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Ascent of Mount Russell on 2013-09-15

Climber: BMS 914

Others in Party:Collin Kamholz
Date:Sunday, September 15, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Russell
    Location:USA-California
    Elevation:14088 ft / 4294 m

Ascent Trip Report

With our mutual friends and climbing partners Anji & Austin heading up to Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route, Collin and I thought it might be fun to meet them at Upper Boy Scout Lake, camp, and ascend nearby Mount Russell on Sunday as a foursome. Collin preferred to camp as he wanted the night at 11,360' to aid acclimatization to elevation.

Austin nearly had to bow out of the Whitney trip after becoming ill a couple of days before. But since this was to be the LVMC 50 Classics list completion hike for both he and Anji, he basically forced himself to go. He and Anji picked up permits for all four of us in Lone Pine, then started early Saturday heading up Whitney.

Collin and I drove in from Las Vegas, and began our ascent just before noon amid overcast skies. We set a moderate pace, with Collin carrying the bear canister containing Austin and Anji's food they had left for us in a bear locker at the trailhead. Things went well as far as Lower Boy Scout Lake, our ascent of the Ebersbacher Ledges in the big backpacks weren't an issue. Not far from the lower lake it began to rain and later hail. The rain was light to moderate, which was fortunate as I had left my pack's rain cover at home, and I really didn't want to dig out my emergency poncho.

When I did Whitney the year before, my buddy Alex and I found the route between the Boy Scout Lakes through Norman Clyde Meadow to be a confusing exercise, that lead to more boulder scrambling and bushwhacking than either of us wanted to deal with. With this in mind, Collin and I attempted to find a better line through the area. With the rain, the granite (mildly sloped) slabs that are normally a good place to walk became too slick to deal with, especially with our heavy packs and my lack of trekking poles. As with the previous trip, we ended up having to wade through the 7' high saplings, walking up and down flowing streamlets, and generally wishing things had gone better.

After what seemed an eternity, we broke free of the "meadow" and made it to the Upper Boy Scout Lake, and found no sign of our friends. We set up our tents, as the light rain started and stopped repeatedly. Near the east end of the lake I was able to get cell service on Verizon (even a bar or two of 3G) so I sent some texts to Anji and Austin to see if they were still in the vicinity, or if they had needed to change plans. This was a concern, as Collin had not brought his stove, so our dehydrated meals were going to be difficult to prepare without one (I did have gas, a pot, and the rest; just not an actual stove.)

About an hour after our arrival, Anji and later Austin appeared on the trail coming down from Iceberg Lake. Austin had set up his four season tent very near our tents, but neither Collin or I had ever seen the tent before and didn't realize it was his. Our friends had made the summit, becoming the 13th/14th members of our club to complete the list since its creation in 1994 - congrats!

We chatted for a while, but Austin was really feeling poorly by now and made the decision not to try for Russell with us the following morning. It soon began to rain harder and we were all forced to head into our tents to stay dry. The deficiencies of my tent site soon became apparent, and when the rain stopped I pulled my stakes and relocated to a better spot right next to Anji and Austin with some help from Collin. I had noticed the location before, but since it was very near a tent we at the time didn't recognize, I elected to pick something a little more private. We ate our dinners, the sun went down, it got cold with the damp air and yet more rain, and we went to bed with plans to leave at 5:30 AM. I realized I had foolishly forgotten my down parka, which wasn't pleasant being all I had to wear on my upper half were two short sleeve T-shirts and one long sleeve one.

I slept fairly well and was warm in by bag and liner. Collin woke me at 5:00 AM, the rain having been replaced by clear skies and a zillion stars. Anji wasn't feeling well and decided to head back with Austin and skip Russell too. I wasn't feeling well either, and was considering bailing on the attempt, but with Anji bowing out that would mean Collin having no one to go with if I dropped out also. I really didn't want to start in the cold darkness given my inadequate attire, so Collin agreed to start at 6:00 AM instead and I resolved to just suck it up and get to the summit.

We elected to take the Rockwell Variation of the East Ridge route. Basically, it heads west, then northwest up the same basin the lake is in, working its way over steep talus and some sandy areas, with some rock bands to climb (easy Class 3) along the way. This way trades steep terrain for less sand than the standard East Ridge route, and hits a Class 2 chute heading northeast and leading to a saddle just above the Russell/Carillon saddle that the standard route leads to.

