. However, a search will only be called on actual actionable information….not hunches or assumptions. By simply not taking a few minutes to leave information with someone, Matthew tied the hands of the Sheriff and the SAR team.

I was of the opinion that the few bits of information that WERE available, warranted a search of these regions of the Ritter Range that Matt had spoken of…an area I know very well.

I went to my long time friend, neighbor, local climbing guide, and climbing partner, Doug Nidever, and shared the information of the case with him….in hopes that he’d be keen to join me. Just like with the many climbs, rescues, and assorted other adventures in the past, it didn’t take Doug more than 3 minutes to say, “When do we leave?”

Leaving from the Rush Creek Trailhead near our homes here in June Lake, we crossed the dam at Agnew Lake, ascended the west flank of Carson Peak to Spooky Meadows, then on up to Clark Pass. We then dropped down to Clark Lakes, with the intention of going to 1000 Island Lake, and skirting it’s south shore enroute to the Banner Peak region.

However, near Clark Lakes we discussed the logic that if Matt had been interested in the glacier on the east face of Banner, or chosen this way to come out, he would have likely utilized the Garnet Lake area and not 1000 Island Lake. We dropped down the River Trail and headed up into the Garnet Lake drainage.

With the trail around the north side of Garnet Lake as the popular route, we chose the faint trail along the south shore….much less traveled and wrought with areas where one might find some potential trouble. Our goal was to get to the tarns above the west end of Garnet Lake and bivouac there for the night. We arrived there at 1530, established our camp, and began scanning the Banner Glacier with binoculars.

I also contacted a couple of SAR members in Mammoth via radio, utilizing the Mammoth HAM band, giving them our position, and also hoping that perhaps more information came in over the course of the day. That, however, did not happen, so our plan was to continue up the peaks the following day.

Prior to darkness, we felt that in all likelihood, Matthew would not have ascended the glacier on Banner’s east face, as it ends at the massive, impassable face, forcing one to retreat straight back down. However, just south of the main face, a small notch with a snowfield above, allows passage to the much-traveled Notch route, that divides the Ritter/Banner massifs. We agreed this would be our route come morning.
Searching for a likely deceased subject is a daunting chore…both mentally and physically. Any SAR member will tell you that we live for using our skills to SAVE lives, and thrive on that aspect in order to feed our adrenaline junky personalities. This search was, for the most part, devoid of that. To compensate and lift the mood, a fine bivouac becomes a catharsis. Ideally, this means great location, stunning view, excellent water source, and (especially if I’m along) LOTS of food!

At 0830, we shouldered our packs and got back into search mode….facing a daunting ascent of a challenging talus field in order to reach the notch.

I’ve found it best to not search for people, but to search for signs that LEAD to the person. I scan the landscape for color, and more importantly, for things that just seem out of place from the consistency of the search area. With this in mind, I stop every 50 feet or so and do a 360 degree scan. It is especially helpful to look back behind you, as seeing things in the opposite aspect of light often pays HUGE dividends, and in the case of a deceased subject, it would not be hard to simply walk right past the scene.

This style of searching becomes infinitely more challenging in a talus field, and far more dangerous and exhausting. I pick a large boulder 50 feet ahead of me (ideally one larger than those around it, giving a loftier view) focus on each step to safely get there, then do my 360 scan. Then repeat…….and repeat…..and repeat……about a zillion times. Even finding a LIVE person in this type of zone is a challenge.
In an hour and a half, we had gained the entrance to the notch, climbing a short section of 3rd and 4th class to reach the snowfield. We focused on the base of each snowfield specifically, looking for ANY sign. It is easy to become myopic in this type of search, thinking that you are simply looking for a body. However, Matthew may have suffered an injury that did not kill him outright. Injured people often lose or drop equipment in their haste to get to help. Finding ANYTHING of this nature would go a LONG way in shrinking the search area, and if we could find something that could be confirmed as his, we could then call in HUGE amounts of resources.

It was nearing mid-day, so we descended about 300 meters to a nice ledge, and while having lunch, scanned the glacier on the Notch route with binoculars. We also began to scan our next main search area….the cliff band below the Ritter Glacier.

