#BagginPeaksandHavinDrinks

Sierra Nevada Range

September 19, 2018

Mount Williamson's West Face

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - WEST FACE | TRVRS APPAREL

Lake Helen of Troy and the Williamson Bowl from the West Face of Mount Williamson.



Overview

California's second tallest peak and the sixth tallest peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Williamson (14,379 ft.) stands tall above the John Muir Wilderness of the Inyo National Forest. Although the mountain is far less popular than its taller neighbor to the south (Mt. Whitney), its easiest approach includes a relatively steep class 1-2 ascent for over 11 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical gain just to reach Shepherd Pass. After which point the trail disappears and far more difficult terrain emerges for the remaining 3 miles and 2,700 feet to the summit. With all of its difficulties, the route features immaculate views of several alpine lakes leading up to the Williamson bowl which is a spectacle in its own right and the peaks massive summit plateau soars over Sequoia National Park. 

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness google earth overview | TRVRS APPAREL

Google Earth overview of route - Mount Williamson via Shepherd Pass Trail.



August 2nd, 2018 - I awoke at 5:00 AM with the intention of heading straight to the small town of Independence only to immediately fall back to sleep until 8:00AM, a hesitation I was not used to on these treks. Hours later, I would make it to the trail head and it would only be thanks to my vehicles high clearance. I read that some hikers had made it in a Sedan but it wouldn't be something I would recommend since the OHV roads were pretty mangled in some sections. By the time I parked another instance of hesitation came over me and I sat near the car for nearly 15 minutes until I realized I may have been a bit more fearful than my previous solo outing to Deerhorn Mountain just weeks prior. The lack of clarity I was experiencing was only matched by the smokey mountain views caused by fires in the Yosemite Valley and I needed a minute to clear the haze. Finally at 12PM, I made for the trail in good spirits. 

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Foothill Road | TRVRS APPAREL

Foothill Road - Independence, California.



Shepherd Pass Trail

The first mile (660 ft. vertical gain) brought on four creek crossings and storm clouds. The abundance of water made filtering more seem unnecessary and so I continued along the path with just under a quarter of a handheld bottle filled. I spent the next 2.5 miles (and an additional 2500 ft vertical gain) trudging up an endless series of switchbacks. A light mist became drizzle and I threw on a rain cover. Minutes later, the drizzle became rain and I added a silly looking plastic pancho. With each additional layer came another short interruption in my moving effort. By the time I was walking again the rain stopped and I muttered to myself "...of course". Finally I reached the Symmes Creek saddle where I spent a few minutes reorienting myself before continuing along the obvious and now much more relaxed descent toward Shepherd Creek. 

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Creek Crossing | TRVRS APPAREL

Creek crossing along the Shepherd Pass Trail.



Relief Near Mahogany Flat

My pace seemed to coincide with precipitation. As I began jogging into the canyon, booming thunder and showers filled the air. I took a break under a tree to evaluate my situation and eventually decided against turning back. The only fear I had at this point was a lightning strike and logic told me that moving further into a canyon didn't encourage the likelihood of such an event. A collective 5.5 miles and 4020 ft. of vertical gain brought me to another creek crossing and a clearing in the clouds simultaneously. The view up to Mt. Keith here was incredible and I had been so grateful to find water and be rid of it at the same time.

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Mount Keith | TRVRS APPAREL

Looking up at Mount Keith from Shepherd Creek.



Anvil Camp

A few more switchbacks brought me to Anvil Camp; a lush campground situated along the convergence between Shepherd Creek and its trail . A group of backpackers were sitting in a circle preparing dinner. During our brief interaction they mentioned that they were attempting Tyndall and Williamson, but the rough weather drove them to pitch camp. I made no mention of my poor decision making during the storm and continued toward the destination.

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Approaching Anvil Camp | TRVRS APPAREL

Approaching Anvil Camp after a few long switchbacks.



