It was Mike's first PCS trip and first East Side trip so we felt compelled to stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli, Mobil Station to make sure Mike would get the full experience of what an East Side trip ought to be. On Saturday, we first weighed our bags at the Whitney Portal scale for fun. There was quite a difference in weight from Kelly's 25 lbs pack to Alex's 40 lbs pack, which got us all hopeful we would be invited to Alex's 10 course dinner...
The trail up the N. Fork is great and we got to Upper Boy Scout around lunch time. We talked to a couple climbers who were just back from Russell's East Ridge. They told us they had to turn back because they had reached the limit of their comfort zone. We tried not to let this spook us; but we had a good understanding in the group that anyone should be free to stop and wait if they reached their limit on the climb.
Since it was early, Kelly managed to convince, Mike and Stephane, to check out nearby Thor Peak. From UBS, we gained the small lake NW of Thor and went up the drainage for ~200 yards until we could see a way to climb the ridge referred to as pinnacle ridge on the 7.5' topo. Pinnacle ridge is west of Thor. We found an access to the ridge via a wide chimney which required an easy class 3 move at the start. The chimney is located near the R in Pinnacle Ridge on the above mentioned map. Once on the ridge, we headed east for Thor. The ridge started as an easy walk but eventually turned into a class 4 affair 100 yards before the summit. Kelly and Mike persevered and reached the summit. Stephane down-climbed and went to explore the couloir on the right (east) side of Thor. This ended up being an easy class 2 walk to the summit and our choice for the return trip. We got back to camp at 6pm, our afternoon stroll had turned out more exciting than we thought
On Sunday, we left camp at 5:50am for Russell. We chose the scree slope and followed a well traveled trail which was fairly easy walking. We gained the foot of the ridge, and following the recommendation of previous trip leaders, I (Stephane) went up the ridge directly without spending too much time looking over how bad the exposure was. We made good time on the ridge, staying mostly on the right side. Tulaynio Lake below us was still frozen. We quickly reached the crux where one has to walk on a short 3-4 feet wide catwalk. This did not feel that bad because it is short and plenty wide. Our entire group of 6 held their own and everyone reached the top around 9:50am, which made me look good () since I had told them it would take us ~4 hours to the top. The ridge descent felt easier than the way up. Overall, the exposure was not as bad as people say. This group rated the exposure as medium.
We had a quick walk down to UBS, followed by the steep 2.5 mile/3000' descent to Whitney Portal. By the way, the ledges part of the trail has actually a fairly exposed section where the one foot wide trail is right next to a dropping slab. Walk slowly there when you have a full pack.
Guess where we stopped for dinner on the way home?
Trip stats: Saturday: started Whitney Portal; 8:45am, reached UBS 12:00. Left for Thor at 2pm and returned at 6pm Sunday: left UBS 5:50am, top of Scree slope 7:30am, summit 9:50am, returned to UBS 12:30