The Russell Project — Page 4

Russell-Carillon Pass


Even the delights of endless talus must, alas, subside, and after many rest stops and much grinding we eventually crest the chute we've been slogging up.

Enter a refreshingly flat section on the south flanks of Carillon, reminiscent of Langley's sandy high-altitude 'beach'—and enter the East Ridge.

Mount Russell's East Ridge springs abruptly into view, offering a preview of adventures soon to come. At first, we are only able to see Russell's southeast face, which is of course a sheer drop of vast distance.

Below Russell-Carillon Pass Mount Russell - East Ridge Tulainyo Lake

As we traverse beneath Mount Carillon's summit, however, we are gradually allowed to see the opposite side of the East Ridge.

The north side of the ridge appears to be a smooth slab of granite that rolls ever so elegantly off to infinity.

Some have described it as a giant bathtub rim.

As an alternative metaphor, imagine a massive, impossibly-steep wave that is in the act of breaking.

The back of the wave rounds smoothly at its apex but plunges downward ferociously, soon reaching an angle of 90°.

The front of the wave seems to arch over itself, the lip a tangled mass of gleaming Sierra granite caught in the act of beginning to curl.

Now make that wave 1800 vertical feet high.

With each step, Mount Russell's East Ridge seems to grow steeper and narrower, hyper-real, as if someone has dialed up the vertical exaggeration in Google Earth to make the image pop.

And—best of all—I and my companions are now contemplating that ridge, wondering how on Earth we're going to climb up it with only hands and feet and nerve.

Words and photos will only go so far here: this is one heck of ridge.

The sight brings a certain nervous energy to our endeavor—a veil of apprehension swirling about the subconscious. Not much farther, we gain the saddle of Russell-Carillon Col, elevation 13,260'. Peering over the edge of the ridge here treats us to a view of Tulainyo Lake, which at 12,825' is the highest permanent lake in the United States.

We are also afforded the opportunity to contemplate the route ahead, which looks quite frankly to be utterly impassible without technical rock climbing equipment. Hugh and Bob eye the ridge doubtfully as I point out the seemingly-minuscule crack system we'll follow along its exposed north slabs.

This is part of the genius of the East Ridge: despite its formidable appearance, it is indeed a Class 3 route—at least in terms of actual climbing difficulty. But be advised that Class 3 rating doesn't tell the whole story, as I and my companions will soon discover.

next: The Climb Begins

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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.

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