Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Trip Report: Mt. Russell, August 18-19, 2011

Three months ago, in May, I attempted Mt. Russell's East Ridge in full winter conditions. I climbed up to about 13,600 feet along the East Ridge before deciding to come back down. There were fresh snow everywhere and too much of it, which made it very insecure.
Mt. Russell's East Ridge, May 19, 2011.
Mt. Russell's East Ridge, May 19, 2011.
Last week, I had returned to attempt Russell again. This time in completely different conditions. There were hardly any snow along the trail and ridge. It was sunny and hot. And ours packs were ultralight.
Mt. Russell's East Ridge, August 19, 2011.
Mt. Russell's East Ridge, August 19, 2011.
The plan and itinerary remained the same. After completing Middle Palisade, we headed down to Lone Pine and spent the night in the Alabama Hills. We woke up early the next morning and went straight to the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center at 8:00AM to try and get our permits. There were about 10-15 other people wanting permits too, so the staff there had us draw numbers out of a hat to determine who would get served first. We were number 6 and when it was our turn, there were exactly 2 permits left for the same day start on the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek (lucky us!).

After getting our permits, we bought some food in town and headed to the Portal. We had breakfast at the Portal Store and ordered the infamous giant pancake.
Giant pancake at the Whitney Portal Store.
Giant pancake at the Whitney Portal Store.
Mt. Whitney Trailhead.
Mt. Whitney Trailhead.
18 lbs was my entry weight.
18 lbs was my entry weight.
Jacquelyn and I have been on the North Fork twice now. Once for Whitney and once for the Russell attempt. Although they were both in winter conditions, we were confident in route-finding and were not pressured on time. We started hiking at about 11:00 AM. This was our third consecutive day on after bagging Middle Palisade, so we hiked at a slow and comfortable pace. We made it to Lower Boy Scout Lake in 2 hours and Upper Boy Scout Lake in about 3.5 hours and set camp up there.
Lower Boy Scout Lake in the background.
Lower Boy Scout Lake in the background.
Upper Boy Scout Lake.
Upper Boy Scout Lake.
The next day, we started heading for the East Ridge at 5:00AM. We ascended the sandy slope a few hundred yards east of Upper Boy Scout Lake. After going up and down this slope, it appears that there are two main ways to gain the plateau above. The option on the left side (blue line in photo) above the slabs is very sandy and a little more steep. I can imagine that every step you take, you would slide back half a step or so. The option on the right (red line in photo) is not as sandy and has more solid rocks to walk on. We stayed right on the better terrain to go up and came down on the sandier left side. The right side also had many cairns and foot tracks to show you where to go. The left side did not really have any cairns except for the very top and bottom.
Our approximate ascent and descent routes.
Our approximate ascent and descent routes.
Alpenglow on Mt. Whitney and the Needles.
Alpenglow on Mt. Whitney and the Needles.
It took about 2 hours to gain the plateau and another 30 minutes to get to the Russell-Carillon Pass. Once at the start of the East Ridge at ~13,300 feet, it's about a 1/2 mile traverse to the west summit. SuperTopo says that it takes 3-6 hours to climb the East Ridge, but it only took us about 1.5 hours to climb it and 1 hour to get back to the start. We were not going very fast either.
At the plateau above the slope. Mt. Whitney (left) and Mt. Russell (right) becomes visible.
At the plateau above the slope. Mt. Whitney (left) and Mt. Russell (right) becomes visible.
The East Ridge is indeed a very fun and exciting traverse/climb. Although rated class 3, I only found a few sections that were class 3. Most of it felt class 2 or easier. After seeing photos and trip reports posted online, I expected there to be more exposure, but most of it can be avoided by staying on the right hand side of the ridge (north). There also seemed to be more hiking on flat terrain than actual climbing on steep rock. The crux section (in my opinion) was toward the beginning at ~13,500 feet where there were steep drop-offs on both sides and you must use your arms to climb over rocks/boulders which were no wider than 5 feet or so. Other than that, the entire ridge is quite easy.
