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SMI guides Rick Poedtke and Kurt Wedberg met Greg Lukenbill, Chad Buelow, and John Walsh for a climb of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell. This is one of our favorite 3rd class routes in the Sierra. The terrain is high quality white granite with good holds in an exhilarating setting with spectacular views. This is a climb we look forward to each year.
We met in the morning of June 4 at Whitney Portal where we divided up group gear, packed our rucksacks, and began our hike. On day 1 we ascend from Whitney Portal at 8365’/2550m to Upper Boyscout Lake at 11,300’/3444m. Most of the winter snow has melted up to Lower Boyscout Lake at 10,300’/3139m except for a couple patches of snow still holding on. Above Lower Boyscout Lake it is still more or less solid snow. As we climbed the sunny day we had started with began to turn to clouds. We arrived at our camp at Upper Boyscout Lake at 2pm. Shortly after arrived here and setting up tents it began snowing as wind gusts became more frequent. Our altimeters were indicating a drop in barometric pressure as well. A storm was upon us and the big question for us was how long would it last.
After setting up camp we hopped in our tents to stay dry. The temperature was warm enough that the falling snow didn’t stick upon hitting the ground. As the afternoon wore on though we could feel the air temperature drop. We ate dinner and discussed the climb scheduled for the following morning. If the storm cleared we would have a shot at the summit. If it didn’t we would have to descend. The East Ridge of Mt. Russell does not lend itself well to climbing in inclement weather. The ridge is exposed and therefore catches a lot of wind. There is a lot of exposure on the climb too. Even though hand and foot holds are plentiful the ridge is narrow in places and the ridge drops several hundred feet to the base of Lake Tuleinyo, the highest lake in the the US (a lake being defined at any body of water more than one tenth of a mile in diameter). At 12,818’/3907m it is over 300′ and almost 100m above Lake Titicaca in South America, which is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500’/3811m.
We bedded down that evening with more frequent wind gusts and air temperatures cold enough to allow the falling snow to start sticking. During the night the cloud layer dropped to about 12,600’/3841m. Wind gusts became stronger and more frequent. The storm continued into the morning. Not seeing any end in site we decided to pack up and descend. The weather did clear by late morning however winds remained strong at the high elevations and the rock was covered in slippery wet snow.
Turning around on a mountain is always a tough call. The team discussed this as we descended. It was obvious the route wasn’t going to be in shape to climb but in the process of turning back we many times learned more than if we would have had clear weather. We also came back safely and are able to live to climb another day! Everybody in the group had fun and we will look forward to climbing together on future trips.
A couple pictures are below. The entire photo gallery is here: http://www.kurtwedbergphotography.com/Sierra-Trips/2011-Sierra-Trips/Mt-Russell-June-4-5-2011/17400040_dkg6F8
June 4, 2011: The team at Whitney Portal from left to right: Kurt Wedberg, John Walsh, Chad Buelow, Greg Lukenbill, and Rick Poedtke.
"Snow plants" are a fungus flower that stem off the roots of pine trees. The microscopic fungal filaments (called hyphae) greatly increase the surface area of the root systems and facilitate the absorption of water and mineral nutrients from the soil. In return for this vital service, the photosynthetic trees reward their fungal partners with energy-rich carbohydrates and amino acids.
The North Fork of Lone Pine Creek is always full in June as the snow melt increases.
Greg approaching the Ebersbacher Ledges in the North Fork Canyon below Lower Boyscout Lake.
Chad negotiating the Ebersbacher Ledges.
John and Chad above Lower Boyscout Lake on their way to Upper Boyscout Lake.
Greg and Rick en route to Upper Boyscout Lake as the first snow flakes began falling.
Setting up camp at Upper Boyscout Lake 11,300'/3444m.
Wind gusts hit over 50mph during the night. By morning each gust was blowing around a couple inches of freshly fallen snow.
June 5, 2011: Our camp at Upper Boyscout Lake in the morning.
Mt. Russell’s Mithral Dihedral has long been a classic test piece in the Sierra backcountry. While most of the route is mid 5th class the dihedral in the middle is 300 feet of sustained crack climbing. A dihedral is a rock formation that resembles a book half way opened up. The Mithral Dihedral was originally rated 5.9 but the consensus now has it rated closer to 5.10b. On a beautiful crisp early September morning Darryl, Zach, and Kurt went up to give it a go. Here are a couple pictures. The rest can be found here:
Mt. Russell from hear the Whitney / Russell Col
The Mithral Dihedral on Mt. Russell's south face
Darryl geared up and ready to lead the first pitch.
Zach leading the last pitch of the crux dihedral.
Kurt at a hanging belay in the middle of the Mithral Dihedral
Summit photo from left to right: Kurt, Darryl, Zach
Mt. Russell (14,086′, 4293m) is located immediately north of Mt. Whitney. Although overshadowed by it’s much more popular the routes are more challenging and many Sierra aficionados consider them more aesthetically beautiful.
