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