At the start of the East Ridge.
At the start of the East Ridge.
Tulainyo Lake as seen from the East Ridge.
Tulainyo Lake as seen from the East Ridge.
Almost at the east summit of Mt. Russell.
Almost at the east summit of Mt. Russell.
At the (west) summit of Mt. Russell.
At the (west) summit of Mt. Russell.
Some exposure on the East Ridge.
Some exposure on the East Ridge.
Coming down was surprisingly fast. From the start of the ridge, it took 10 minutes to hike across the plateau, another hour to get back to Upper Boy Scout Lake and break down camp. And then 2 hours to get from UBSL to the Portal. We were down by 2:30PM and enjoyed burgers and a coke at the Portal Store.
Ebersbacher Ledges on the way down.
Ebersbacher Ledges on the way down.
Exit weight of 12.75 lbs.
Exit weight of 12.75 lbs.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Trip Report: Middle Palisade, August 16-17, 2011

Middle Palisade at 14,018 feet is the 11th tallest peak in California. It lies within the central Sierra Nevada mountain range and is part of the Palisade Group of peaks. The easiest route (class 3) to the summit is by climbing/hiking up the main chute on the North-East Face. To access this route, you must hike approximately 7 miles from the Big Pine Creek Trailhead near Glacier Lodge.
Middle Palisade (left) and Norman Clyde Peak (Right)
Middle Palisade (left) and Norman Clyde Peak (Right)
There is no overnight parking by Glacier Lodge. You must park at the hiker/backpacker parking lot ~1/2 mile down the road. When you arrive at this parking lot, you will notice that there is a pit toilet, bear lockers, a Big Pine Creek Trailhead sign, and then another sign that indicates the trail. If you were also by Glacier Lodge, you may have seen another Big Pine Creek Trailhead sign behind locked gates with an obvious trail along the creek. So which one is the trailhead? Which trail do I follow?
Big Pine Creek Trailhead by the overnight hiker parking lot. Use this one for the North Fork.
Big Pine Creek Trailhead by the overnight hiker parking lot. Use this one for the North Fork.
Another Big Pine Creek Trailhead by Glacier Lodge. Use this one for the South Fork.
Another Big Pine Creek Trailhead by Glacier Lodge. Use this one for the South Fork.
Well, for Middle Palisade and the South Fork, I would recommend hiking along the road and entering the trailhead from Glacier Lodge. The trailhead by the overnight parking leads you straight to the First Falls Campground and the North Fork, but you can also get onto the South Fork trail with a little extra mileage and elevation gain/loss. Why are there two trailheads anyway? Makes things a little confusing.

You may also notice signs telling you that the bridge for a water crossing along the South Fork was destroyed by an avalanche in the winter of 2010/2011 and has been completely removed. I can imagine the crossing being quite hazardous if the water level was any higher than what we experienced. We waded across the creek on the way in and the water level was knee deep and very cold. There is an alternate way across that involves jumping on rocks, but it will appear more difficult to do so on the way in rather than on the way out. We ended up jumping across the rocks on the way back, but I don't recommend doing this unless you are confident in your abilities. A failure would surely result in a swim down the river.
Bridge destroyed by avalanche along South Fork.
Bridge destroyed by avalanche along South Fork.
Wading across the creek.
Wading across the creek.
This was on our way back. We jumped across the rocks instead of wading.
This was on our way back. We jumped across the rocks instead of wading.
We planned Middle Palisade to be a two day trip. The first day, we hiked up staying on the use-trail to Brainerd Lake and continued cross-country to Finger Lake and then to the first tarn (lake) west of it. The hike before reaching Finger Lake was uneventful and infested with mosquitoes between Willow Lake and Brainerd Lake. You will want to either bathe in DEET (oil of lemon eucalyptus did not work for me) or sprint through this area. The extra ~150 feet in elevation loss/gain doesn't help the situation either.
In front of Brainerd Lake.
In front of Brainerd Lake.
