Fishhook Arete 5.9

 
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Mt. Russell


High Sierra, California USA


Trip Report
Fishhook Arete Attempt and Mt Russell Summit - Sept. 23, 2013
Friday December 6, 2013 4:25am
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:

Hiking up to Iceberg Lake
Hiking up to Iceberg Lake
Credit: mpmoody

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.
Jed Chillin at Lower Boy Scout Lake
Jed Chillin at Lower Boy Scout Lake
Credit: mpmoody
Of course when I needed a good night’s sleep, my blow-up NeverRest mattress had a leak and slept only 3 – 4 hours, before waking up at 5:30am for a 6:30 start to Russell via Iceberg Lake and the Whitney-Russell pass. Weather was perfect – no wind and temps in the 40s.

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

View from Russell/Whitney pass
View from Russell/Whitney pass
Credit: mpmoody

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.

Russell and Fishhook Arete
Russell and Fishhook Arete
Credit: mpmoody

View from Pitch 1

View from Pitch 1
View from Pitch 1
Credit: mpmoody

Jed competently lead the first pitch a 5.9 finger crack climb.
Jed leading Pitch 1
Jed leading Pitch 1
Credit: mpmoody
James and I followed – Jed belaying both of us.

Me on Pitch 1:

Mike on Pitch 1
Mike on Pitch 1
Credit: mpmoody

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

or

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.
Gearing up
Gearing up
Credit: mpmoody
Jed insisted we rope up, even though it was only a 2,000 ft drop on both sides. Here’s the Go-Pro Video of the ridge traverse (editing out the 5 – 10 min my go-pro camera slipped down and pointed at my feet).



Within 15 minutes we reached the summit in perfect conditions – took some video (here) – with hikers on Whitney in view.



Jed and Mike on Russell Summit
Jed and Mike on Russell Summit
Credit: mpmoody

I signed the summit register - dedicating it to Matthew.

Tribute to Matt
Tribute to Matt
Credit: mpmoody
We reversed our route and reached camp at UBSL around 5:30 or so. – just in time for dinner and another restless night’s sleep.

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

Mike

  Trip Report Views: 1,791
mpmoody
About the Author
mpmoody is a mountain climber from Alamo.

Comments
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Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Dec 6, 2013 - 07:31am PT
mpmoody, Thanks for posting a great lesson for us all, having a plan b in all these games of life is winning strategy. I can see clearly despite the tragic loss of your son you picked yourself up and moved forward, congratulations on a life well lived and my sincerest condolences to you and to your family for such a profound loss. Best to you, I look forward to more TR's!

Charlie D.
Bad Climber

climber
  Dec 6, 2013 - 11:11am PT
Great job despite the semi-bail. Seems to me, however, that arriving at the base of the route as a party of three at 11:30AM is a virtual guarantee of not getting up the it. Still, you got to do the crux! Many years ago my wife and I went up to do that route. We got to the base plenty early, but the clouds were gathering menacingly. Prudence trumped valor, so we scrambled up the gully and 4th/easy 5th headwall to the summit. It was freaky warm with the clouds closing in. We had planned to do a ridge traverse, thought better of it, and descended the gully quickly. As we reached the bottom of the gully, lightning struck so close, with such power and fury, that we almost crapped our knickers. Heed the warning signs, pilgrims.

Work on your trad skills and go back without a guide. You can do that thing.

BAd
L

climber
California dreamin' on the farside of the world..
  Dec 6, 2013 - 12:25pm PT
Mike,

First and foremost, my heart goes out to you on the loss of your son. I am so sorry.

Second, this is a fabulous TR, you took some amazing photos/video, and added really good commentary to boot. (Lessons learned are priceless.)

I haven't been up Whitney in almost 10 years...your TR made my mountain climber's soul happy on many levels.

Thanks again and keep goin' for those Peak experiences.

Laura

Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Dec 6, 2013 - 01:25pm PT
You guys did climb the best pitch on that route and tag the peak. Much better than an epic. If you climb 5.11a-c indoors with just a little practice you will be able to get up some awesome routes! Well done.



Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Dec 6, 2013 - 09:40pm PT
Awesome!Y!
Sorry about your loss, I can't imagine losing one of my own kids.

Thanks for some great pics!!
RyanD

climber
Squamish
  Dec 6, 2013 - 11:10pm PT
Wow, what am inspirational TR. For so many reasons. Congrats on your summit & condolences for your son, you are a strong person to go on with the trip & write his name in the register of one of the most beautiful peaks around. I am sure he was with you in spirit the whole way & will be on all future adventures as well.

Super good read, great shots, & video.

Thank you.
socialclimber

climber
CA
  Dec 7, 2013 - 12:15am PT
Your son passed on my birthday, never knew him, but I'll remember him each year now... nice T.R. I was there the first week of August and did both Russell and Whitney, make sure you head back out there and do all of Fishhook, great route...

Charles
mpmoody

Mountain climber
Alamo, CA
Author's Reply  Dec 8, 2013 - 06:06pm PT
All: Thanks for the feedback and kind words..

burchey: thx again for beta, when do you plan to go to Lee Vining?
socialclimber: enjoy your TRs as well - sad about the shared bday
vitaliy: thx for the pre-trip beta
howie doin'

climber
Bishop, CA
  Dec 16, 2013 - 02:14pm PT
Thanks for posting this Mike!
Howie Schwartz
Sierra Mountain Guides
Seamstress

Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
  Dec 16, 2013 - 02:42pm PT
I'm very sorry about your loss.

These beautiful places and personal challenges are a great way to take one step at a time. Love your photos and the spirit.
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Mt. Russell - Fishhook Arete 5.9 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from the summit of Whitney.
Photo: Chris McNamara
Other Routes on Mt. Russell
Mt. Russell - East Ridge 3rd class - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
East Ridge, 3rd class
Mt. Russell
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The route as seen from the summit of Whitney.
Mt. Russell - Mithral Dihedral 5.10b - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
Mithral Dihedral, 5.10b
Mt. Russell
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The route as seen from Mt. Whitney summit.
Mt. Russell - Star Trekin 5.10c - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
Star Trekin, 5.10c
Mt. Russell
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The route as seen from Mt. Whitney summit.