Friday, September 14, 2007

Ascent of Mt. Russell's East Arête

Kaj's group on the East Arête.

AAI climbers Kaj Pedersen (Bellevue, WA), Nick Fohl (San Francisco), and Steve Talmage (San Francisco), along with AAI guide Jason Martin, recently completed a successful ascent of the Sierra's Mt. Russell. Here is Kaj's account, along with a few of his pictures from the trip:


Our adventure to climb the East Arête of Mt. Russell was close to not actually coming together, since we had left the arrangements a little late with respect to engaging a guiding service. The usual pressures of work, and its attendant distractions, resulted in our small team of climbers forgetting about the timing of the weekend and the demand for guides - this was after all the Labor Day weekend! However, after some quick calls American Alpine Institute came through for us, and they even had the wilderness pass waiting and ready to go. Our trip to Mt. Russell was secured.

Our small team was made up of three climbers, excluding our guide Jason Martin. We were coming in from different locations. Nick Fohl and Steve Talmage were coming in from San Francisco, while I was coming in from Seattle. The plan was to fly into Burbank Airport and depart for Lone Pine Ranger station, where we were to meet our guide, Jason (who had his own journey to make from Las Vegas). There were a lot of moving parts at the start of the trip, which fortunately all worked out, so that we were able to meet at Lone Pine just before 2pm. After the quick introductions, we set off for the Mt. Whitney Portal trailhead to undergo the equipment checks and then start the hike to Upper Boy Scout Lake, where we were to camp for the next two nights.

On the approach above the Ebersbacher Ledges.

We set off at about 3pm and headed up the Whitney Portal trail before turning off and taking the trail toward Lower and Upper Boy Scout Lakes. The weather was a little overcast, which made for a cooler hike in, although we were rightly concerned about the possibility of lightning. Again, the good lady of fortune was looking out for us, and our concern for lightning never came to pass. After a fairly strenuous hike into the camp with our 45- to 50-pound packs we were able to get our tents up and settled into a camp routine and dinner before the light totally faded away on us. Then it was early to bed as Jason wanted us to get started on the route by 4:30am the next morning.

Putting harnesses on for the ascent!

The next morning started with the alarm blaring at 3:30am. The team quickly sorted itself out over their ablutions and breakfast, during which we were entertained to a series of shooting stars, and then we hit the start of our climb at 4:40am. Our route took us across Clyde Meadow, where we then hiked up a talus field to reach the saddle between Mt. Russell and Mt. Carillon. This was a classic talus hike in that each two steps you took you felt like you gave up one step. However, we did make good time to reach the East Arête on Mt. Russell. We took a short break and put on our harnesses in preparation to rope up for this class 3 route. It was not long after we started that Jason decided to get us roped up for the ridge, and under his guidance and leadership, we were able to thoroughly enjoy the adventure of climbing the East Arête. The weather was also favorable, and it allowed us to take in some very dramatic scenery and exposures along the course of the climb. We summited at around 11am, and we took the opportunity to enjoy the views and eat some lunch.

Our guide, Jason Martin.

Our descent took us to between the east and west summits of Mt. Russell, where we descended about two hundred feet to get to a trail that would take us down the southern face of Mt. Russell. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to lead the team down, while Jason belayed us from the top. We came through this descent relatively quickly and then faced the inenvitable prospect of moving through the talus and bolder field, which was a little more slow-going for the team. This took us to the pass just above Iceberg Lake (near the Mountaineers Route on Mt. Whitney), which we scrambled down, and then we got back onto the trail back to Upper Boy Scout Lake. Although this sounds like it was a relatively straightforward route - and in many regards it probably is - this should not discount from the fact that it was still hard work to make our way down through the loose talus and boulder fields along the way!

The smilin' group!

We arrived at camp around 3:30pm and felt the effects of our long day in the mountains almost immediately. Steve and I collapsed for a long nap, while Nick and Jason took it easy and enjoyed the views. By the time everyone was rested, we were ready for dinner to replenish the used up calories and afterwards settled in for the last night in our tent. In the morning, we rose at a respectable time of 6am - positive luxury in alpine climbing! We took care of breakfast and packing up camp, so that we were back on the trail by 7:30am. We were back at the the Whitney Portal trailhead around 10am, where we shed our packs and said our goodbyes to Jason. His guiding capabilities and easy manner made this a great trip for our team.

The beautiful Sierra Nevada.

Fortunately, we were able to shower at the Whitney Portal as well, thus saving a large number of airline customers from the misfortune of dealing with our three-days of trail filth. All in all not a bad trip, when considering it nearly did not come off.

Kaj Pedersen

For information on our Guided Ascents in the Eastern Sierra, please contact AAI Program Coordinator Coley Gentzel at or by calling 800-424-2249.

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