The Fishhook Arête is an 8-pitch climb with the hardest moves rated at 5.9. Viewed from the south the ridges distinct shape is easily seen. The rock is high quality granite in a magnificent setting offering spectacular views all around.
Mt. Russell's Fishhook Arête leads straight off the summit towards us i the center of this picture. Half way down the ridge it angles left.
Long time friend of SMI Ken Lewis joined SMI founder Kurt Wedberg for a climb of this classic route. Ken climbed the East Face of Mt. Whitney with us car to car in one day last summer and wanted to step it up a notch this year. We met the Whitney Portal trailhead with headlamps on for the approach to Mt. Russell. We picked our way up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek and walked past Lower Boyscout Lake, Upper Boyscout Lake, and Iceberg Lake. As the early morning sun started to turn the eastern horizon several pretty shades of orange we found ourselves at the Whitney/Russell Col ready to traverse to the base of Mt. Russell.
Ken at the Whitney/Russell Col with Iceberg Lake below and the orange color of dawn on the horizon.
The suns rays casting an early morning glow on the Mt. Whitney massif as seen from the Whitney/Russell Col.
The weather was clear and a morning breeze kept the temperature cool. We roped up and began climbing the first couple of pitches of mid 5th class moves. The route then traversed off the ridge to the left before climbing straight up to a notch in the ridge. With exposure on both sides the ridge leads us straight up along superb quality granite. Every move higher reveals increasingly dramatic views of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park to the west and sights as far as Death Valley to the east. The route takes us through a chimney necessitating pressing our feet and backs against opposite walls in a couple places before reaching blocky sections above. The final two pitches take us over blocky terrain with sections of 5.7 to 5.9 climbing that take us straight on to the summit of Mt. Russell.
After a rather stormy month of May in the Sierra we were blessed with warming temperatures, clear skies, and calm winds on the first weekend in June. The East Ridge of Mt. Russell is one of the most fun and exhilarating 3rd class climbs in the Sierra. For many Sierra aficionados this is their favorite all time 3rd class climbs. The combination of excellent quality rock, great views, fun climbing on a classic ridge, and the opportunity to climb one of the California 14ers make this climb a truly memorable experience.
Our team consisted of Cory Cline, Nathan Fletcher, Demetria Gianopoulos, and Richard Stotts plus guides Peter Douchette and Kurt Wedberg. We met at the Whitney Portal Store at 8 AM on Saturday morning. After introductions and dividing up group gear we began hiking up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The creeks have never been more overflowing than they are right now. Stones we normally use to hop across the water were submerged. We all made it through the various crossings and these impasses only added to the fun and adventure of the day. The snow is all melted up to Lower Boyscout Lake. Above there the snow gets patchy. From 11,000 feet and higher the snow becomes more or less continuous. We camped at Upper Boyscout Lake which is still frozen over. We found dry ground to pitch our tents and organize ourselves for the climb in the morning.
We woke before sunrise getting an early start up the chute below Mt. Carillon. A nice tongue of snow made for good cramponing leading to the plateau below Mt. Carillon. We then traversed to the start of the East Ridge where we roped up. The route was mostly dry with a couple interspersed snow patches. We were blessed with warm pleasant weather and clear skies that offered wonderful views in every direction. Below us to the north was Lake Tuleinyo, which is the highest lake in the western hemisphere. Reaching the 14,086′, 4293m about 5 hours after leaving camp we took a break then descended the SW Chute, climbed over the Whitney/Russell Col, down to Iceberg Lake, and looped around to our camp. We packed up and descended back to Whitney Portal in time for the best burgers in the Eastern Sierra.
Here are a few pictures. The full photo gallery is here: http://kurtwedbergphotography.com/Sierra-Trips/2010-Sierra-Trips/Mt-Russell-East-Ridge-June-5-6/12462449_6ZJSb#892624479_7BSWL
The team at Whitney Portal. Back Row left to right: Cory Cline, Peter Douchette, Richard Stotts, Nathan Fletcher. In front: Demetria Gianopoulos and Kurt Wedberg
Snow Flowers or Snow Plants (Sarcodes sanguinea are actually fungus that grow off the roots of pine trees. They sprout up after the snow melts and always are a pretty site to see.
Demetria negotiating one of several creek crossings.
Nathan getting through another creek crossing of the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.
Richard, Cory, and Peter on the Ebersbacher Ledges en route to Lower Boyscout Lake.
The team climbing the pretty granite slabs en route to Upper Boyscout Lake.
Peter, Richard, and Nathan ascending the snow tongue below Mt. Carillon. Behind is Mt. Whitney, Keeler Needle, and Day Needle basking in the early morning light.
Demetria and Cory enjoying the climbing on the East Ridge of Mt. Russell.
Nathan and Peter negotiating the 3rd class terrain on the East Ridge of Mt. Russell.
