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.

More Photos

2 comments:

  1. Hello!

    I love your blog.

    My buddies and I wanted to do Mt. Russell East Ridge. How tricky/risky is it? Would you recommend trying in or anchoring in anyway for safety?

    Thanks for the advice.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Aaron!

    Tying/anchoring in depends on many factors such as conditions, your experience, comfort level, and etc. I can't really tell you not to tie in as I don't know what your experience is.

    If you do want to tie in, I would say a full 60m rope is unnecessary and more of a hassle to manage. You'll be fine with a 100ft or less rope.

    There are only maybe 2-3 sections that actually involve climbing, meaning you have to use your arms to pull yourself up. The rest of the ridgeline is mostly a hike. If you find yourself in a hard section, you can most likely avoid it by going around it. I think I indicated what I thought was the crux of the ridge in my video.

    With that being said, if there's perfect weather (no snow/rain/wind/etc) and everyone is comfortable with exposure/heights and has some climbing/mountaineering experience on technical terrain, then bringing a rope may just be extra unneeded weight. If any one in your group doubts their ability in that type of terrain, then I'd bring it. It's better to have it then not to.

    Russell is one of my favorite peaks. You should definitely do it and do it safely! Let me know if you have any more questions.

    Thanks,

    Andy

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