Mt. Russell / Fishhook Arete

29 Jul 2000 - by Scott Tillman

(Elevations, distances, and grades are approximate. The route we took may not be exactly the "standard" route.)


Approach: From Whitney Portal (8400'), follow the Mt. Whitney trail. After approx. 30-40 minutes take the N. Fork Lone Pine Creek trail. Continue up, crossing the creek twice (the higher crossing passes left-to-right just below a 10' high water fall). Follow ledges up and right then switchback left and along the base of a wall for another (approx) mile or so to Lower Boy Scout Lake (~10350'). Continue to Upper Boy Scout Lake (~11350') and on to Iceberg Lake (~12500') and camp. From camp follow a faint train over loose scree to the Whitney-Russell saddle aiming for the portion of the saddle closest to Whitney (~13050', 1/2 mile). Continue to the base of the Fishhook Arete to rope up (~13050', 1/2 mile).


  1. A number of ways to start are possible. We started at the very base of the toe of the Arete, perhaps 30' up on it's right side. From here an obvious ledge leads a few feet to the left and then directly up (4th class) where there is a good place to rope up. (60M)
  2. The route followed along the left side and below the arete in left leaning blocky granite. The moves are somewhat awkward and pro less than 3" is solid. (5.7, 60M)
  3. Continue along the west side (left) of the arete through some hard sections to a small notch on the arete and good belay. Possibly staying higher on the arete is easier. Steep, left leaning face and cracks - hard climbing (felt like 10's with a pack). Larger pieces (3") were useful here. (5.9+, some aid, 55M).
  4. Climb on the arete 30M to a fixed stopper and rap/lower 5-10M down (or downclimb, 5.7+) into the large notch and belay. (5.6, 40M).
  5. Climb up a (fun!) face with good cracks and features, past ledges to a good belay. (5.8, 50M).
  6. Continue on through easy & fun cracks to more good belay ledges. (5.8, 30M).
  7. This was possibly the crux, with a 20' high wide chimney section. Fun with good pro (2"-3") in deep cracks. More cracks and ledges above lead to a good belay. (5.8 or 5.9, 50M).
  8. Climb over easy ground staying on the right side of the arete. Near the end of the pitch climb back up onto the arete at a notch and belay. (5.4, 50M).
  9. Drop down 20' on the west side of the arete and then follow easy ledges up to the summit. (3rd/4th class, 100M)

Descent: After topping out, follow the ridge east for 200'. Drop 50' down on the left (north) side of it and continue another few hundred feet and then climb back up to the ridge somewhat past the second summit (not very obvious). The trail drops over the crest and through a distinct notch with cairns where 3rd/4th class moves (easier than they look) lead to a long loose gully. Retrace trail back to the Whitney/Russell saddle, over it and then to camp.

Notes: This was a fun route with moderate exposure, good pro and great alpine feel. Fun climbing especially on the middle pitches. The route was a bit cold since the sun didn't hit it until later in the day (unlike the E. Face of Whitney) and it was somewhat exposed to south / west winds. Even with sun it didn't warm up too much. We took one set of stoppers plus extra mid sizes, and one set of cams from 1/2" to a #3 Camalot. Extra 1" to 3" pieces will probably be useful for most, particularly if using a 60M rope. When roping up I was surprised to find an extra #3 Camalot on the rack (that's why my pack seemed so heavy!), but it was good fortune because we used the extra piece on every pitch. Low temps at night were maybe 30's and warming to maybe 50's+ (?) during the day. The East Face of Whitney was sunny about 6:20 AM. The atmosphere was hazy and smokey from fires to the south near/in Sequoia Nat. Park.

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