The Pothole

I began to feel my pace slowing after a 5,700 foot ascent over 8.2 miles and Shepherd Pass still wasn't even visible. One more shelf just past the Pothole would lead to the bottom of the pass and I could see the Southeast ridge of Junction Peak descending toward my eventual victory. I scarfed down a Luna Bar and filtered some water before ascending the shelf.  Eventually I reached the bottom of the pass and became nervous of the fact that I didn't see a trail snaking along the talus field. However as I continued to walk, the path emerged.

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - The Pothole | TRVRS APPAREL

Panorama of the Shepherd Pass Trail near the Pothole.



A Morbid Ascent  

Leaving the timberline is always bittersweet, but the trade off for the relaxing sound of rushing water and shade inside of the canopy is almost always an epic view of everything one has conquered and an infinite amount of everything one hasn't. My posture was screaming that I was ready to be done for the day and just as my shoulders started to sink further into my chest, a putrid smell sent them racing back to catch up with my nose. The talus field was riddled with flesh and bone and  I realized that I was surrounded by the remains of over two dozen deer. At first I was under the impression that the herd must have been wiped out during an avalanche, but later read that it was possible for them to have fallen one after another while trying to descend the perhaps icy slopes above. 

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Deer Remains | TRVRS APPAREL

Deer remains close to Shepherd Pass.



Shepherd Pass

At 6:30 PM, I reached Shepherd Pass (11 miles and 7,000 vertical feet later) and although I had plenty of time until sunset, I decided that my original goal to spend the night near Lake 12247 may have been a little ambitious. I dropped my pack at the first site I saw and let out a sigh of relief. Williamson was still nowhere to be found while Mount Tyndall's north west ridge dominated the landscape. Just twenty feet away, a women sat against a boulder with her legs extended and appeared to be writing in a journal. A brief interaction turned into a full on interview after she mentioned that she had just come back from climbing Williamson. I apologized for the interrogation and continued pitching camp. The rest of the evening would be spent making estimates on completion time over a cold slice of pizza. I set my alarm for 4:00AM and fell to sleep.

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Mount Tyndall | TRVRS APPAREL

Mount Tyndall from my campsite at Shepherd Pass.



The Williamson Bowl

August 3rd, 2018 - Even after a mediocre night of sleep, I managed to get up and out of bed pretty quickly. An alpine start is always a rewarding and productive introduction to the day, but credit will also have to go to the morning chill at 12,000 ft. By 4:30AM I was on the trail. A mile later, I began a rocky descent into the Williamson Bowl in perfect time for twilight. The small goals I created for myself during the previous evening allowed for a quick pace and the only time I stopped was to observe potential routes. Fortunately, cairns dotted the talus field as reassurance to the already straightforward route which essentially stayed to the highest points between each body of water I passed. I reached the base of the mountain after traveling along teetering boulders for 2 miles and just under 1,000 feet of gain (13 miles, and 8,000 ft. collectively) and short break allowed me to enjoy a well deserved display of alpen glow against the eastern face of both Mount Tyndall and Cal Tech Peak with my breakfast.

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Williamson Bowl | TRVRS APPAREL

Panorama of the Williamson Bowl and Lake Helen of Troy.



The West Face

The final ascent to Mount Williamson would prove difficult, but not out of my skill set. Just 500 feet above the base were the infamous black stains that serve as a way point for the route along Williamson's west face. From the top of the stains, I would continue to climb slightly left toward the largest chute between two obvious pillars . An additional 1,200 feet in under a half mile would bring me to the next point of interest. The chimney is a fifty foot exposed class 3 crack up to the summit Plateau. I spent about ten minutes looking for another route up since I had no seen photos of it before my arrival and it honestly looked a little intimidating but after a short internal dialogue of encouragement, I began a careful ascent.

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Chimney | TRVRS APPAREL

Looking up at the Class 3 chimney (large crack on the center right).



