The Russell Project — Page 6

Russell's East Ridge - Exposure

Embracing Exposure

Russell's East Ridge may be the easiest route to the peak's summit—but that doesn't mean it's easy (Secor's assessment notwithstanding).

We now reach the meat of the climb. The ridge narrows and the exposure sharpens. Our elevation— just under 14,000'—is also making itself known, fueling both exhaustion and paranoia. The ridge's narrowness permits unobstructed views of the abyss directly to our south. It's been there all along, of course, but until now the drop has been hidden.

Climbing the East Ridge Mount Russell - the Rolloff Andrew Lewicky and East Ridge The Crux

Faced with thousand-foot drops off each shoulder, the brain struggles to make sense of this vertically-oriented landscape.

Consequently, our sense of balance is impaired, putting a slight totter in our steps.

Meanwhile I scramble about, camera in hand, like a photographically-inclined mad scientist, looking to capture the best possible angle.

The climbing here is occasionally tricky, though not exactly difficult.

There are bold steps to be taken, a reach for a hold here and there, blocks to scale or bypass.

All of these moves happen in close if not exactly dire proximity to huge expanses of open air, which certainly keep the pulse racing.

Puffy clouds have sprouted up above several nearby summits, white against the brilliant blue of the Sierra sky.

The clouds will bear watching, though as yet they hold no threat.

Meanwhile, my companions Bob and father Hugh seem simultaneously impressed with the spectacle of this marvelous ridge—and eager to leave it for solid ground.

I can't blame them.

The East Ridge makes for an overwhelming experience, as inspiring views swirl with ever-present dangers.

Should we be elated or terrified? Or both, simultaneously?

The crux of the route arrives: a traverse astride the very top of the ridge, which narrows to a two or three foot wide block of talus.

Certainly, our nervous systems will be jangling for a while when this adventure is over.

We cautiously continue past this narrow section, which in truth marks the end of the East Ridge. Mt. Russell's east summit is now less than a hundred yards distant.

A few tricky sections of climbing remain ahead, though these are unrelated to the ridge.

Ahead, we have only to scramble up a short, broken headwall to gain Russell's lower, eastern summit. A short way beyond that (plus a menacing little traverse which we'll keep secret for now) and we'll be atop the mountain for good.

next: Two Summits

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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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