Saturday, May 21, 2011

Trip Report: Mount Russell's East Ridge, May 17-19, 2011

Mt. Russell at 14,094 ft is the 7th tallest peak in California. The easiest route to the summit is via the East Ridge, which is a 3rd class ridge with about 1000 ft of exposure on both sides. SuperTopo describes the ridge as "one of the best 3rd class routes you will ever do". I had been wanting to do the East Ridge for over a year now.
Mt. Russell's East Ridge.
Mt. Russell's East Ridge
Last year, I had bagged Whitney (for a 2nd time), Muir, Shasta, and White Mountain Peak. This year, I made a goal to summit the remainder of California's 14ers. I've been wanting to bag some peaks this month and planned to stay around the Bishop/Lone Pine area for 1-2 weeks. The desire was to summit Russell, Langley, and Split with rest days in between that allowed for some climbing/bouldering. So I packed all my gear and left with my friend Jacquelyn on Saturday, May 14th. It took me about 12 hours to get from San Francisco to Bishop due to the detour on the 50 (don't ask why I didn't listen to the signs). It normally takes me 6 hours.

The weather forecast wasn't very favorable for peak bagging, but was perfect for climbing. It didn't look like it would clear up until Wednesday or Thursday. So we spent some time bouldering and sport climbing in Bishop. We were in Lone Pine by Tuesday and climbed in the Alabama Hills for a while.
Painted rock in the Alabama Hills.
Painted rock in the Alabama Hills.
Getting some climbing in at the Alabama Hills.
Getting some climbing in.
I picked up our North Fork permits for a Wednesday start. We spent the night at the Portal and started for Upper Boy Scout Lake in the morning. It took us about 4 hours to get there and we were there around noon, which happens to be the time it started to snow. It was a clear beautiful morning, but quickly turned ugly in the afternoon. We took advantage of the frequent breaks in between snow storms and made dinner, scouted the route, refilled water, and took pictures. UBSL was completely frozen, but there was one spot where you could get water from. Lower Boy Scout Lake was only partially frozen.
Storming at Upper Boy Scout Lake.
Storming at Upper Boy Scout Lake.
Eating dinner during a break between storms.
Eating dinner during a break between storms.
We tried to sleep early, mostly because we didn't have anything to do. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of choosing to use my Thermarest Z-Lite (small) due to its weight and ease of use instead of my Exped Synmat 7. I have the Mountain Hardwear Banshee 0 SL sleeping bag, so I thought I would be fine. Turned out that I could barely sleep. I wasn't cold, but I wasn't warm either. My heat just kept escaping to the ground.
Alpenglow in the morning.
Alpenglow in the morning.
We had started for the summit around 6:30AM. It was yet another beautiful clear morning, but eventually clouds began to cover the mountains. Despite the weather, everything still went well. We were making good pace, we weren't cold, we didn't have altitude sickness (other than a minor headache), and most importantly, we were still enjoying ourselves. That was all until we had reached the East Ridge at about 13,300 ft. It had snowed up to 2 feet the night before and I had no idea of the impact it would have on traversing the ridge. Jacquelyn didn't feel comfortable climbing the ridge and I didn't encourage her either. She offered to stay and wait while I continued, which I did. We turned on our cell phones so we can communicate with each other (plenty of service at the ridge). I was able to climb to about 13,600 ft before I got to a short slabby section. I attempted to climb over this boulder and my right foot quickly slipped off. Luckily, I still had 3 points of contact on the rock and didn't fall. At this point, I decided that I wasn't comfortable doing this section alone and it wasn't worth the risk, so I turned around.
Hiking up the slab.
Hiking up the slab.
Mt. Russell behind me.
Mt. Russell behind me.
Plenty of snow on the ridge.
Plenty of snow on the ridge.
I met back up with Jacquelyn at the start of the ridge and we headed back to our camp at UBSL. We tried to glissade back down and for the most part, it failed. There was too much fresh powder and it would just build up in front of us. Although at the steepest section, I was able to glissade pretty fast but had also triggered a small avalanche.
Look, I just caused a mini avalanche!
"Look, I just caused a mini avalanche!"
We got to UBSL and packed up all our gear and headed back to the portal. We were down in about 2 hours from UBSL. Afterwards, we made dinner at Alabama Hills and headed back to Bishop. We bouldered for a few hours on Friday and headed back home. The weather forecast still didn't look ideal for us so we decided to return when it does get better.

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