Williamson Summit

The long approach was finally over. I reached the massive summit plateau and began the short scramble to the peak where I found the summit register had been left open and was completely soaked from the storm. I spent a few minutes enjoying the view of Trojan Peak and Mount Bernard to the immediate south, with Russell, Carrillon and Whitney further back while the ridge line to the North featured a hazy view of Kings Canyon National Park and beyond. 
This would be the shortest amount of time I had ever spent on a Sierra peak. I had another protein bar and made way for the chimney when I realized I should probably check my phone for cell service. Sure enough, I was able to video chat with my mom and text all of my emergency contacts that I was on my way back down. I reached Shepherd Pass at 10:30AM where I toyed with the idea of knocking out Tyndall's second rib but ultimately decided that I didn't want to be on the trail after dark.  A strong jogging pace brought me back to the car at 4:00PM after one of the most refreshing creek baths I had ever experienced. Another 14er in the bag! 

mount williamson west face shepherd pass inyo national forest john muir wilderness - Summit | TRVRS APPAREL

Southern view of Sequoia National Forest and the John Muir Wilderness.

 
 

MORE INFO

Total Distance (from trail head to summit) : 14 miles

Total Elevation (feet): 10,500 feet  

Trail Difficulty: Hard.

  • Class 1 heavily trafficked trail for everything up to Shepherd Pass (mile 11 to be more exact).
  • Class 2 fore the majority of the Williamson Bowl.
  • Upper Class 2 in the chute and 50 foot exposed Class 3 ascent for the chimney.
July 09, 2018

Deerhorn Mountain's Northeast Ridge via Onion Valley

Deerhorn Mountain via Onion Valley Kings Canyon - Google Earth Overview | TRVRS APPAREL

Deerhorn Mountain via Kearsarge Pass - Goole Earth Overview


Located in Kings Canyon National Park, the Vidette Creek Basin rises above the infamous John Muir/ Pacific Crest Trail(s) just south of Vidette Meadow. It features seven alpine lakes and some pristine undisturbed wild life. This completely desolate stretch of land is also home to Deerhorn Mountain, an official SPS Peak which hovers above the canyon at 13,281 ft. The mountain's north east ridge was noted by R.J. Secor to be “a very nice climb” [The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, Trails] and featuring exposed knifes edge ridge line terrain and some rough class 3-4 opportunity. On June 19th, I set out on my first solo over-nighter ascent in the Sierra Nevada. The plan was to backpack in to the John Muir/ Pacific Crest trail from the Onion Valley parking area via the Kearsarge Pass trail and spend the night at roughly 11,500 ft. near the highest lake and the foot of the mountain then bag whatever surrounding peaks I had energy for the following day.
 

Onion Valley

Deerhorn Mountain via Onion Valley Campground - Kearsarge Pass Trail | TRVRS APPAREL

Early Arrival at Onion Valley looking east at Kearsarge Pass trail head.


Tuesday June 19th, 2018. 5:45 AM -- 
The Onion Valley parking lot was silent. I double checked all of my gear and downed the rest of the artificially flavored gas station coffee I picked up in the Mojave. By 6:15 AM I was on the Kearsarge Pass trail, and by 6:20 I had returned to the car because I forgot my caltopo maps and only summit beer. I probably would have left the maps behind if it weren't for the beer. I shuffled back to the trail head before making for Kearsarge Pass. 

Gilbert Lake via Onion Valley Kearsarge Pass Trail - Inyo National Forest | TRVRS APPAREL

Gilbert Lake seen from the Kearsarge Pass trail.

 
By the time I had reached Gilbert Lake (2 miles, 1250 ft. vertical gain) I started to run into a flurry of north bound thru hikers tearing down camp. The imposing views of University Peak over the canopy of pines and easy access to an alpine lake made this an incredible place to walk through let alone spend the night, but I had bigger plans. 
 

