Rather than do a break-neck car-to-car or two day trip, Jefe and I decided to spread out the weekend over three days, with a steady approach to Upper Boy Scout Lake, afternoon napping, dinner and a big day on Sunday. Get back to camp from climbing, grab dinner and fall asleep before hiking out at daybreak on Monday.
North fork of Lone Pine Creek was true to form: peak run-off meant a couple of stiff and refreshing water crosses, and some snow still on parts of the trail between lower and upper boy scout, but all together, summer seems to be hitting the portal area quite strong now. The snow pack doesn’t stand a chance. All together, 3 hours from the portal to UBS with 51 – 54 lb packs.
The real decision came on whether or not ice axes and crampons were needed. Beta from teams coming off the mountaineers route left a split decision: could be dicey first thing in the morning, so we packed the crampons and axes, and committed to coming down the third/fourth class on Russell to retrieve the gear we stashed. At one point, from the info received, it sounded like we were going to be climbing a 14er in our tee-shirts…oh the naiveté.
Final decision: make it across the steep snow fields above iceberg lake with the snow gear, stash it at the Whitney-Russell col and retrieve it on the descent, as there was no dangerous snow terrain between the col and the climb/descent off Russell.
0530 departure from UBS, snowfields were solid sun cups for practical stair steps up to Iceberg Lake. Iceberg is still solid, but a little effort with an ice axe gave us some pure, fresh snowmelt water for the rest of the ascent and climb. Perhaps most importantly, there was a boot pack to the whitney-russell col, making for a quick, safe, straight-forward approach through the steep snow fields where we didn’t even need to use the crampons we brought.
With the temps hovering around 40 – 45 in the sun, and the bottom of the arête still in the shade, we waited at the col for ~45 min for the temps to rise and for the entire route to bask in warm delicious California sun. All told, we were climbing by 0900.
The first pitch starts what continues to be a repeating theme of the entire day: The beta is spot on. The 5.9 start is a fantastic wake up to stellar sierra granite, great protection and fun moves. I’d be reinventing the wheel if I attempted to recap the pitch-by-pitch detail of the entire climb, as the beta from the high sierra book is quite accurate. For the route finding third pitch, our decided route followed the third or fourth flake from the right: good protection, a little steep, but solid foot holds and high stepping gets the job done.
Top of pitch four is the deal breaker: this notch is the bail point/alternative Word to the wise, it appears greater than 35m, so even with a single 70m rope, be prepared to break the rap into two sections. If you have doubles, it looks like it could go in one rap. With the weather still chilly, we made the call to continue, as the best pitches were above us, and we still had plenty of daylight.
The rest of the pitches are glorious: pick your poison when it comes to exposure, but regardless, the protection opportunities abound, the rock is impeccable sierra granite and the views are spectacular. The pitch 6 chimney is straight forward, not very long, and well protected. Next pitch is pure hero: wild exposure on great rock with confident protection. Perhaps the toughest part of the climb was the weather: when the wind calmed down, it was glorious: 50 + in the sun, but the wind followed us until the last two pitches, keeping us in our thermals, jackets and hats as the vertical feet ticked past. Ironically enough, the best weather hit us on the final two pitches: wind died, leaving us with great temps to finish off the climb and begin the descent. Had more time been available, it was perfect summit napping weather.
Because we stashed the crampons and axes and other unneeded gear at the whitney-russell col, descending the classic east ridge wasn’t an option...unless we wanted to hike up the next day to retrieve the goods…no thanks. After ascending and descending from the base of the ‘hook, the east ridge certainly seems like a much more efficient terrain crossing. The Russell gully wasn’t as bad as either of us thought. I’d say there are some 4th class moves at the top, but in general it’s a typical Sierra scree and talus festival. The entrance is deceptive: Keep on moving toward the east summit and you’ll find the easiest slot to move down to shed your vert. And shed we did. Warding off a little altitude sickness, we were able finish off the descent to UBS in 3.5 hours. Coming from Boston and Seattle, Jefe was a champ in fighting through some stiff AMS. That meant delicious dinner, sunset photos and a nice moderate bed time to sleep off the fatigue before the remainder of the descent to the portal on Monday morning.
➢ With your camp at UBS, a little later in the season – or knowledge of the steps on the snow fields above Iceburg lake makes a big loop entirely possible: approaching via the W-R col and descending the more asthetic and classic east ridge.
➢ I managed to find a teal BD climbing helmet at the alternative start/bail point on top of pitch 4. A new(ish) helmet, it was broken: evidently (and hopefully) the victim of dropping it off the route, and not a more grim the circumstance.
➢ This route overall is worthy of the 5-star title. Adventurous, big, high exposure and some of the best sierra granite out there. Do it.