Ascent of Mount Russell on 2018-09-01

Climber: Jack Eichler

Others in Party:Joe Sherrock
Betsy Sherrock
Date:Saturday, September 1, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Russell
    Elevation:14088 ft / 4294 m

Ascent Trip Report

Detailed Trip Report for Mt. Russell East Ridge - Day Hike from Whitney Portal


Though there are numerous trip reports one can find for the east ridge of Mt. Russell, as I've researched the route through the years I've always felt the details on the east ridge itself are quite lacking. I hope this trip report, along with the accompanying photos, will fill in some of the gaps and help folks who are wanting to tackle the east ridge for the first time get the necessary beta to feel comfortable and confident on the route.

I am going to skip any description of the approach hike up the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek trail, as this is pretty well described in trip reports for both Mt. Russell and Mt. Whitney, and will start the route description from Upper Boyscout Lake (UBL). I note we day hiked this starting from Whitney Portal at 3am and returned to the portal at 4pm. I've attempted Russell twice before in which we overnight camped at UBL, however I would recommend day hiking it. Not having to carry camping gear up the North Fork of the Lone Pine trail saved a ton of energy and misery.

1. You actually want to start your ascent of the notorious scree couloir just before you reach UBL. Standing below UBL and looking essentially due north you'll see two large slabby ledges with the large couloir going up above those ledges and diagonal to the left. Traverse to the right and below the slabby ledges, then you'll cut back left to get above the ledges and begin the couloir itself. There are numerous use trails, and your best bet is to switch back your way up the couloir to limit your slipping and sliding. I actually don't think this couloir is all that bad, but about half way up there is a section that is quite loose and annoying. If you take your time though and don't get in a rush it's ok. Once you are on the upper third of the couloir you can find larger solid rock. You might have a tendency to veer climber's left, however you want to top out right of the large gendarme that dominates the top of the couloir. The top of this is actually quite steep, a legit class 3 in my opinion but it's not exposed if you take your time and take a comfortable route. Once at the top of the couloir you'll be treated to your first view of the East Ridge with the Russell-Carillon plateau in front of you. Just make your way across the plateau to the base of the East Ridge. It's pretty obvious. The attached GPS track shows the route from UBL to the East Ridge, and picture #1 in the album is a snapshot of this track (note: the gps track uploaded with this trip report inadvertently included my previous outing as the starting point, hence the long track line from Oregon to the Southern Sierra; if you zoom in on the embedded map in Peakbagger you'll find the actual gps route from UBL to the base of the east ridge).

2. It will take you 15-20 minutes to traverse over. Once at the East Ridge, you'll scramble a fairly steep section but have no real exposure. About half way up this initial steep section you'll reach a spot with two large flakes that are pretty exposed on both sides (the ridge proper narrows to about 10 feet wide or so). This is the most exposed part of the entire route in my opinion, but if you step down to the right of the flakes you climb up about 6 feet with bomber holds. There is about a 5-foot ledge where you step down but it is pretty exposed beyond that. Picture #2 shows you the first of the two flake moves and the exposure below. You repeat a similar type of move for the second flake (again, step down to the right then climb up) and you're back on the ridge with much less exposure. I would call this class 3/4, as the climbing itself is class 3 but the exposure will definitely make you think about it.

3. Once back on the ridge proper you'll veer to the left on a relatively large ledge to get around a gendarme feature, then you'll be on a fairly flat section that connects this initial ridge with the large fin that takes you over to the east summit. Picture #3 gives a nice view of this middle third of the route, and picture #4 is a closer shot with us at the actual base of the fin. This fin looks intimidating from a distance, considering how it drops off 1,500-2,000 feet straight down to your right, but once you get on this it's not very exposed. Picture #3 shows the track of the route we took. When you get near the top of this fin there is a chimney-type feature, but it lays at about 20 degrees so you can easily make your way up this with solid holds and minimal exposure.

4. Once at the top of the fin, you'll have the final third of the ridge that takes you over to the east summit. You actually want to stay on the very top of the ridge here, as going below to the right actually adds to the exposure. Picture #5 shows our route across this part of the ridge as viewed from the east summit (on our descent). When you're on the very top of the ridge you'll see the nice exposure on climber's left, but you're never in danger. You'll encounter two blocky features on this section that appear to be road blocks, however you can gracefully belly roll over these to stay on the ridge with very little exposure. Once you pass these two features you'll drop down some to climber's right off the ridge and on less exposed ground (shown nicely in picture #5).

5. At the base of the east summit you'll have two options. There are two steep, but very wide chimney features separated by a spine of rock. We thought the left chimney looked slightly less steep so we chose that. You can see in the far distance of picture #3 the red line denotes this ascent, with the blue line denoting our descent route. This chimney is pretty steep but blocky and not exposed. Just be careful not to kick rocks on other members of your party and you are on the east summit in no time.

6. On the east summit you'll have a great view of the impending traverse. Many trip reports describe having to climb some exposed sections to reach the west summit, however picture #6 shows you the route one can take to stay below the ridge proper and avoid the exposed sections (especially the classic exposed "mantle move"). You pick your way down the east summit and veer a bit right and you have a nice ledge-type traverse with no exposure. Parts of this even have cairns to mark the way. You'll go to the right below and slightly past the summit to the west then you'll find easy unexposed class 3 scrambling back to the east to reach the final summit. Picture #7 gives you a perspective of the traverse as seen from the west summit blocks.

7. The descent mostly retraces your steps back, however the use trail between the east and west summits appeared to veer slightly to climbers left (north), a little below the east summit proper. This is shown by the blue route on picture #7. We took this route and down climbed the steep chimney on the other side of the east summit. This required a few "butt scoot" moves but was not exposed. The blue trace in picture #5 shows how we regained the ridge on the descent. Again, you generally want to stay higher up on the ridge to avoid the exposure to climber's left (north).

8. The two blocky moves on the very top of the ridge about half way back are easy to manage in this direction as well, and the class 3/4 exposed moves on the lower third of the ridge are easily down climbed if you face the rock and slowly/carefully lower yourself down the flakes to the small landing on climber's left. If these moves don't sit well with you in terms of the exposure, you can simply lay across the flakes and kind of belly slide directly across the top from one flake to the other. It's not very graceful but less exposed.

9. Once past this class 3/4 move, you're home free. You scramble back down to the Russell-Carillon plateau and breeze back over to the scree couloir. You'll have some delicate/steep down climbing at the top, then you get to scree ski back down to UBL. You should be able to descend this in about 30 minutes, whereas it will most likely have taken you 90-120 minutes to ascend.

10. Hope this provides the level of detail you're looking for. This is one of the most exhilarating climbs I have done, and should be on everyone's to-do list.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5720 ft / 1743 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5720 ft / 1743 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14 mi / 22.5 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3/4
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Exposed Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Sunny, 40 degrees F on summit
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5720 ft / 1743 m
    Distance:7 mi / 11.3 km
    Route:North Fork of Lone Pine trail, east ridge.
    Start Trailhead:Whitney Portal  8368 ft / 2550 m
    Time:7 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5720 ft / 1743 m
    Distance:7 mi / 11.3 km
    Route:North Fork of Lone Pine trail
    End Trailhead:Whitney Portal  8368 ft / 2550 m
    Time:6 Hours 0 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Jack Eichler
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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