Mt Russell-Startrekkin' / Mithril Dihedral

19-22 Aug 2005 - by Rick Booth

On Friday, August 19, Alexey Zelditch and I headed up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek to Iceberg Lake to attempt two routes on Mt Russell. These two routes were Startrekkin' and Western Front, two technical routes. The hike-in was slow, as usual, and uneventful. One peculiarity of the hike was the extensive trail maintenance that has been done by the Forest Service. The sequence through the Ebersbacher Ledges has several gargantuan cairns indicating the turns and the trail leading away from the ledges goes directly up hill to run against the upper cliff and is also marked by many giant cairns. The presence of "Reforestation in Progress" sticks seems to indicate the Forest Service is determined to control the willy-nilly nature of the trail in this area in order to control erosion which is fairly extensive. Further up the trail, the trail through the slabs above Lower Boy Scout Lake is also marked with huge cairns. It looks like the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek has gone mainstream and judging by the well worn nature of the trail it appears there is a huge volume of traffic there. Sort of sad, actually, the North Fork has now lost much of its charm with these additions since getting lost, yet again, on the Ebersbacher Ledges and the upper slabs was always part of the hike-in ritual.

Saturday morning Alexey and I headed up over the Whitney-Russell Col to the south side of Mt Russell. Our goal was Startrekkin' since we decided to climb the easier route first. We were in no big hurry to get to Mt Russell since it is always cold there until the sun shows up. Startrekkin' shares the same first two pitches of the Mithril Dihedral . These two pitches are directly below the dihedral. Startrekkin' branches left at the end of the second pitch and Mithril branches right into the dihedral. About 10:30 we started up the route. The first two pitches are uneventful 5.7/5.8. The belay at the end of the second pitch can be set on the right side below the roof at the start of Startrekkin' instead of hanging directly below the roof. The roof goes at about solid 5.10a and is well protected. About three moves, one of them a little weird. This is followed by a crack that goes straight up and dies in the middle of a pocketed area. The crack re-emerges a little to the left and continues to the top of a block system. The second crack system looks like a wide crack but it isn't. It is just a little flared and there are solid hand jams inside the crack. It is about 5.9 with a wild exit through the last eight feet to the top of the block. Due to a couple of miscalculations we ended up climbing the sequence from the roof to the top of the block system in three pitches, which is unnecessary, especially with a 60 meter rope system. Unfortunately, the summit is not at the end of this pitch and one blocky 5.6/7 pitch followed by two low fifth class pitches or a sequence of simul-climbing are needed to get to the summit. Yuk. We were off the summit by about 6 PM and back at Iceberg Lake by about 8 PM. While we had Startrekkin' to ourselves, there was another pair of Southern California dudes about 20 feet to our left on a route called Bloody Corner. These guys got WORKED and I would have felt sorry for them if it wasn't so funny listening to all the hollering.

The next morning, Sunday, two geezers looked at each other and tried to decide which route to climb that day. Oh, sorry, that was Alexey and me. We decided that getting a butt whupping on Western Front, 5.10c, was not in the cards and decided to climb the Mithril Dihedral instead. Back up over the Whitney-Russell Col and chug, chug, chug, to the South Face of Russell again. I am on a first name basis with every rock on this col. Anyway, zoom, zoom, and back up the first two pitches, right turn to the base of the dihedral, set a belay and stall for about an hour waiting for the party above to figure out the third pitch. Rats. They figured it out and started moving and Alexey lead off and climbed about 170-180 feet to set a nice belay just to the left of the crack system on a narrow ledge. This is a fair amount of tough climbing. The first half is pretty mellow but after exiting the narrow squeeze chimney it is pretty sustained for about 40 feet. This is rated 5.9 but is probably the most sustained 5.9 I have ever seen. The next pitch is pretty easy except for a wild exit to the top of a ledge. This is also about 5.9, supposedly. The next pitch is a variation of the blocky 5.6/7 pitch from the top of Startrekkin' and the last two low fifth class pitches are repeated. Yuk again. We were on the summit by about 6 PM and back in camp by 8 PM. I would rate this route 5.10a because of the sustained nature of the third pitch.

Monday Morning we hiked out after leisurely packing and watching the three plus parties on the East Buttress get started, the three plus parties on the East Face get started, and the Mountaineers Route conga line get started. All this on a Monday. Wow.

The traffic in and out of the North Fork has certainly increased dramatically over the years. While the trail marking is one sign, the request by the Forest Service to "voluntarily" pack out your poop is another sign. They are now providing a package system, shall we say, to facilitate this. One trip to Iceberg Lake will convince you of the wisdom in doing this, there are fossilized "muffins" all over the place there, some of them not even buried under rocks. Yuk yet again. While it is annoying to have lightened the food bag by eating all that food only to have to carry approximately the same weight back out in a, uh, "converted form", it does make for some entertaining conversation. Whilst hiking back out, poop bag attached to the back of the pack, the chance encounter with an attractive member of the opposite sex, no doubt smelling of high dollar fabric softener, would by necessity have to go like this: "Hi, how are you? Where are you heading? Which route are you doing? And, uh, please ignore the glowing plastic bag with the green vapors roiling off it and stinking worse than a Tydee-Dydee dirty diaper pick up van with a broken air conditioner on a hot July afternoon." Not a karmic moment, trust me on this.

Final Notes:

Mt Russell has a lot of interesting and fun back country technical routes. Startrekkin' and the Mithril Dihedral are just two of them. They are both about 5.10a. Starrtrekkin' is probably a little harder technically but not super sustained and Mithril Dihedral is straightforward but very sustained finger locking and hand jamming. Mithril Dihedral has a wide section which can be climbed with a few off width tricks but there is a second hidden crack on the right wall which makes the entire route much more manageable and protectable. Both routes should go in four pitches of the fun stuff followed by the aforementioned uninteresting pitches. We used a double 60 meter rope system in the event of bad weather and the rack consisted of a set of stoppers, single black and blue alien, double alien sizes from green to red, triple sizes camalot from .75 to one, double #2 camalot, and a single #3 and #3.5 camalot. Both crack systems are finger and hand size extensive. The #3 was handy and we placed the #3.5 somewhere but I can't remember where. There are no bolted belays or other fixed gear.

The descent is as follows. Heading back towards the east summit try and stay as close to the top of the ridge as possible. This won't be possible for the first 150 feet or so but it is easy to get right back on the ridge. Along this ridge is a gap which appears to go nowhere. Go through this gap and keep looking ahead. This should bring you to a fourth class down climb which is pretty solid and drops you onto the scree slope to the east of the Fishhook Arete. This down climb is usually marked by a reasonably sized cairn.

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