Thor Peak, Russell, Carillon
Another summer, another trip from New England to the Range of Light. Our normal routine is for a very long first day. After working a half-day we drive an hour to the airport in Manchester NH, fly to Vegas, rent a car, drive though the desert and the night, select our portal and hike like zombies until we drop. Such was our trip this past July. The only interesting variation in the road trip was a 3:00 am nap on the hot pavement at the Death Valley visitor center. I figured it would be better to stop and sleep on the pavement rather than fall asleep at the wheel and die on it!
On Wednesday morning, we had a great breakfast in Lone Pine before heading to the Whitney Portal. The rangers posting on the web had indicated a persistent snow pack. Now that the range was in glorious view, our concerns about wet feet evaporated. Despite the volume of snow from last winter, the remaining snow presented nothing more than a photographic enhancement to our trip.
Our hike followed the standard route of the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. There really is no route finding, although I have to admit the Clyde Traverse was a little intimidating! It took us almost seven hours to make the trip from the portal to Upper Boy Scout Lake. We arrived around 4:30 and crashed early for the night. Besides another party of four, we had the basin to ourselves! We woke on Thursday with general plans to scout the area and possibly scramble up Thor Peak. By the time breakfast was over we noticed the other party had already summited on Thor and were climbing back down. After watching a near disaster, I took notes on what you will next read about.
When viewing Thor peak from Upper Boy Scout Lake, there is an obvious half circle collapsed from the Northwest face. The right hand side of this gouge is marked with a pillar of reddish broken rock. Above this pillar is a loose slope of talus and scree leading up to the summit blocks. Just to the right of this pillar is a smooth bottom chute. We watched as two people climbed down the right side of the pillar, skirting the smooth rock of the chute. Two other members of the same party were about thirty meters above them on the talus and scree. We heard the report then saw the dust of serious rockfall. Both climbers below were hit with falling rocks. One climber was knocked from her stance and fell about three meters.
We hurried ourselves to leave camp and climb in their direction, watching for movement as we did so. Soon the party was back together and helping the shaken climber down. We met them about ten minutes from our camp and offered assistance, which was declined. Soon they split their gear into three loads and were headed back down to the road.
Later that morning I climbed Thor alone. The rock to the right of the smooth bottom chute is solid and safe. Above the chute, stay a little to the right until you are forced left. Using this route, I encountered no loose rock and enjoyed a great class 2-3 climb. This experience however reminded me of the value of the helmet, which always accompanies me on my climbs.
Friday we took the standard trip up Russell and Carillon. So much has been reported on this climb that it seems redundant to relate our experience. The trip is an absolute must! Don't let thoughts of exposure keep you away from this one. The route is self-evident and certainly no harder than class three. Just don't think about the big air on your right hand side! There is an awkward move over a block on the ridge between the two summits. Don't worry. I'm only 5'3" and I led! One caution...If you are going to do this route, don't climb Mt. Carillon first! It will give you a sickening view of the ridge. If you are undecided about making the trip, the appalling exposure you are about to encounter may turn you back! Don't let that happen. This route is worth your commitment. You will never forget it. I just had an enlargement made of a photograph with myself on the summit of Carillon with Russell's North face and the entire East Ridge behind me. It's a spectacular shot that will always remind me of a perfect day in these incredible mountains. We made the round trip in less than eight hours.
Saturday morning our work was done. We warped back to reality for showers, beer and a legendary buffet.... Las Vegas style.