Demetria and Cory on the East Ridge of Mt. Russell with Lake Tuleinyo below.
Peter and Nathan near the top of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell.
Cory and Demetria crossing a snow patch just below the slightly lower East Summit of Mt. Russell.
Nathan and Peter shortly before the summit of Mt. Russell.
Summit photo on Mt. Russell. Back row left to right: Peter Douchette, Nathan Fletcher, Cory Cline. Front row left to right: Kurt Wedberg and Demetria Gialopoulos
In the midst of the first cold snap of the fall season in the Sierra we returned to the East Ridge of Mt. Russell. Temperatures got so cold at higher elevations it left frost on the route. The weather remained clear and the route was enjoyable even with the frost providing an added difficulty with finding solid foot and hand holds.
Here are a couple photos of the trip. The entire photo gallery is here: http://kurtwedbergphotography.com/Sierra-Trips/2009-Sierra-Trips/Mt-Russell-East-Ridge-Oct-2009/9898120_JhPrj/1/674512393_nVPJR
The team ready to begin at Whitney Portal
Temperatures dipped well below freezing each evening leaving ice at every water source
Whitney Falls already looks thick enough to climb
Climbing on the East Ridge required negotiating careful foot and hand placements with the frost coating the rock
Pausing in the sun in the middle of the East Ridge
Summit success on a clear crisp fall day in the Sierra
Pleasant temperatures and a forecast for thundershowers greeted us at the start of the Labor Day weekend. Mt. Russell continues to be overshadowed by its much more popular neighbor Mt. Whitney to the south. We saw very few people on the entire trip. The forecast dictated an early start and efficient climbing to get up to the summit and down safely before any potential storm hit. We hiked up the North Fork Canyon and set up camp at Upper Boyscout Lake. After dinner we hit the sack early with our rucksacks packed in preparation for a planned early wake up. The ascent went well as we moved efficiently up the route. As we descended off the summit storm clouds moved in and we quickly descended off the East Ridge down the Southwest Chute to lower ground. The storm dropped hail for a short time as it blew through. We descended back to Upper Boyscout Lake, packed up camp, and returned to Whitney Portal where we enjoyed bacon cheeseburgers from the Whitney Portal Store.
Below are some highlights. The entire photo gallery is here: http://kurtwedbergphotography.com/Sierra-Trips/2009-Sierra-Trips/Mt-Russell-East-Ridge-Sept-09/9520818_8AxeF/1/639989408_vF2qH
The team at Whitney Portal saddled up and ready to climb
The Ebersbacher Ledges
Creek crossing below Upper Boyscout Lake
The team ready to begin the ascent long before daybreak at camp at Upper Boyscout Lake
The team pausing for a photo in the middle of the East Ridge with Lake Tuleinyo behind
The team negotiating some of the 3rd class moves on the East Ridge
The team taking time out for a quick summit photo before descending ahead of the oncoming storm
On August 12 it was a pleasure to climb with Betsy on my favorite 3rd class route in the Sierra. Betsy is a lifelong visitor to the Whitney area but had never been up Mt. Russell. We met at the Whitney Portal Hostel and drove to Whitney Portal beginning our hike long before the sun came up. A beautiful, clear, and warm night made the approach to Upper Boyscout Lake a very enjoyable hike. We were treated to a gorgeous sunrise high above Upper Boyscout Lake. We were greeted with superb weather making for another enjoyable ascent of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell. After reaching the summit we descended down the southwest chute, over the Whitney/Russell Col, past Iceberg Lake, and down to Whitney Portal in the afternoon with plenty of time to enjoy bacon cheeseburgers at the Whitney Portal Store. The rest of the pictures are here: http://kurtwedbergphotography.com/Sierra-Trips/2009-Sierra-Trips/Mt-Russell-East-Ridge-August/9259727_M5WTg/1/618536412_RT9J4
Betsy above Upper Boyscout Lake before sunrise.
Sunrise on Mt. Whitney
The start of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell
Starting up the East Ridge of Mt. Russell
The narrowest part of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell
Betsy traversing on the East Ridge of Mt. Russell. Behind in the distance is Lake Tuleinyo, the highest lake in the Western Hemisphere.
Betsy pausing to enjoy the scenery on one of the "catwalks" on Mt. Russell's East Ridge
Betsy making moves on the high quality granite on Mt. Russell's East Ridge
Sierra Mountaineering International was founded by Kurt Wedberg in the fall of 1995. We are specialists in all types of mountaineering guiding and instruction year round in this inspiring and beautiful mountain range. We are also positioned to guide expeditions to high peaks on all seven continents. Our friendly and personable expert guide staff brings together the collective experience of 100+ global expeditions plus 25+ years of Sierra mountaineering into every trip we do. We invite you to come learn why hundreds of our clients repeatedly return to us for more new and exciting adventures in the Sierra and destinations worldwide!