By now, I was feeling really lousy, struggling to keep up, and not looking forward to Russell's famed summit ridge as I normally would be. I had heard that the final section along the east ridge was largely a knife edge with massive exposure. I would describe it as more Class 2 ledges along steep slabs, with some Class 3 moves here and there. It is easy enough to stay just to the north side of the spine. A slip here would result in hitting the slabs below with an almost certain continuation fall toward the lake some 900' below. The south side is sheer and several hundred feet down as well; so the exposure I had been told of was as-advertised.

The exposure didn't bother me, but I was strangely working very hard just to make progress toward the summit. I had felt nauseated the whole way, and I was now getting a slight headache to go along with it. I have a history of not having altitude issues, and given I had just spent a week plus on 14ers in Colorado, I wasn't thinking that was the problem.

The summit seemed to take a long time to reach, but at last we were up. The view was truly fantastic, and the occasional hooting and howling of hikers making their first summit of Mount Whitney to the south could be heard. We ate snacks, took some photos, signed the register, and headed back toward the saddle.

The ridge was much the same on the way down, but I was struggling to keep up with Collin and he was having to wait some, which was frustrating. The exposed ledges were not the place to rush myself, however. We ran into two other climbers coming up mid way, chatted a bit, then made it to the Carillon/Russell saddle. We had discussed hitting Carillon on the way back, but Collin decided he wasn't interested, even though it wasn't very far. I would have gone with him if he went up, but felt no need to go given how poorly I was feeling and that we still had our descent to the lake and the long hike out of camp to Whitney Portal ahead of us.

From the saddle we took the standard East Ridge route down. This would have been a real slog going up, as it was a path amid lots and lots of sand. It made for a quick descent, however. It actually took us less than half the time to make it down to the lake (1:16) from the saddle compared to our ascent (2:38), and we could have easily made it down to the lake in 25 minutes quicker had I been moving normally.

Once back in camp, I realized that with the rain and hassles on the route up to camp I had consumed far, far less liquid than I should have been; and I think my problems were largely due to being dehydrated. I quickly made and pounded a liter of Gatorade with powder I had brought and untreated lake water (no ill effects to report). We hastily broke camp and loaded up our heavy packs (we both had light summit packs for the morning's ascent) and headed down.

We started off as we had finished the afternoon before, but Collin suggested trying to find a route more to the north that he had seen some people descending, as neither of us wanted to deal with the bushwhacking in the meadow again! The route started better, but at length we ended up on the north side of the shallow slabs and the stream running between the lakes. We could walk easily enough on the now-dry slabs, but crossing the narrow stream with its slick algae bed proved tricky in the big packs. Collin loaned me one of his trekking poles, we ended up getting separated, I jumped the stream, got cut off by another branch, was forced to bushwhack again. I took a hard fall flat onto my back on some slippery wet leaf litter on a disguised slab, knocking the wind right out of me.

The clumsy big pack for once proved a boon, as it largely broke the fall for me. Once breathing again I was completely uninjured. I eventually hit the trail again, spotted Collin, and met him near the shore of Lower Boy Scout Lake. So after my third attempt at avoiding an annoying bushwhack at the Norman Clyde Meadow, I was now 0-3.

At the lower lake I again made and drank more Gatorade, filled my hydration bladder with more water, and we headed down. The Ebersbacher Ledges again went smoothly, but we got off-route near the waterfall at their base, neither of us choosing to trust my GPS over what seemed right. This resulted in us working our way down a path that became more and more overgrown and diverged further and further from the trail we came up on. We eventually accepted our error and hiked back up to the waterfall, and found the correct route. It leads to an interesting segment on my GPS track!

The rest of the way went smoothly. After hitting the junction with the main Mount Whitney trail, my rehydration efforts apparently began to kick in and I finally started feeling better, though I had a headache until the following morning.

We made it back to Las Vegas fairly early in the evening, and I was glad to be home. Someday I may try Mount Russell again, hopefully when I am having a better day! Who knows, maybe I will even be able to avoid the bushwhacking in that meadow...
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:6363 ft / 1939 m
    Elevation Loss:6363 ft / 1939 m
    Distance:11.5 mi / 18.5 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Clear
Clear and breezy
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:6111 ft / 1863 m
    Extra Loss:330 ft / 100 m
    Distance:5.8 mi / 9.3 km
    Route:East Ridge - Rockwell Variation
    Trailhead:Whitney Portal Trailhead  8307 ft / 2531 m
    Time Up:22 Hours 23 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:6033 ft / 1839 m
    Extra Gain:252 ft / 76 m
    Distance:5.7 mi / 9.2 km
    Route:East Ridge
    Trailhead:Whitney Portal Trailhead  8307 ft / 2531 m
    Time Down:6 Hours 36 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by BMS 914
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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. Peakbagger.com accepts NO resposibility or liability from use of this data.

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