Kearsarge Pass

11,700 ft. elevation

Kearsarge Pinnacles & Lakes via Pass Trail - Inyo National Forest | TRVRS APPAREL

View of Kearsarge Pinnacles & Lakes via Kearsarge Pass - Inyo National Forest.


I finally made it to the pass after keeping a relaxed pace for roughly 4.5 miles and 2,700 ft of vertical gain. The Kearsarge Pinnacles and lakes stood across the valley and continued east toward Bullfrog Lake. Somewhere north of these lakes was the Bullfrog Lake trail that I needed to follow. I would find my first marked trail junction at about 5 miles. The Kearsarge Pass trail would continue east along a high route while the Bullfrog Lake trail would descend a little closer to the lakes. I was starting to run low on water and asked a couple of thru hikers if there was a creek nearby. The woman noted one just half a mile up and we exchanged itineraries. They were headed to the small town of Independence for a resupply. The exchange was pleasant and just as they were walking away, I gave them specific instruction on the whereabouts of my igloo container in the bear box at camp. Its contents included two ice cold beers for them to share. Their mouths dropped and we parted ways. 
 

Bullfrog Lake

10,620 ft. elevation

Deerhorn Mountain & Vidette Creek Basin via Bullfrog Lake - Kings Canyon National Park | TRVRS APPAREL

View of Deerhorn Mountain and its northeast chute from Bullfrog Lake.


Six miles in and I stood just northwest of Bullfrog Lake. Everything past Kearsarge to here was downhill or flat, which made for a great opportunity to soak in the views at an easy pace. I could finally see a fairly clear portion of the upper Vidette Creek Basin and Deerhorn Mountain. A solid white line separated the twin peaks and meant the northeast chute was still filled with snow. I wasn't sure how I felt about that yet but brought the essentials for snow travel including my ice axe and microspikes. So long as the North East Ridge was clear of any ice, an ascent would be possible.
 

Vidette Meadow

Pacific Crest John Muir Trail Sign Upper Vidette Meadow Bubbs Creek - Kings Canyon National Park | TRVRS APPAREL

Pacific Crest/John Muir trail sign at Upper Vidette Meadow (Bubbs Creek).


I continued along the path following the creek when I finally hit the infamous Pacific Crest/ John Muir Trail junction (mile 7, 2756 ft of gain) which would lead south toward Vidette Meadow. A 1,000 foot drop in about a mile stretch would follow where I would find the Bubbs Creek Trail junction and head further south on the PCT. The meadow was serene. Water trickled across the trail and tall pines shaded my every move making for an extremely tranquil experience. I made sure to stay focused since I would soon need to cross Bubbs Creek heading south following the Vidette Creek Confluence and the eight foot wide path I was currently standing on (defined by thousands of yearly hikers) would immediately become a faint use trail at best. 
 

Bubbs Creek

Entering Vidette Creek Basin  via Bubbs Creek Crossing - Kings Canyon National Park | TRVRS APPAREL

View of Bubbs Creek after crossing via this humongous log (no wet feet this time).


About a half mile from the last junction, the Creek started to move further away from the trail and I decided to follow it
. My chosen route gradually became overgrown, but I stayed the course and found another tree that crossed over the creek. I made my way across and moved a little further south where I found a bit of relief.  I rock cairn stood on top of a boulder. I was right on track. 
 

Cross Country along Vidette Creek

Vidette Creek Basin Kings Canyon National Park Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain Range | TRVRS APPAREL

View of Vidette Creek Basin and the first of two shoulders within the valley.


