The Russell Project — Page 7

Russell's East Ridge - Exposure

Two Summits

Given the considerable energy—both mental and physical—we've expended to get this far, it would be nice if all the difficulties were past. This, of course, is not the case.

Mount Russell has two summits, east and west. To get to the higher west summit, we must travel yet another exposed ridge. Unlike the somewhat-friendly East Ridge, this short but savage little summit traverse demands a bit of extra caution.

Climbing the East Ridge Mount Russell & Mount Whitney's North Face Traversing Russell's North Face Mount Russell's West Summit

Finishing up the last of the East Ridge Route, we make quick work of the east summit's headwall.

Just like that, we're standing atop the East Summit, basking in 14,000-foot Sierra sunshine.

The view to the south is dominated by Mount Whitney, whose North Face towers nearly five hundred feet higher.

We will head south toward Whitney and Iceberg Col for our descent today, making a grand loop, but first we must reach Russell's true summit to the west.

And so, on to the not-quite-last of today's technical challenges: the summit ridge traverse.

Remaining topside on this narrow, exposed ridge requires one to execute a few high-pressure moves at one troublesome block in particular.

As an alternative, it is possible to scramble down and to the north, onto Russell's North Face, traversing ledges until you've passed the problematic block.

This is the option we choose. Aside from a few modest route finding challenges, it presents only modest difficulties—though, as you may have guessed, the relative sense of exposure remains high.

In the lead, I traverse a bit west of the true summit, then backtrack up, climbing easy rock to find myself on top of Mount Russell at last.

Bob and Hugh aren't far behind. We congratulate each other on a successful summit. Speaking of summits, Russell's apex is little more than a small pile of granite blocks overlooking the sheer south face. Just beyond that lip of rock lie a few of the Sierra's best rock climbs, including the Fishhook Arete and the Mithril Dihedral.

We rest, briefly, atop the summit, enjoying the views. It would be nice to stretch out on these warm, sunny blocks of granite and take a quick nap, as the combination of exposure, altitude, and effort has clearly taken its toll on all of us. But our fatigue, plus the ever-darkening clouds, is all the more reason not to linger.

I suggest that now is the time to resume our journey, and off we go, repeating the North Face traverse in reverse to get back to the saddle between East and West summits—and the last (hopefully!) of the day's technical challenges.

next: The South Face Downclimb

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