The Russell Project — Page 5

Russell's East Ridge

The Climb Begins

The terrain on Mount Russell's East Ridge is surprisingly varied, with dramatic but ever-changing sections that always keep you guessing as to what's coming up next.

The climb begins as we leave Russell-Carillon saddle and begin scrambling up steep talus blocks. This short section is pure scrambling, mixed with anticipation. We've been staring at Russell's spiny ridge for some time now—will a reasonable route materialize?

Climbing the East Ridge Climbing the East Ridge Mount Russell - East Ridge The Escalator The Escalator

The talus makes for a welcome warm up.

Soon, however, the ridge's steepness, narrowness, and exposure steadily increase.

Also increasing rapidly is our elevation, and with it the impact of the view off either shoulder.

Suddenly, it feels as though we've jumped atop the back of a giant Stegosaurus.

The talus blocks now form a 3-foot wide spine of broken blocks with don't-look-down drops to either side—and we've just barely gotten started.

Place your hands and feet carefully here.

This section makes for a few good wide-eyed scare-the-wife photos, reinforcing the reality that we're no longer scrambling—we're climbing now.

While it's an intense section of the ridge, it's also short-lived.

A hidden saddle materializes, providing a moment's respite, as well as a terrific perch from which to contemplate imminent challenges ahead.

My companions, who by now are quite reasonably wondering just what the heck I've gotten them into, begin asking me what lies ahead.

Given potentially delicate psyches, this is a tricky question, which I answer with a reassuring barrage of ambiguities.

Staring us in the face now is a section of slabs.

To the left, of course, is The Void, and we won't be going there.

However, to the right is also The Void, and we must now traverse smooth granite slabs above it which roll off to infinity in just the right way to evoke maximum menace.

But do not despair!

Cautious footwork ahead reveals a generous crack system that morphs into a bona-fide escalator, speeding nervous climbers upward in relative safety. To our left is a reassuring wall of granite which safely shields our eyes from sights of frights. This pattern, which repeats throughout the East Ridge route, does indeed delight the heart of a mountaineer:

The terrain presents a terrifying mixture of exposure and seemingly-impassible granite, only to reveal at the last moment a reasonable passage across.

In this manner, the East Ridge does manage to just eke out a deserved Class 3 rating—though the massive exposure and accompanying anxiety will surely make it feel otherwise. But perhaps we're making that assessment a little early. Coming up fast on the horizon are a few more surprises...

next: Embracing Exposure

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.