Mount Russell, CA – November assault on Mt. Russell via Mithril Dihedral Jump to Things to Know │ Route Beta Photos Mt. Russell is one of fifteen 14ers in California and is about one mile north of the 400′ taller, tourist abused Mt. Whitney. Mt. Russell offers up some stellar crack climbs at an asphyxiating [...]
Mount Russell, CA – November assault on Mt. Russell via Mithril Dihedral
Mt. Russell is one of fifteen 14ers in California and is about one mile north of the 400′ taller, tourist abused Mt. Whitney. Mt. Russell offers up some stellar crack climbs at an asphyxiating elevation, one of which is the perfect granite dihedral begging for you to shove your hands in, Mithril Dihedral (5.9).
What some would consider to be out of season, a mid-November attempt up this bad boy is not for the faint of heart. The climb itself is not so much of a challenge as is the approach – 6 glorious miles and 4,000′ of elevation gain via the Mountaineers Route, an approach with somewhat limiting red tape (see Things to Know). In mid-November, there is this pesky element involved, snow. Not just a little snow, but an average of two feet of unconsolidated post-holing goodness. What better conditions for an alpine climb?
Our plan of attack for successfully climbing Mt. Russell via Mithril Dihedral in winter conditions was as follows:
- Day One – Suck it up and post-hole your heart out for six miles up the Mountaineers Route to Iceberg Lake (12,240′). Acclimating by crashing at Whitney Portal (8,360′) the night before makes this a bit more bearable. Count your sheep at Iceberg Lake.
- Day Two – Rise and shine. Hump the Whitney-Russell saddle to the west of Iceberg and continue to the south side of Mt. Russell where Mithril Dihedral will lure you in. Climb, descend, pack up camp and giddy up back to Whitney Portal.
All went according to plan, less our camping locale on Day One. About a half mile shy of Iceberg Lake, our lazy start time led to a daylight shortage and we called it quits for the night. We underestimated the energy draining power of trekking through miles of fresh snow.
Feeling all the more wiser the next morning, we left relatively early for the south side of Mt. Russell – arriving at noon to take advantage of sunlight on route.
The sirens of Mithril Dihedral encouraged us to quickly rack up. The first two pitches of Mithril are 5.7 and 5.8 respectively and can be linked by simul-climbing with conservative gear placement. Nothing too exciting until the next two pitches, both a sustained 5.9 perfect hand crack with an exciting offwidth section and a perfect layback exit. The next two pitches are mid class five with a class four scramble to the summit. The snow and ice on these lower class moves spiced it up a bit. We busted out our headlamps for the final push to summit and topped out around 6pm.
That warm fuzzy feeling from topping out on Russell in less than ideal conditions quickly faded while negotiating the snow-filled gully descent. About two hours and a few improptu rappels later, we were safely back to the base of the route where we grabbed our packs and booked it. Exhausted, starving and dehydrated we were thankful for our hard work of breaking trail earlier in the day and carefully retraced our footsteps back to our campsite beyond Iceberg Lake. It was now 10pm (significantly later than we anticipated) and my climbing partner had to be at work in 7 hours. The drive home from the trailhead is at least four hours and we still had the tedious task of packing up camp and melting snow to hydrate for the descent (I think we were both functioning off a shared 1L of water the entire day).
We were off to the races at 11pm and went as fast as our little legs could carry us down the snow buried mountaineers route. 2 hours and 48 mins later, we were back at our car with only 3 hours to get my climbing partner to work. None of this really mattered now – we were all smiles after pulling off this epic climbing trip. We drove and drove until our car broke down, 160 miles away from our destination. No work was to be had, it simply wasn’t meant to be.
The crux of this climb turned out to be a slew of tow truck lifts and roadside mac and cheese binges. Twelve hours after leaving the mountain I was finally home. Too excited to catch up on the missed night of sleep, I basqued in the glory of our accomplishments. What an amazing trip.
A special thanks to David, for not only being the best climbing partner but also a very talented photographer.
- Access: May 1st – November 1st you need a permit. If planning ahead isn’t your style, you can try to get one on a walk-in basis for free otherwise it’s a $15 fee for a lottery based reserved permit. For details on procuring a permit, click here.
- Recommended Guidebook: The Good, the Great, and the Awesome: The Top 40 High Sierra Rock Climbs by Peter Croft.
- Water: Plenty, but treat it.
Location: Mount Russell – Lone Pine, Ca