At 8am on Saturday, 28 September, climbers David and Elaine Baldwin, Jack Wickel, Steve Blackmon, and John Blanch gathered at the Whitney Portal trailhead for an assault on Mt. Russell, a mountain described by R.J. Secor as "the finest peak in the Mt. Whitney region". Setting off at a moderately brisk pace, we shortly reached the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek (the second stream crossing in a normal year) and the start of the North Fork use trail.
After a brief stop at the packet distribution box for the "North Fork Pack-Out-Your-Poop Project" we proceeded up the well defined trail to the start of the Ebersbacher ledges which we identified with the aid of a photograph from "California's Fourteeners". Exercising due caution, we traversed the ledges without incident and continued up the trail to Lower Boy Scout Lake and the talus field beyond. Using a combination of paths through the boulders, we proceeded up the south side of the drainage until it was possible to pass through the low bushes to the slabs adjacent to the creek which we followed to Upper Boy Scout Lake.
After establishing our camp near the northeast shore of the lake, there was some discussion of an attempt on Thor Peak, but the thin air, the exertion of the morning, and the warmth of the sun invited most of us to simply relax and acclimate for the following day. I later took a short hike up the north slope of Thor to get a better look at our route on Russell. After climbing a scree slope to the southeast of the outlet of lake 11,560, I reached an area of high angle slabs which I surmounted via a short class 3 chimney to the east. At the top of the chimney, I was tempted to break my promise to return in an hour and ascend the class 2-3 terrain to the summit of Thor, but contented myself with a grand view of the east edifice of the Whitney group before descending to camp. Due to the proximity of Pinnacle Ridge, the sun set at our campsite before 5pm but was replaced around 10pm by a brilliant, near-full moon which bathed the terrain in a ghostly white light.
The moon was still bright when we rose at 5:30am Sunday for the main event. After the usual preparation, we were all underway by 6:45, trudging up the seemingly endless scree slope northeast of the outlet of Upper Boy Scout Lake. After two hours, we were glad to reach the Russell-Carillon saddle and get our first look at the East Ridge route on Russell. Steve roused us from a short snack break with a cry of "Let's climb this mountain!", and we were off up the talus. We stayed to the north side of the ridge for most of the route, venturing occasionally onto the crest, but never to the south side, following ledges and cracks with occasional stretches of scree and small patches of new snow. Most of the route was ducked, as if one could get off of a route with a margin of error seldom exceeding a few feet. About an hour of climbing put us on the registered west summit, which of course looked a few inches lower than the east.
After enjoying the fantastic views under the cloudless sky and snapping a few photos, we retraced our steps to the Russell- Carillon saddle where Steve and John bolted for home while the rest of the party paused for a snack before launching a 12-minute ascent of Carillon. At the summit we had our best view of the north face of Russell and the fantastically exposed east ridge route best described by Jack as "gnarly". Unfortunately we had to leave the Carillon register unsigned for lack of a pencil. Leaving the summit, we returned to the saddle for our packs and then enjoyed the scree slide to camp considerably more than the trudge of the morning. After packing up, we returned to Whitney Portal, then filled up on barbecue at Smoke Signals in Lone Pine before the long drive back to LA.
My thanks go to everyone in the group for a successful weekend enhanced by great weather, and especially to Jack for filling a vacancy at the last minute and for leading the way up Russell's east ridge.