I had been concerned about this area from the start. After a normal winter, the gullies that split the cliff are laden with snow, allowing easy access to the glacier. With last winter’s paltry snowfall, the cliff was entirely melted out, leaving a deadly fortress of loose rock and flowing water. We would have to find a safe way up that, as well as search the base for the possible scene of the end of Matthew’s journey.

With much caution, we descended the rest of this hateful slope…..crossed the hateful base of the Notch route, and entered the equally hateful talus below the cliff band.

At this altitude, a body very quickly changes from the effects of the environment. Weather, the freeze/thaw cycle, animals, low humidity….all these things alter the scene, making it smaller and much harder to see, and susceptible to movement into smaller and smaller places. Again, the word here that seems appropriate is…..daunting.

We ended up all the way over on the south side of the cliff, and utilized the standard route used in low snow years….a mostly 2nd and 3rd class line, with some 4th class as you near the
Getting back into crampons was a treat….a fine break from the past 8 hours.

I did NOT search the HUGE bergschrund….just TOO dangerous. I’d estimate it’s depth at 80 feet.

I found a small piece of cordage on the glacier…..looked to be a shoelace…..but other than that, not a single sign. I quickly descended back to Doug, and we began heading down the
With the lateness of the day, the peak went into deep shadow, which only added to our sullen moods, realizing our search was coming to an end, with no success.

It was tough to turn our backs on the area, knowing that Matthew might be out there somewhere…..we prayed for the other teams still searching, and for Matthew’s family and friends…and thanked God for the stunning beauty of this place.

At 0930, we began descending down to Ediza Lake, Shadow Lake, and eventually, to Agnew Meadows and our way home.

At 1530, we arrived at the shuttle stop at Agnew Meadows, and bummed a ride to Mammoth Mountain Inn, and by early evening were at home in June Lake.


This event is a profound tragedy. If indeed Matthew entered this area, he has lost his life there. The search for his remains is the ultimate needle in a haystack, and the fact is, no evidence may ever be found. However, as I mentioned on the other thread, we had another case that went 7 years and 3 months, before remains were found….it CAN happen.

In spite of cases like Matthew’s that I have been involved with in the past, I still occasionally go into the mountains alone, with the caveat that I leave detailed information on my itinerary. In fact, I go so far as to leave a list of my gear that I am carrying, including the color of my clothing. I even make a photocopy of the tread print of my shoe…as I said at the beginning of this report, the most valuable tool a SAR team has is GOOD INFORMATION.

I look at going solo in the mountains two ways….using the manner detailed above is like playing Russian Roulette….there is risk, but you are not playing alone, and at least your loved ones are going to know when and where you lost.

Going solo without telling a soul is, in my opinion, so equivalent to suicide. Most suicides happen alone, no one is told beforehand, and above all…..the ultimate victims in a suicide, are the loved ones left behind. They are left with all the questions….the disbelief….and so many things left unsaid.

We don’t know where Matthew went….it’s possible he never entered the mountains, and is out there in the world somewhere. If that is true, hopefully he will be located soon.

Evidence says it is quite possible that Matthew entered the Ritter Range…if he did, he has lost his life there…..but his spirit soars.
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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by maverick » Tue Sep 16, 2014 5:29 pm

From Matt's sister Tiffany:

Maverick - Thank you and the group for searching for Matt; sounds like you covered a
lot of ground. Every bit helps.

Thanks for the condition report too - glad you all came out safe & sound - that's the
most important part of all this. I hope everyone takes your advice and stays within their
abilities, whether searching for Matt or just out on an adventure.
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org

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A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by Jimr » Tue Sep 16, 2014 5:44 pm

Mav, thanks for posting Tiffany's response to you.

I'm going to piggyback my TR onto this one thread for cohesion sake.

After some discussion with Maverick, I decided I was inclined to meet at the Mammoth visitor’s center at 8am on the 10th and hike in with him. I considered two choices:

1) head out from the South Bay to Mammoth after dinner on Tuesday and find someplace to sleep for 5 hours or so, or
2) try to get a few hours of sleep and head out at 2am.

