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Mount Russell East Ridge in Winter?


Original Post
Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 266

I'm trying to get some information on climbing Mount Russell via the East Ridge during mid-January. A friend and I are planning to climb Whitney via the MR which seems to be pretty common during that time. However, I can't seem to find any reports about Russell during that time of the year. Do additional objective hazards make it considerably more dangerous than the MR in the winter?

Thanks!

GDavis · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 10

From what I understand the slope above upper boy scout can be extremely unstable, a young strong climber was killed in an avalanche a year or two ago right there. Doable for sure, but take care crossing that and be prepared for icy conditions once you are on the ridge.

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 266

Thanks GDavis, that does not sound ideal.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

How much further is the hike when the gate on the road is closed? In other words, how far would you need to hike just to get to Whitney Portal?

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 266
FrankPS wrote:How much further is the hike when the gate on the road is closed? In other words, how far would you need to hike just to get to Whitney Portal?
To be honest, I am not really sure. However, climbing Whitney during the winter is pretty standard - there are even a lot of guided ascents during this period. I haven't too much research on the tail access, but I am sure there is a known solution.
C Brooks · · Fresno, CA · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 551

The road closure is just a pylon. As long as the snow level is not high, you can drive to the TH. If the snow level is high, or if a storm is coming in, you will have to hike in, greatly extending the approach.

However, the Whitney group seems to get far less snow than further north, so if its a normal (i.e. drought) snow year, trailhead access will not be a problem

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,674

Much of the upper section of the Whitney Portal road faces SouthEast (smart design choice) so it melts off quickly. The final section to the trailhead is gentle, so even with snow (or unremoved rockfall), it's unlikely that you're going to walk extra more than an easy mile.

mid-January is prime time for Avalanche hazard (Temperature Gradient mode). The slope below Russell-Carillon pass is likely angle (35-40 degrees, so not too gentle and not too steep) for big avalanches. On the other hand it faces SouthEast so perhaps its snowpack could consolidate with a few days both warm and sunny.

Climbing the rock of the East ridge of Mt Russell is not really that interesting - (perhaps more so with snow on it?)

The guidebook authors who say it's the "best scramble you'll ever do" seem not to have done much scrambling around the Eastside Sierra (perhaps too busy on important multi-pitch routes). And surely have not done much high-mountain scrambling in Europe.

East Ridge is good if you need to "check off" Mt Russell on your Sierra peak-bagging list, but for interesting fun exposed scrambing the Happy Cowboy edge traverse is way better (and on a more important "check off" peak).

If you're a climber and feel you need to do the East Ridge of Russell (other than as a descent from Mithral or Fishhook), then at least add sections of the three ridges on Mt Carillon. And perhaps the N ridge of Russell (and Lake Tulainyo and Cleaver Col?).

Ken

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 310

I have never been there in winter, but my friend, who climbs all sorts of big climbs in the Sierra solo reported this: "The 3rd class chimney was full of loose unconsolidated snow.... I tossed a rock into it to see if it would stay in place.... the rock ripped through the unconsolidated snow and went sailing out the bottom of the chimney, where it fell about 3,000 feet to the rocks below... so I turned around...."

but every year things change.

Good luck

GDavis · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 10

What chimney? What three thousand foot drop? Maybe 400-500 on the steepest sections to the talus... hell mithril dihedral is like 600 feet long.

Ryan Huetter · · Mammoth Lakes, CA · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 255

The East Ridge is a more difficult winter climb than the MR. The difficulties of the MR are lessened with the addition of snow, and those on Russell are accentuated. The harder climbing on the East Ridge is slabby rock that may or may not have snow on it. Easy ledge traversing on a sidewalk in summer becomes something much more time consuming, especially considering then wanting to descend the South slopes and return to camp via Whitney-Russel Col rather than reverse the route back to UBSL.

Long story short, yes, possible, have done it in winter months, though not in the same category of outing as the MR.

Ryan Huetter · · Mammoth Lakes, CA · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 255

Also, to the above avalanche comments,
-the avy fatality was further south, in the Meyaan Lakes drainage, early season windslab combined with terrain trap.
-whether or not January is ";;prime avalanche conditions";; is not something easily forecasted months out, as is predicting the basis for this instability.

Snowpack and weather (the basis for avalanche conditions) are dynamic and ever changing. That ESAC does not issue a forecast that includes the Whitney Zone means that you need to be able to make some of those decisions without a daily avy forecast.
- if you're going up the north fork in Jan, regardless of objective, you should have a good sense of how to identify red flags in weather and snowpack, carry and know how use avy rescue equipment (level 1 AIARE course)

Have fun/ it's a lot more peaceful up there in the winter, just not a lot of daylight to get things done.

Kristian Solem · · Monrovia, CA · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 355

"The 3rd class chimney was full of loose unconsolidated snow.... I tossed a rock into it to see if it would stay in place.... the rock ripped through the unconsolidated snow and went sailing out the bottom of the chimney, where it fell about 3,000 feet to the rocks below... so I turned around...."

Guy is referring to the very last bit of the climb. When I was up there it was all spindrift. Unjustifiable, as the Brits would say. Turned back with the summit right there.

All the way up to there was beautiful, although I can see how that slope above upper boy scout could be shaky. I hit it on a good day.

Funny, there were a couple guys just waking up camped by upper boy scout when I got there. They said they tried Russel the day before, but turned around just below the summit. I said maybe I'd change my plans, but they said not to. "Go for it, were just soft." Well I didn't think traversing the ridge then was "soft", and that last bit was out of the question. Good fun though. Carillon makes an okay boobie prize.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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