Once you reach Finger Lake, the scenery and mosquitoes become much better. Many hikers will choose to camp at Finger Lake, but we had extra time and there were still some mosquitoes there, so we decided to hike up a little higher and stay at one of the tarns. There were also mosquitoes here too, but we dealt with it and mostly just stayed in our tent. From camp, gaining access to Middle Palisade's North-East Face was straight-forward and easy.
Creek Crossing by Finger Lake.
Creek Crossing by Finger Lake.
The view of Finger Lake while hiking up to the tarn.
The view of Finger Lake while hiking up to the tarn.
This is where we camped for the night.
There are two main ways to gain the chute on the North-East Face, the standard route and the alternate route. I met some hikers coming down who mentioned that the standard route involved glacier/snow travel, near vertical climbing, and getting past the bergschrund. Crampons and an ice axe were essential and some parties even had a rope. Needless to say, we didn't take the standard route. We didn't even have any pointy or technical gear with us. The alternate route allows you to avoid bringing any of that gear.

The alternative route starts by staying off the glacier and snow by following the moraine. Once you reach the base of the North-East face, you want to traverse right and follow the brownish/orange colored rock up. This section is extremely loose and fairly steep. When you top out this first chute, you will eventually bear left and join the standard route or main chute. The rest of the route is also loose and steep, so definitely bring a helmet and give others some room.
Approximate route that we took on the North-East Face. This is not the standard route. We were able to avoid the snow and glacier.
Approximate route that we took on the North-East Face. This is not the standard route. We were able to avoid the snow and glacier.
The beginning of the chute of the alternate route, which has the brownish/orange colored rock. Very steep and loose.
The beginning of the chute of the alternate route, which has the brownish/orange colored rock. Very steep and loose.
Once you are 20 feet or so from the notch at the end of the chute, the summit block is a short ways away towards the left. If you climb all the way up to the notch, you may have to down climb a bit to get on easier terrain to make the traverse. I ended up climbing a short boulder problem that was in the way of gaining the summit. There may have been an easier way, but I didn't bother to look for it.
You can see the end of the chute here. Stay left of the notch to reach the summit.
You can see the end of the chute here. Stay left of the notch to reach the summit.
As with any 14,000 foot summit, the views on top were incredible. In the west, we were able to look down at the Palisade Lakes and the John Muir Trail. It's amazing to see a different perspective of the hike I completed nearly a year ago. In the south, you can easily recognize Mt. Whitney. In the north, Norman Clyde peak stood right in front of you along with Mt. Sill and the rest of the Palisade Group of peaks. White Mountain Peak was also clearly visible along the east side past the Owens Valley.
Panoramic View from the summit of Middle Palisade.
Panoramic View from the summit of Middle Palisade.
Mt. Whitney as seen from Middle Palisade.
Mt. Whitney as seen from Middle Palisade.
Norman Clyde Peak, Mt. Sill, and the Palisades as seen for Middle Palisade.
Norman Clyde Peak, Mt. Sill, and the Palisades as seen for Middle Palisade.
White Mountain Peak as seen from Middle Palisade.
White Mountain Peak as seen from Middle Palisade.
Me at the summit of Middle Palisade.
Me at the summit.
The hike back down from the summit took nearly as long as the hike up. It took us 4.5 hours to make the summit from camp and about 4 hours to come back down. We couldn't move very fast on the loose and steep rock, especially when there are other people in the chute. We had to be careful not to knock rocks down the chute and also had to avoid being hit by them. From camp, it took less than 3 hours to get back to the car, about half the time it took to get up. We did hike fairly fast to avoid being eaten alive from Brainerd Lake to Williow Lake.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Trip Report: Mt. Williamson & Mt. Tyndall, July 28-31, 2011

Mt. Williamson at 14,389 feet is the 2nd tallest peak in California and Mt. Tyndall at 14,025 feet is the 10th tallest peak in California. Both peaks lie within the Sierra Nevada and are often completed together in one trip due to their close proximity. Normally, you would only be able to attempt Williamson during the time period of December 15 to July 15 due to the Bighorn Sheep Closure, but that was rescinded in 2011.
Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall.
Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall.
Bighorn Sheep Closure Sign and Mt. Williamson in the background.
Bighorn Sheep Closure Sign and Mt. Williamson in the background.
Climbing/hiking up these peaks is not particularly difficult once at the base. The easiest routes, the West Face of Williamson and the North Rib of Tyndall, are both rated no harder than class 3 (the class 3 sections are fairly short). It's the dreaded approach that you hear everyone complain about; whether it's the 10 mile hike through Shepherd Pass, the ups and downs of the Williamson Bowl, or the 7,500+ foot elevation gain involved. Honestly, I did not find the approach all that bad, but then again, I did not attempt to summit these peaks in a day, or even two days. Four days was the amount of time we allowed ourselves to complete these two 14ers.

We left the Bay Area on a Thursday morning at 5AM and arrived in Bishop at about 10AM to get walk-in permits. We then bought some food at Vons, headed to Independence, and made it to the Shepherd Pass trailhead (~6,300 ft) by 12:30PM. Our destination today is to hike to Anvil Camp (~10,200 ft) and stay there for the night. It's about an 8.3 mile hike with a gain of ~5,000 ft (there's a downhill section that looses 500-600 feet on the way up). Once at Anvil Camp, we were quickly greeted by the mosquitoes wanting to feast on us. We stayed in our tent for shelter.
At the Shepherd Pass Trailhead.
At the Shepherd Pass Trailhead.
Anvil Camp.
Anvil Camp.
The plan for the next day (Friday) was to hike over Shepherd Pass, climb up Tyndall's North Rib, come back down, and set up camp in the Williamson Bowl. However, that all changed when we arrived at the base of Tyndall, where we felt some raindrops and heard thunder from behind us. I knew there were afternoon Thunderstorms in the forecast, but I did not expect it to start until Saturday.
Mt. Tyndall's North Rib and the storm coming in.
Mt. Tyndall's North Rib and the storm coming in.
For the most part, the storm didn't really bother us. We definitely didn't want to attempt Tyndall in these conditions. So instead, we hiked to the Williamson Bowl and decided that we would do Williamson first thing tomorrow morning and come back to do Tyndall. It took about 1.5 hours from the base of Tyndall to get to the second lake (Lake 3733) on the way to the West Face. There weren't very many spots to camp around there, but we found a flat spot that was full of rocks. It was uncomfortable to sleep on with our Therm-a-Rest Z-Lites, but we dealt with it. It continued to rain, hail, and there were constant lightning and thunder for the next 5-6 hours.
Williamon Bowl.
Williamon Bowl.
Camp by Lake 3733.
Camp by Lake 3733.
The storm finally subsided during the evening. We used this opportunity to take photos, refill our waters, and prepare for the next day. I knew there were going to be thunderstorms after 11AM for the next few days. This means that if we wanted to safely complete these peaks, we had to summit and get back down much earlier than 11AM. We agreed upon a 5AM alpine start, which should be enough time for us to get up and down before the storm hits.
Getting an Alpine start on Williamson.
Getting an Alpine start on Williamson.
We woke up at 4AM the next day and began hiking up the West Face by 5AM. It wasn't long before the light of dawn illuminated the black stains, which leads you to the chute on the West Face. Locating the chute and route-finding was surprising straight-forward and easy. Unlike many of the other 14ers I've completed, I never went off route or got lost on Williamson.
West Face Route on Mt. Williamson
Approximate route going up the West Face on Williamson. Find the black stains that look like a staircase and stay to the right of it.
Entrance of chute on Williamson's West Face.
This is what the entrance of the chute looks like on the West Face.
Although there were still some snow in the chute, we did not need an ice axe or crampons to ascend it (we didn't even bring them with us). We did have to scramble up the rock on the right to avoid the snow though. Once at the end of the chute, we were greeted by the 3rd class chimney section. Some say it's a single pitch 100 foot climb. I thought it was more like 50 feet, but my altimeter seemed to think it's about 75 feet. Either way, the climb was quite fun. Those who don't do much technical climbing and uncomfortable with exposure may want to rope up for it though. A helmet is recommended if there are other climbers above you.
