My quest for California’s 14ers is one peak closer to completion. On July 2, 2001 at 10:15 AM I stood alone atop Mt. Russell. R.J. Secor in his book, “The High Sierra: Peaks Passes and Trails” writes, “This is the finest peak in the Mount Whitney region. It is high and beautiful- none of its routes is easy. The peak has two summits; the west peak is the high point. East Ridge: Class 3. First ascent June 24, 1926 by Norman Clyde. Ascend the north side of the ridge from Russell- Carillon Pass to the east summit of Mount Russell. It is easy to traverse to the west peak.”
The climbing on the ridge was mellow, albeit highly exposed. At times I looked down between my boots to see the ridge fall away 2–3 hundred feet. However there were only a small handful of class three moves. Compared to the North rib of Mt. Tyndal, which is continuous class three for 1800 feet, the ¼ mile East Ridge of Russell was relaxing.
The challenge of this climb was doing it as a day hike. Since I had been up the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek trail twice before I was convinced that this peak could be climbed quickly from the trailhead in one short day. The only anxious thoughts were concerning the East Ridge itself. Two years ago when attempting the route we (Brian and Dave) were talked off the route by climbers descending with ropes telling us how difficult it was. Others have told me that this climb is difficult, and should not be attempted alone. This only increased my interest. All the guidebooks indicated it to be only class 3 so I determined to go for it.
During the climb I saw no place on the entire ridge where one would need to rope up, unless the route was covered in snow, maybe that’s how other parties have found it. I found it nearly free of all snow and only had to take three or four steps on the white the whole way. It always seemed there were many ways to go. As far as I can tell the more challenging parts are found during the first 50 yards or so from the Russell- Carillon Pass. For sure less experienced hikers will find the narrowness of the ridge a distraction. Just don’t look down!
The hardest part of the hike was ascending the talus gully above Clyde Meadow, 2000 feet of quad burning, ankle twisting, lung busting labor. I had to remind myself to be patient and to not strive against the slope. Over and over again I picked out boulders 20 –30 yards up as a goal as I slowly trudged up this dirty slip and slide. By the time I reached the pass my legs felt like Jell-O, here I took a half-hour break laying down in the shade of a small boulder. (There is another way up to the pass called the Rockwell variation. It is up past Upper Boy Scout Lake. I have done that too and I think it is more direct to use the gully directly north of Clyde Meadow, however, they are both un-fun). Get your water in the creek at Clyde Meadow (not really a meadow, just a flatter brushy area below Upper Boy Scout Lake) before you go up this gully.
Here’s how it went:
Mount Whitney Trail 8268 4:33 AM
Ebersbacher Ledges 9800? 5:30 AM
Clyde Meadow 11000 6:30 AM
Russell- Carillon Pass 13280 9:00 AM
Mt. Russell Summit 14086 10:15 AM
Mt. Russell Summit 14086 10:30 AM
Mount Whitney Trail 8268 2:13 PM
Total 9:43 hours
Over all it was a great day. It got cloudy and started to hail and rain as I descended. Thunder could be heard rumbling over the peaks. I was glad I was down low. My Dad and Daughter Michelle were waiting for me at the trailhead and in just a few minutes we were eating Mexican food at Perez Bonanza in Lone Pine and we were back in El Segundo before dark. Six down and nine to go.