I chose the former, but where to sleep? I found a hot spring just below Mammoth airport called Pulkey’s Pool. It’s on BLM administered land, so I was free to camp wherever I wanted for free. It turned out to be a good choice. I arrived at around 1am and took a late night walk to the hot tub fed by a pipe from a natural geothermal pool. There was a tent parked almost on top of the thing. How inconsiderate to camp on top of a public hot tub, but, within their right to do so. I chose to climb into my sleeping bag and sleep in the driver’s seat instead.

I awoke at 6am to a beautiful sunrise lighting up the Sierra just south of Mammoth Mtn. I arrived in Mammoth Village in time to chow down a couple of egg McNothings and a cup of coffee, then over to the visitor’s center and a solitary car with a man (or a Mav, rather) busy mulling around the trunk. We threw his gear in my truck, secured the permit and were off to Agnew Meadow. I don’t bring any sort of time piece with me in the wilderness, so I have no idea about time, but we were very quickly beat feeting it up the Shadow Lake trail toward Lk. Ediza, flying by numerous day hikers and backpackers, leaving only a trail of dust and debris to mark our passing.

We arrived at Lk. Ediza, set up camp pondered over the map, probably for the hundredth time each, then eventually, we each found our own tree to nap under for a bit. After dinner, I called it quits about dusk and retired to may tent.

The next morning, I rolled out of bed to see Mav already in gear. He ribbed me a bit about sleeping for 12 hours straight, so I told him about the first hiking day when Schmalz and I stopped at Cottonwood Lakes. I slept for 14 hours and Schmalz was amazed I could be in a tent for so many hours at a time. Oh well, I guess it’s how I roll on day one.

After much discussion the prior afternoon, Mav decided it would be worthwhile to start our search at the South Notch. Secor described Kehrlein Minaret as being a short, fun class 4 from the notch and that seemed to be a good fit for somebody with only an ice axe and crampons. We were targeting class 3 – 4, but a short, fun class 4 seemed plausible. We spent a fair amount of time behind the field glasses throughout the trip, so I’ll dispense with trying to remember those details except for the fact that Mav wished he’d have packed some Visine for the trip.

We headed up to Iceberg Lk. and traversed it on the left side heading toward Cecile Lk. It was a fair talus slog, but quite stable and easily manageable. Mav took the low road and I took the high road heading toward the loose, steep climb to Cecile Lk. I found the final approach up to Cecile to be indicative of the many other final approaches to higher lakes: loose scree and talus, but quite manageable. Mav hit the top just about the time I hit the bottom. He shouted down to me, I believed, that he’d meet me on the other side of the lake. Good enough. I reached the top of the slog and was awed by yet another jewel of a lake. I made a mental note to visit this area again with nothing better to do than fish.

I panned the shoreline right, then panned left, but could not see Mav. I panned across the lake and still, could not see Mav. I did see a couple of backpackers heading through the talus on my left, but no sign of Mav. I called out his name, but heard nothing. Well the other side of the lake is where we are supposed to meet, so I took off right, through tundra-like terrain. Easy peasy stuff. I hit some cliffs about half way around. The type that are very low to the water, but create a sheer dropoff underwater with crystal blue, deep water all around. To top it off, I could easily see several 10 to 12 inch fish cruising the surface a mere 5 ft from the cliff side. I’m definitely coming back with rod in hand. I still could not see Mav, so I shouted out his name. From across the lake I heard “O-LAH”. I thought to myself, what the hell? Is somebody F’ing with me? It was right out of a Gabriel Iglesias skit where he is in front of his friends house in the hood and some hood rats were messing with him across the street, calling O-DE-LEY! I kept moving toward the far side of the lake until I hit the garbage pile below the glacier. There was no way he would head up without first meeting up, so I climbed onto an outcropping and yelled out his name again. This time, I was greeted with JIM. Ah, there he is. We met up and after a bit of discussion, realized I had only heard part of what he had said to me at the top of the slog. I missed the portion about heading around the left shore. We decided to repeat information back and for in the future to assure all was properly communicated.

