Mt Russell
(Mithral Dihedral)

17 Aug 2001 - by Rick Booth

The drive to the Whitney Portal trailhead was long as usual. This time route 120 was closed through the Tuolumne because of rock fall on the Tioga road but going through the Tuolumne is only marginally faster to get to Lone Pine than driving south through Bakersfield and Tehachipi. Thursday morning, August 16, Jim Curl and I headed up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek trail. The hike was leisurely and we amused ourselves by telling each other of the numerous ways we have screwed up the hike up this canyon. These days the trail is so well worn it would be difficult to repeat these moronic mistakes. Indeed, with the popularity of the East Face routes and the availability of guides in the area the trail is very well used.

Friday morning we headed up towards the Whitney-Russell col and hiked over to the Southwest side of Mt Russell. Our goal was to climb the Mithral Dihedral. This route starts about 150 feet left of the base of the Fish Hook Arete. The upper dificult pitches are dead obvious standing under the route so not even I could screw up the start to this route. Jim and I roped up and Jim lead off on the first pitch through a

broken area vaguely in line with the upper dihedral. This goes about 5.6/5.7 and ends at a small platform on the right after about 150 feet. For the second pitch there were two options. The first would require downclimbing off the platform a few feet in order to get back into the dihedral or go straight up the cracks just above the belay. The first choice guaranteed a bunch of rope drag so I went up the cracks and after

80 feet or so moved back into the dihedral and went up to the absolute very bottom of the 5.9 dihedral. This pitch was about 5.7/5.8. This put us at the top of the little sloping ramp indicated in the Sierra Classics topo. There is a lower belay spot that may have been more comfortable but it appeared to be two loose rocks sort of wedged in together. There is a rappel sling around one but the block appeared so loose I didn't even touch either block moving around them. Scary. Sitting at the base of the dihedral is a tad uncomfortable.

The next pitch is the crux of the climb and essentially goes straight up the dihedral. The is a spectacular pitch in an outstanding alpine location. Jim lead up the pitch, through the squeeeze chimney, and past the chimney about 20 to 30 feet set a hanging belay. This pitch was about 140 to 150 feet. If the belay at the bottom of the dihedral was unpleasant this one was worse. This pitch is no harder than 5.9 but is about as continuous a pitch as I have seen in a long time. The only rest comes when wedged into the squeeze chimney. There is a small crack on the right hand wall of the chimney that will take small cams and the occaisional stopper but it is a straight sided crack and has a bunch of lichen in it. Using this crack does help immensely in getting up the squeeze chimney. The next pitch is also 5.9 but is a little less demanding because there are the occaisional rests on this section. The crux is the exit from the crack and involves a wild move to the right to move through a broken area to a platform. This is also about 140 to 150 feet. It is important for the hanging belay to be set far enough past the squeeze chimney in order to make it to the ledge otherwise a second hanging belay would likely be needed if the ropes are 50 meters.

We parked ourselves on the ledge and had some lunch. The supposed fourth class section above this ledge started out at about 5.7. This is the "bonus pitch". We probably didn't find the easier fourth class stuff because the rest of the climbing until just below the summit involved some hard sections here and there. Oh well. Jim and I hung around the summit and chatted with a couple from the CMC who had come up the Fish Hook. In fact, there had been two teams on the Fish Hook that day. We headed down the ridge towards the South Face downclimb. It is fairly easy to find and appears to have two starts spaced about 20 feet apart. The start that Dee and I took last year is on a shallow low place on the ridge before a gendarme/tower and there is a small cairn marking the start but you can only see it if you peer over the edge. The other start is to the right and avoids the somewhat steepish fourth class part of the down climb. We headed down the scree and over the Whitney-Russell col.

The next day we hiked out. The weather was perfect and it would have been nice to stay and climb more but I was nursing a muscle tear in my back and I was already doing serious damage to the worlds ibuprofen supply.

Final Notes: This is a great route. If it was on a local crag easily reached from the road it would see lots of ascents. We used a double 50 meter rope system. It is unlikely that a 60 meter rope would have made the route go faster or easier. We also brought a double rack of cams up to size #3 camalot. This seemed like a lot but the combination of both belays needing pro and the long pitches resulted in a pretty depleted gear sling once the second belay had been set. There is no need for anything bigger than the #3 camalot. The rack also included a bunch of stoppers. It seemed we didn't use the very small ones at all.

Guide books and further reading:

Climbing California's Fourteeners, Stephen F. Porcella and Cameron M. Burns, The Mountaineers, 1998, ISBN 0-89886-555-7. This describes about all of the routes on Russell and has a pretty good description of the route including a picture. There is no topo. There is an earlier (much thinner) version of this book which will only contain the East Ridge Route (brought to you by the letter P).

Sierra Classics, 100 Best Climbs in the High Sierra, John Moynier and Claude Fiddler, Chockstone Press, 1993, ISBN 0-934641-60-9. May be out of print. This book contains a reasonable topo but the rest of the route description is poor.

The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes, and Trails, Second Edition, R.J. Secor, The Mountaineers, 1999, ISBN 0-89886-625-1. No topo and a fairly poor photo. This book contains a reasonably decent, if concise, route description, however the rating is wrong. The rating is listed as 5.10b and it is really only 5.9. Hard 5.9.


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