Fishhook Arete 5.9
Trip ReportFishhook Arete Attempt and Mt Russell Summit - Sept. 23, 2013
I had booked a back-country permit months in advance for the Whitney Mountaineering Route to climb Mt. Russell on Sept. 3rd this year (2013) via the West to East Ridge, a long-term goal of mine.
Sadly though, August 13, 2013 was tragic. My youngest (26 year old) son Matthew died suddenly in a 2-seat plane crash while working for PG&E as a pipeline observer. Even though we live in Northern California, we laid him to rest in Bishop at the East-line Cemetery. He loved to camp at the Pit and boulder at the Buttermilks. Matthew was my inspiration to take up rock climbing 6 years ago. He had worked at Touchstone Diablo (Concord CA) teaching kids to climb a few years ago.
After Matt’s death – I cancelled the original Sept. 3 Russell trip and focused on managing his affairs and spending time with my wife and 2 other children.
I’ve had a goal of climbing all of the 15 14k ft. mountains in California for many years. I started hiking and climbing relatively late in life (late 40’s) and unfortunately I have a relentless management job in high tech. I can only normally get in 1 or 2 High Sierra trips in per year at most. I had managed to do 9 of the 14ers in the last 8 - 9 years, as well as multi-pitch routes Half Dome - Snake Dike and Cathedral Peak climbs. My 14ers to date include;
White Mountain (easiest, by far – you can park at 12,000 ft.)
Mt. Langley (next easiest in my opinion – you can park at 10,000ft)
Mt. Whitney - Main Trail (easy, except this was before I started taking Diamox)
Mt. Muir (love the last – semi Class 4 section)
Split Mountain (views are epic - snowed on us in Sept.)
Mt. Tyndall (via North Rib, caught video of hikers on Whitney Summit)
Mt. Shasta (via Avalanche Gulch)
Mt. Sill (solo via Southwest Chute)
Mt. Williamson via George Creek (the most demanding/tiring in my opinion due to bushwhacking)
When it came to select the next 14er, Russell was solid choice. I have always admired the narrow East – West ridge-line, views of Whitney and Lake Tulainyo. I had one failed attempt a few years ago in bad weather.
I later re-planned my Russell trip, this time planning to use Jed Porter of Sierra Mountain Guides who I had met on Thunderbolt pass 3 years ago. Jed and his client had just come down from Thunderbolt peak down to Thunderbolt Pass. I admired his ability to get a client up and down Thunderbolt by mid-day.
I researched various routes and decided to climb Mt. Russell via the Fishhook Arête a 5.9 route, instead of the more traditional Class 3 ridge route originally planned.
I've never used a paid guide in California before (only on Kilimanjaro, where it’s mandatory). Jed Porter was free Sept. 22 – 24 and had proper passes. I also invited hiking buddy James Kenworthy (we’d done Split, and Tyndall together) to make it 3.
Once Jed was locked in, I realized I might up the ante a little and started researching beta on Fishhook Arete a real multi-pitch climb instead of the class 3 East to West Ridge route. Jed advised if we got in over our heads, we could bail and still summit via the chute to the right. I studied excellent SuperTopo TRs, received beta from Vitaliy and Burch who advised Fishhook was more of a 5.8 than a 5.9 route and that it wasn’t as ‘crackey’ as it appeared. I’ve been climbing mostly indoors for 6 years, and a few outdoor routes so it seemed do-able. Besides, I’ve done 5.11a on-sites many times at Mission Cliffs in SF and a 5.11c/d PR. None of these routes were true crack climbs however.
James and I set out from the Bay Area on Saturday, Sep. 21. I don’t sleep well in hotels and got maybe 4 hours of sleep before we drove to Lone Pine to meet Jed for breakfast at Alabama Hills Café at 8am. We ate, split up the ‘group gear’ including food, ropes, etc. and drove out to the Whitney Portal. Weather forecast for Sept. 23 was ideal – low wind and a relative warm stretch.
From the Whitney Portal:
We took the mountaineering route to LBS Lake (and then on to Upper Boy Scout Lake arriving in 3.5 hours at 2:00 approx. One of the luxuries of booking a guided tour is the food and Jed didn’t disappoint. We had fresh grilled steak and mashed potatoes – the best meal I’ve ever had on any of my 14er trips.
Sunrise morning of Sept. 23 - Summit day.
We crossed to the left of Iceberg Lake (short break):
and climbed the steep route over the Whitney – Russell pass
Took this video - reflection of jet contrail on Iceberg lake as well as closeup of Fishhook Arete Route:
and then had a quick bite to eat at the ridge. We left the pass and reached the base of Fishhook Arete at 11:30.
View from Pitch 1
Jed competently lead the first pitch a 5.9 finger crack climb.
Me on Pitch 1:
I went after Jed and James followed – cleaning as he went. About half way up, I realized that even though I had done a 5.11c indoors at Touchstone, I had basically very little expertise in crack climbing. I am much better at crimpy, overhangs, friction routes and not good at crack climbing. After taking a couple of stops – James and I reached the top of pitch 1. Jed looked at his watch and advised that we’d unlikely make the summit (7 more pitches) at the current pace and gave us 2 options.
a.) keep climbing knowing we likely have to retreat before the summit
b.) rap down and take the class 3 chute to the right of Fishhook and summit via the ridge.
Wanting to summit – we decided to rappel down and take the chute to the right. Took a quick break at the top of the chute:
Within 30 minutes we were traversing the class 3 ridge starting midway between the East (false) Summit and the higher West Summit.
Within 15 minutes we reached the summit in perfect conditions – took some video (here) – with hikers on Whitney in view.
I signed the summit register - dedicating it to Matthew.
I highly recommend Jed Porter of Sierra Mountain Guides and plan to hire him again as a guide next year on a Thunderbolt/Starlight attempt.
Good news: we summitted, bad news: we had to go to plan b.
Lessons learned: - more crack climbing practice - new air mattress - earlier departure for approach
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