My Adventure Story
A FIRST VISIT TO MT. RUSSELL - and the East Arete
Our usual core team - Kevin, Gary, and Bob - planned a visit to Mt. Russell in early Spring. We had done a lot of "book" research about the trip. We understood the climbing classification, and recognized the term exposure, So, we had to see it for ourselves.
WEATHER: the weather for this trip was ideal. Full sun, not a cloud in the sky. More importantly, there was no wind - only periodic puffs of cooling breeze. One couldn't ask for more perfect weather in the mountains in September.
The hardest part of the trip was the permit process. If you are not using one of the excellent guide services, plan multiple dates, and call or send the requests in on time (good luck).
HIKE-IN: For overnight/multiple night trips, the hike to Upper Boy Scout lake is not difficult. The trail is very well defined, and where it disappears into rock, some very large cairns mark the route you should be on. You can take your time and simply enjoy the North Fork vistas. The trail is simply beautiful, and the real hidden benefit of the permit process is simple - there are not that many people on the route.
UPPER BOY SCOUT LAKE (UBSL): UBSL is pleasantly situated with a lot of campsites on flat ground. Many of the sites have rock wind blocks and and seating areas. We can thank the guides for putting in lounge chairs at our site. There are also enough big rocks to hang food bags away from the little critters (look for steep sides, those things can climb - as some parties we talked to found out about). Good food also helps out.
HIKE-UP: There are basically two routes up the East flank to the Russell-Carillon saddle. There is a clearly defined trail from the end of UBSL to the ledges. Another trail comes up directly out of Clyde Meadow and the North Fork trail. Both trails meet at the top of the first set of ledges. Although our route after reaching the ledges went straight up, we eventually met up with the main trail.
It is important to note that the use tail is mainly on scree - and that the easier climb up is off the trail on the rock (usually to the right). The slope clearly gets steeper nearer the saddle plateau, but the numerous obvious routes are simple step ups (class 2). As you crest the plateau, you are immediately struck by Russell sitting at the far end of the plateau.
THE SADDLE: The saddle between Mt. Russell and Mt Carillon sits atop a plateau. The less than 0.5 mile trek is quick and easy. The formal saddle is marked by a rock ridge the runs from the rock pile at the foot of the East Ridge over Mt. Carillon. The windless weather meant the rock tops were a perfect setting to peacefully view Lake Tulianyo (12802 ft) and Mt Williamson (4,375 ft) and refuel.
THE ROCK PILE: Moving up the rock pile is an easy walk, with a couple of very short scrambles. At the top of the rock pile is a short vertical two-step that puts you on a wide, protected platform. Two successive boulders separate you from the East Ridge.
THE EAST RIDGE: The two boulders blocking access to the East Ridge immediately raise the question - are you ready? The view clearly shows that yes, the climbing will be class 3. But, they also announce exposure - on either side there are suggestions of unforgiving drops. Beyond the boulders the rocks state that you will clearly not be on a knife edge, with rock clearly wide enough for walking. However, unless one is 100% "comfortable" with long drops, the class 3 becomes something else - and the very good rock becomes, well, slightly damp, clammy rock..
For us, we went to see the East Ridge, with full recognition that we might need to address our lack of practice in using basic rock skills. The view of the great beyond on the other side of the boulders was immediate. Need to do some basic retooling before we complete the adventure.
After one of us had a short "phillipy" moment (our term for a cognitive disconnection leading to indecision and immobilization), we headed down.
HIKE DOWN:The use trail from the rock pile is clear, and leads to a fairly well marked descent trail. The trail nicely limits the number of down climbing scrambles. Most of the sections immediately off the crest line are in scree which makes traveling easy but requires low gaiters. The main trail has an obvious split at the top of the ledges.
HIKE OUT:The hike out - while down hill - takes a little longer than one thinks. The quick loss in altitude means big steps down and tired knees. Poles help, but each big step down slows you down. ENJOY the views as you descend, and don't forget to look back and admire where you came from.
LEARNING: If you don't have experience climbing about 50 feet (where your depth perception goes to infinity), be ready for the realities of "exposure." While we know its between the ears, and the longer you are "out there" the more comfortable you get, be prepared.
For the rest of us, perhaps look into bringing rope (and requisite belay and harness system). Rangers with experience suggest that protection should consist of some very large slings that can be thrown over the very good rock. And, have confidence in your basic rock skills (and your feet).