The Russell Project — Page 2

Mount Whitney and the Mountaineer's Route

Stars and Science

‘Close your Eyes’, I warn. Pop goes my Casio's flash and we're underway, starting from the Whitney Portal trailhead. It is dark and chilly, five a.m.

To reach Mount Russell's East Ridge, we will travel up the Mount Whitney Trail and then the lower Mountaineer's Route en route to Upper Boy Scout Lake. From there, it will be a long slog up the sand and talus of Mount Carillon's South Face, eventually leading to Russell-Carillon Col and the start of the East Ridge climbing route.

Whitney Trailhead The North Fork of Lone Pine Creek Ebersbacher Ledges

I make the case for keeping our headlamps off, and Hugh is easy to persuade: without lights, we are able to see the full glory of the stars overhead.

But it is dark on this moonless night, making the footing a little precarious even on the broad expanse of the Mount Whitney Trail.

For this problem Hugh has brought an elegant solution: a red pen light which puts a gentle glow on the trail without tripping up our night vision.

The sky tonight is ablaze with stars—a feast for eyes accustomed to an urban orange mush.

Still, I'm looking forward to the arrival of the sun.

Bob and I debate the relative differential in time between sunrise at our altitude and Lone Pine below.

No slouch in the science department himself, Bob calculates the extra distance to the horizon as a function of elevation.

Moments later, he's deduced, given our present perch of approximately 9000 feet, that we will see the sun exactly thirty seconds before the residents of Lone Pine, CA (if they're watching).

Hmm...that doesn't sound right to either Bob or me.

What went wrong with the calculations, we wonder?

Hugh of course has been lurking in the wings, and he now enters the conversation, deftly noting that Bob has forgotten—Doh!—to account for the fact that the Earth is round.

This is the peril of having a bona fide scientist along for the ride: he or she will with ruthless efficiency pop whatever balloon of an idea you happen to be entertaining at any given moment.

Ah, well, we youngsters can always push the pace a bit, thus enacting some small measure of revenge. The sky begins to lighten as the sun begins its entrance, elevation offset unknown, and we cross back across Lone Pine Creek toward the Ebersbacher Ledges.

I've timed our arrival to coincide with the sunrise, thus assuring we won't be scrambling about on the exposed ledges in the dark. Soon enough we're past the ledges and then past the lower North Fork canyon itself, next stop Upper Boy Scout Lake and places beyond.

next: Mount Carillon's South Face

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.