To my surprise, the cairn led directly to a fairly obvious use trail and another cairn. It was here that I noticed my already slow pace had turned to a slog. Driving directly from work the previous day had put me at roughly thirty-two hours of sleep deprivation and a dozen steps would leave me breathless with aching muscles.  I followed the intermittent path for a mile before reaching the first of the Vidette Lakes. The scenery was incredible and the lack of an obvious trail made it even better. I mostly kept to the center of the canyon all the way up to a 300 foot granite slab shoulder at mile 10.5. After finally reaching the plateau, I was standing above another lake and decided to move east since the west side looked like an endless talus field traverse. I was rewarded with a relaxing lakeside route, enveloped by tall trees and stunning views of the surrounding peaks.
 
upper-vidette-lakes-and-final-shoulder-kings-canyon-eastern-sierra-trvrs-apparel

Just under a mile later, I had reached another 400 ft shoulder. I took my 50th break to convince myself that I was almost done and made for the next plateau. By the time I had reached the base of Deerhorn Mountain, I was completely drained. I spent all of ten minutes looking for a place to call home for the evening. After making a selection, I found a two square foot bit of shade and parked my head right under it. I was completely indifferent to the dozens of ants crawling on my body and within a minute I fell asleep.
 

Camping at the Base of Deerhorn Mountain

11,500 ft. elevation

Mount Stanford & Deerhorn Mountain Kings Canyon Eastern Sierra | TRVRS APPAREL

Mount Stanford (left), Deerhorn Mountain twin peaks (left twin is actual summit).


When I awoke, I looked at my watch and the GPS was still enabled. I had slept for over two hours and it almost felt like waking up in a strangers house the morning after a night of binge drinking. Any chance of summiting on the first day was completely out of the question. I spent the evening reading trip report beta that I had saved to my phone while staring at the peak and finally decided that I would ascend via the northeast ridge. On the way down, I would investigate the northeast chute and if conditions weren't optimal, I would instead take the northeast buttress. I also had Mount Stanford in my sights, but not as a critical goal. After prepping a day pack and enjoying a well deserved dinner, I fell back to sleep.
 

North East Ridge of Deerhorn Mountain

 Camp at 11,500 ft. Elevation (Deerhorn Mountain) - Kings Canyon National Park | TRVRS APPAREL

Wednesday June 20th, 2018. 5:30 AM -- Cowboy camping at 11,500 ft had never felt so refreshing. The few times I did wake up throughout the night, I was presented with unbelievable views of the milky way crossing the sky. I got my things together and made for the bottom of the snowy slope. Although I woke up later than I'd have liked, I was well rested and the snow seemed to be holding pretty well. 
 
By the time I had reached the bottom of the chute (.5 miles from camp, with 800 ft vertical gain), the snow was in full sunlight and starting to become a little slushy. I took a short break to remove my Micro-spikes and attach my Ice Axe to my pack and continued toward the ridge. Everything I had gathered suggested that it would be easier to stay to the north slope of the ridge, but the purist in me was after a challenge. I strayed near the ridge earlier than everything I had read and found myself negotiating some rough class 4 exposure. I might have spent twenty minutes on one 10-15 foot overhanging segment with no obvious handholds. I told myself to turn back several time but finally made it across what I now defined as the 'crux' of this climb and minutes after, a huge ice slab slid down the mountain about fifty feet away. It was here that I decided climbing Deerhorn was the only thing in my itinerary for the afternoon. 
 
Knifes Edge Ridge Line on Deerhorn Mountain - Kings Canyon National Park | TRVRS APPAREL

Knifes Edge on Deerhorn Mountain Kings Canyon National Park - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain Range | TRVRS APPAREL

At 12,900 ft., I finally reached the 'knifes edge' segment of the ridge where I took many photos and continued toward the peak. The crux written about in other trip reports was fairly mild and included a short hop across some major exposure. The scramble to the peak was incredible. The gigantic bowl created by Mount Ericcson, Harrison Pass, and Mount Stanford made for a dramatic experience.  I spent nearly 45 minutes at the summit reading the register (which hadn't a signature since September of 2017) while soaking in everything I worked for including my delicious summit beer. However, I knew that backpacking out would be no easy task and I would have to descend quickly.
 