Still some snow in the chute of the West Face of Williamson.
Still some snow in the chute of the West Face.
3rd Class chimney section.
Jacquelyn climbing the chimney on Williamson's West Face.
Jacquelyn climbing the chimney.
Once over the chimney, you can now see the east summit of Williamson, the Owens Valley, and the summit plateau. I found that the easiest way to the south summit (tallest summit), was to descend a short distance into the plateau, hike south, then hike directly west up the boulder field onto the summit. This was better than traversing the ridge or boulder field. I gained the summit at about 9AM, took some photos, saw the clouds coming in, and then headed back down. Jacquelyn felt a rain drop as soon as we were back at the chimney, but it didn't start to storm until much later on.
This is the view once you top out the chimney.
This is the view once you top out the chimney.
At the summit of Williamson.
At the summit of Williamson.
At the summit of Williamson.
At the summit of Williamson.
It took us about 2 hours (half the time it took to get up) to get back down to our camp at Lake 3733. We packed up our stuff and headed back to Tyndall, which took maybe another 2 hours. As soon as we arrived at the base of Tyndall, it began to storm. This time, it stormed until sunset.
Down-climbing the chimney.
Down-climbing the chimney.
Close-up view of the black stains
Close-up view of the black stains "staircase" and the chute.
Polemonium Flower found near the base of Mt. Williamson.
Polemonium Flower found near the base of Mt. Williamson.
We knew the next day (Sunday) was going to be a long day. The plan was to summit Tyndall before the storm comes in and then hike back to the car. Just as with Williamson, we got an alpine start at 5AM. We went up the North Rib, which was also fairly straight-forward and easy. We did not have to hike on the snow or even try to avoid it. Jacquelyn did not sleep much the night before and was very tired, so we were going at a slow pace. As we gained the ridge, I saw the clouds come in and became a little concerned. We made the summit at about 9AM (4 hours) and were in complete white-out conditions. It was foggy and we could not see 10 feet in front of us. However, 10 minutes later, it began to clear up and we could see a good part of the views. We took some photos and quickly hiked back down. The clouds and storms were right behind us as we hiked down. Tyndall became barely visible by the time we got back to camp, which took about 1.5-2 hours.
Approximate route going up Tyndall's North Rib.
Approximate route going up Tyndall's North Rib.
Hiking up the North Rib of Tyndall.
Hiking up the North Rib.
View from the summit of Tyndall.
View from the summit of Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
Coming down the North West Ridge of Tyndall.
Coming down the North West Ridge.
Bad weather right behind us. Tyndall barely visible.
Bad weather right behind us. Tyndall barely visible.
The hike back to the car was pretty uneventful. It took us 5 hours from the base of Tyndall to hike back down. It was raining, but we weren't complaining. It was better than hiking in the sun and heat!
Hiking back to Shepherd Pass in the rain.
Hiking back to Shepherd Pass in the rain.
Many trip reports will tell you how much the hike sucks, or how much people dread the approach. Here are my thoughts: Despite the 500-600 foot extra loss/gain in elevation on the trail, I thought the trail to Shepherd Pass was very well built, maintained, and traveled. I found it similar to the Whitney Main Trail and the John Muir Trail. You can really hike this trail in trail runners or flip-flops if you so desired. Route-finding was never an issue, the trail is actually quite soft (better for your feet and knees), there were no bushwhacking involved, and it was very well graded. Even after the Pass, the cross-country routes to the peaks weren't as bad as I thought it would be. The Williamson Bowl had huge stable boulders that you can easily hike across. I expected loose rock everywhere, but didn't really encounter any. I did not even find the talus/scree going up the West Face and the North Rib to be that loose either, but you definitely want sturdy boots for this and perhaps a helmet if there are people above you. Keep in mind that I completed this trip in 4 days and that my thoughts could all change if I were to attempt these two 14ers in a day or two, but my recommendation is to enjoy it and do it leisurely.

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