Mt. Russell, East Ridge day hike

11 Sep 2004 - by Zander Brennen

We decided to day hike Mt. Russell. A few years ago I would not have thought this possible for me but better fitness and the lure of small packs led to a change of perspective. This would be my first time above 11,500 feet this year. I've struggled with altitude on my first couple of trips each summer. My new neighbor at work, who guided for Mountain Travel for many years, told me he would give his clients Diamox and it works every time so I decided to try it. I took one 250 mg pill on Thursday Night and another Saturday Morning at 2 AM.

There were three of us. Arturo who has experience on snow at 14,000 to 17,000 ft. but not so much on class three rock. Greg, who has 30 years of experience on snow, ice and rock. I was just hoping to keep up. Originally, we were going to do an exploratory dayhike up the route Saturday and then the whole climb on Sunday but then Greg had to be at work Monday morning so we changed the climb to Saturday.

The three of us were planning to meet at 5:00 on Friday after work at my house in Berkeley. Unfortunately, one of the guys had a computer problem that had to be solved and he couldn't get away from work until late. We left Berkeley a little before 8:00. Consequently we didn't get to sleep until 2:30 at the Whitney Portal trailhead parking lot. As we went to sleep the first climbers were just starting off for Mt. Whitney.

We got up at 5:00 and were hiking by 5:30. All around us in the parking lot people were climbing out of there vehicles or starting up the trail. Probably 30 people or more. We hiked up the shortcut that Croft mentions in his guidebook. Just like he says it starts behind the large boulder at the end of the parking lot. It is a well built trail I assume built before the current Whitney Trail. The trail up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek is completely obvious. If you have the Supertopo description you almost can't go wrong. Somewhere below the Ebersbacher Ledges the sun came up. I love having the sun come up when you're in a beautiful place you've never been before. The ledges are fun. Afterward the valley slowly opens up as you climb with increasing and incredible views of Mt. Whitney and Keeler Needle. Lower Boyscout Lake is a beautiful little lake/meadow oasis. At the inlet side, the creek washes down over cool slabs. We filtered water at the top of the slabs before we headed up the scree slopes. The scree slopes are as bad as they say. I tried to stay on rock as much as possible no matter if that made the distance quite a bit longer. Arturo had hiking poles which seemed to help in the loose stuff. We were behind a party of four. About half way up the 3/4 mile slope we passed one of them who had had enough. Toward the top we kept to the left and went up a rock chute. You go up the chute and then up and right. It was so nice to be on rock. There are a few easy class 3 moves in the upper chute. We ended up 50 yards left of the main trail in the scree.

We took a break and enjoyed the views of Whitney, Muir, and so many other peaks all around. The East Ridge of Mt. Russell stands out as a steep point as well. It is basically level at this point and slowly rises as you stroll on over to the Russell/Corillian Col. At the Col you look down on beautiful Tulainyo Lake. Interestingly, the lake appears to have no outlet. Water must seep out after a rising to a certain point. We unloaded everything from our daypacks that we hoped we wouldn't need for the climb to the summit. From the Col you look up to a high point on the ridge. More and more clouds had been forming as the day progressed. Greg and I had been forced off a climb a few weeks earlier by thunder, lighting and hail so in the interest of speed we took the easiest path we could find during the climb instead of staying right on the ridge. We stayed mostly down off the ridge a little on the right side. As we approached the first high point we passed another climber descending. Soon after we stopped to chat with the two last climbers ahead of us. They had just turned back as the climbing got harder and the exposure increased. They were in good spirits but had reached the limit of their comfort zone.

The next section is where the climbing gets to class 3 and the exposure gets huge. Its fantastic. Mostly the hand holds are good. However there are a few "cruxes" where you climb down and around balancy corners with tricky hand holds but good feet. There is one places where you walk along a flat block that drops off on both sides! Soon we were on the East Summit. It took about 20 minutes of easier scrambling to reach the West Summit. I was feeling great, the Diamox experiment was a success. We stayed about 25 minutes taking pictures and eating lunch before I started to worry about the weather and we headed down. I started to feel the altitude about the time we started down the scree slopes. A short cat nap while the guys filtered water revived me. Only a few rain drops fell near Lower Buy Scout Lake. We made it back to the car in time for burgers, fries and beer at the Portal Store.

Time Line

Steve Eckert comments:

BEWARE! Diamox can cause allergic reactions in people who don't tolerate sulfa drugs. It also can interact with other drugs to produce side effects like coma and death. It has caused birth defects in lab animals. It's really dangerous to use prescription drugs without your personal physician's review. I use Diamox all the time but I won't give it to anyone who doesn't have a prescription.

For quotes from a reference manual see http://climber.org/gear/diamox.html

Glad it worked for you. Still a good idea to ask your doctor!

Bob Bynum comments:

Congratulations on summitting Russell as a day hike. This was a real grind.

Last year I did this on a climb led by Kai Weidman and Cecil Anison. We backpacked to Upper Boy Scout Lake, camped, and then climbed the next day. The backpack up and back was a real grind and summitting was very exposed in several places.

Climbing this peak is a real accomplishment.

Jim Ramaker comments:

Michael Bratkowski:  Has anyone tried Ginko Biloba for Altitude sickness?

I've been using it on climbing trips for years. My anecdotal, non-scientific observation is that it increases my endurance a bit and has no side effects.

Of course, it could be the PowerBars.

Craig NoLastName replies:

I've used it. I've gone from roughly sea level to over 10,000 ft. in 2 days or less several times with no altitude related problems (aside from the pack getting heavier and my feet moving slower of course ). No headaches or nausea. While that isn't a particularly extreme difference and I'm an experiment of one, there doesn't seem to be any reported negative effects of taking Ginko so I'll use it again.


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