We proceeded over the rocky top separating Cecile Lk. from Minaret Lk. and found ourselves with a short class 4 rock wall to negotiate to get down to the easy stuff below. I’m not a climber, so I’m not up on the nomenclature, but it was the type of wall where two sides meet vertically at an angle with a vertical crease/crack that afforded easy hand holds and plenty of foot holds to easily negotiate down about 15 ft. to the bottom. We headed down to the shore of Minaret Lk. and sat down for a hot lunch before continuing on.

After lunch, we headed up from Minaret Lk. toward the South Notch. It was easy going and we soon stood on the divide between the two watersheds, right next to Kehrlein Minaret. Naturally, Mav was there first. When I reached the top, I noticed Maverick attempting to climb a very slippery slope up to some class 3 rock for access to a higher vantage point. I don’t know whether it is my eyes that are getting old or his, but I couldn’t quite figure out where he was going. I sat on a rock and crossed my legs to watch as he turned left, slid down, turned right, slid down, moved straight, slid down, then left again, each time ending where he started. Now I knew where he was going: nowhere. He gave up and we decided to ascend the talus on the left side of the glacier.

As we ascended, we were quick to realize that the slurry of ground rock, scree and talus made up an aggregate of loose footing sitting right on top of blue ice. It was fairly easy going, but we had to mind our footing. We decided to move next to the glacier where the rock was frozen in place by the glacier and soon realized that if we picked our route carefully, we could use the rock litter on the glacier to get footholds across to the other side. Once across, we found the same loose aggregate that we left behind, but the viewing was better, so we headed up toward the notch.

We must have gotten to within about 100 yards or so of the notch to find several crevasses running the width of the glacier. To the far side, the cracks ended in fairly large and very interesting holes that seemed to lead down to nowhere. It was here that I got a real picture of what we were on. I followed the crevasses from the holes, toward and under our footing, then out the other side and across the balance of the glacier. The other side of the glacier had a small berschrund. What we were hiking on was the trash dump from upper chutes forming what appeared to be a ridge separating two glaciers, but in fact, it was just a fairly thin layer right on top of a massive floor of ice. Time ran out before reaching the notch, so we turned around and worked our way back down to Cecile Lk. and retraced our steps back to Ediza and camp.

On the way down from Iceberg lk., back to camp, we took a use trail too far right and ended up a bit off, so we made a left turn toward camp only to stop abruptly at a 40 to 50 ft sheer cliff with a beautiful waterfall and perfect bathing hole at the bottom. Maverick walked out on a ledge and found the perfect path traversing straight over to the top of the waterfall where we were able to easily rock hop over and around. I went down to take a shot of the waterfall. I’ll post pics soon. They’re almost processed. Mav named it Oleander’s pool. A fitting name for a lovely setting. We approached camp looking for any sign of additional life that were expected to arrive and sure enough, there were a couple of new tents and some human activity milling about. Vaca Russ and Oleander had made it and found our site.

After some food and getting to know ya conversation, darkness engulfed our camp, so we decided to discuss plans for tomorrow before hitting the sack. I suggested we all four move into my tent with our headlamps and put the map in the center. The Belagio, being the biggest tent on the mountain, had plenty of room as well as a poker table in the back.

By morning, there were two additions to our group. Art Rock and his girlfriend Brenda had camped below at the lake, but Art found our camp and they were ready to join Vaca Russ and Oleander to search the South East Glacier area of Mt. Ritter. Maverick and I would head out to Ritter pass and over to the west side of Leonard Minaret.

It was an easy stroll for much of the way toward Ritter pass until you reach the talus fields. We headed up toward a notch on our left instead of over the actual pass. All the way up the talus was very loose. As we approached the highest and steepest portion of the ascent, it got worse. I spent much of my time bear crawling on all fours to help spread out my weight. It wasn’t an issue of a rock or two moving and causing one to loose footing. The whole area would threaten to give way. At one point (o.k., several points, but my life insurance agent may be reading and he’ll cancel my policy for sure), I found myself positioned in a near sprawl of rock all threatening to give way and take me down with them. As long as I didn’t move, I was o.k., but I knew one foot or hand move and I was going to be glissading that slope on rock. I decided a double scramble left or right to get completely onto new ground would be my best bet. I chose right and I chose right! I did a quick double scramble and got onto new rock just in time to watch the whole area I was on give way and crash down hill. This became a recurring theme for this day.

We finally hit the pass to be greeted with a bit of class 3 downclimbing before reaching the talus slope on the west side. This was sturdier rock and a welcomed respite from the Russian roulette style rock scrambling. Once down from the talus field, it was a very nice walk over to the small lake on the western base of Leonard minaret. Once again, we found a nice place for a hot lunch.

After lunch, we got out the binoculars and proceeded to search every fall area we could find. There is a low ridge below Leonard that creates a catch basin for anything falling off of the ridge or down the west face. There was no way we were getting up there, but as I perused the ridge, I notice a climber descending the rocky scramble from the ridge to the final approach to the summit. He had a white helmet and what seemed to be white gloves. I pointed him out to Mav, and then he disappeared behind the ridge. Then, there were two climbers! Both stopped at a notch in the ridge right where it met with the talus they were descending. They stayed there and did not move. Both had white helmets and white gloves. One seemed to be searching intently along the western wall and down to the catch basin. We were there for some time and they did not move from that spot. They must be searching for Matthew! What the hell else would they be doing? Sunbathing?

Turn around time hit, so we headed back toward Ritter pass. As we approached the upward slog, it was obvious that we were in for the same loosy goosy stuff we’ve been growing accustomed to, except maybe worse. Again, I found myself on a sprawl with everything under me threatening to go down all at once. While Mav went straight up, I thought I’d angle left toward a rocky ridge and get off of the talus onto something else. Even though the rock is crumbly, if all hand and foot holds are well tested, it’s a safer climb. As I made to the ridge and started up, Mav had disappeared into a chute to the top. All of a sudden, a 2 ft boulder came careening out of the chute. I noted where I would crouch if it continued it’s path toward me, but it quickly rounded the chute and came rifling straight down. Sh!t! I yelled Mav’s name, but there was no reply. It was obvious to me that if he needed help, there was nothing I could immediately do, so I continued up the ridge hoping to get a view into the chute. No dice. I called out to him again and again, no answer. I was close to the top of the pass, so I thought I’d get there to see if I could traverse the ridge over and look down the chute. When I got to the pass and looked down, there seemed to be no way but straight down the slide onto the glacier. No way! I moved back and traversed the west side of the ridge about 10 ft to get a glimpse down from a different angle and there, saw the path took a hard left that could not be seen from the top of the pass. All of a sudden, here comes Maverick, sliding around solid, vertical rock on a 3 inch ledge. I was happy to see he was o.k.
We worked our way down the steep, loose talus down to the left side of the glacier to me met with yet more of the same slurry of loose crap on top of blue ice. Again, I move right to the edge of the glacier where the rock was frozen in and made my way down until near the bottom of the glacier where it was simple to cross to the bottom and re-trace our steps back to camp. The meadowland above Ediza was a welcomed site and provided a nice stroll back to camp.

When we arrived, Art and Brenda had moved their camp up to our group and the team was now somewhat centered around the Belagio. We cleaned up, ate dinner and spent much of the evening chatting about pretty much everything before retiring to our tents for the night.

I’ll post up some shots today or tomorrow and leave the next days travel for Oleander to post as it seems I have already become long winded. Perhaps I should have been a politician. Or, maybe I need a 12 step group; on-and-on A-Non.
Last edited by Jimr on Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:14 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: A Search of the Minarets 9-10 to 9-14

Post by Tom_H » Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:14 pm

Though I did not know him either, my profound admiration and gratitude go to all who have joined this search and other searches organized my members of this forum. I hope these reports will give food for thought to those considering hiking solo, attempting off-trail and challenging terrain, and venturing out during seasons when bad weather could strike. Such endeavors should only be attempted by those with considerable experience and wilderness survival skills. Again, my hat is off to the committed hikers giving their time and effort to bring closure to a grieving family.

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