The Northeast Couloir 

 Deerhorn Mountain Northeast Coulior - Kings Canyon National Park | TRVRS APPAREL

I moved north after packing up all of my things and the route to the Col was obvious. I attached my snow gear and a quick glissade/self arrest brought me down an extremely steep slope with a plateau after about 50 feet. I figured this would be a good place to test out the water and everything went smoothly. The remainder of the couloir however, would not include such a gracious effort. The snow was so soft that self arresting did very little in the effort of slowing my speed and I was forced to stay close to the granite wall to avoid the snow for the majority of the Coulior. The lower I got, the easier glissading became and eventually I had made it back to camp within a margin of relative safety...
 

Returning to Onion Valley

Summit Beer All Red Chucks Raspberry Berliner Arrow Lodge Brewing - Deerhorn Mountain | TRVRS APPAREL

The trek home was lax with the exception of the afternoon heat. Being well rested and having a lighter pack made the Vidette Basin much more enjoyable and I was able to shave nearly two hours off of my time from the hike in. Reaching Bullfrog Lake to filter some water and turning to see the view of everything I had accomplished felt amazing. My first solo backpacking trek in the Sierra was a huge success and would only pave the way for more adventures. 

MORE INFO

Total Distance (from trail head to summit) : 13 miles

Total Elevation (feet): 6,700 feet 

Trail Difficulty: Hard.
  • Class 1 heavily trafficked trail for everything up to Vidette Meadow (mile 9)
  • Class 2 with the occasional scramble up to Deerhorn Mountain base (mile 12)
  • Class 3 (avoidable class 4) solid granite rock scrambling to Deerhorn Mountain summit via northeast ridge.
 
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. There is plenty of water from the trailhead all the way up to the base of Deerhorn mountain, after which point, any sort of life besides the occasional Marmot is nonexistent. 

 

October 19, 2017

Rae Lakes Loop (in 15 hours) - Kings Canyon National Park | TRVRS APPAREL


Video by Nate Moore of San Joaquin Running (http://www.sanjoaquinrunning.com/)

PREFACE

In February of 2017, I was faced with my second injury in 5 years of running. I attended phyical therapy (again...) and spent countless hours researching injury prevention. I moved most of my workout into the gym and acquired a new found love for yoga, mobility, and bodyweight strength training.  I was absolutely determined to get to the bottom of the cause for my failures. I learned that the difference between "running" and "training" is vast and that the key to sustainable running was more of a balancing act between everything mentioned above and more.

After a stressful and grueling last few weeks dealing with moving into a new place, I was off to Foresthills, CA to participate in the Euchre Bar Massacre 50 miler, a fatass style endurance challenge. All of six months of research and training would build up to this horrifying off trail death march in which one must navigate through dense forest and steep and unforgiving terrain for 50 miles with 20,000 feet of vertical gain. It was my idea of a dream race.

CROSSING PATHS AT ROADS END

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL

I spent my entire Friday morning packing since I had work in the evening, a shift I had mistakingly forgotten to request off and was forced to fit into the already tight schedule. I got off of work at 10:30pm and hopped in my car loaded with everything I needed to continually suffer for roughly 24 hours. Halfway to Sacramento, I started to yawn. It was only around 2:00 in the morning and I had not accounted for sleep deprivation to hit me this early. The race started in just 4 hours and I was on such a tight schedule that pulling over to rest meant I would not make it for the start time and yet, I was repeatedly falling asleep at the wheel. Although failure at completing the event was more than likely in any case, I wouldn't even get the chance to try.

...I was crushed.

The next morning I woke up in a Carl's Jr parking lot right in the middle of Nowhere, California. I stopped in to brush my teeth and use their Wifi for some quick research. The weekend would not be a complete waste of time. I got back in the car and started driving towards Kings Canyon National Park, where I had planned to car camp and wake up early Sunday to complete the Rae Lakes Loop. During the drive into the canyon, I found myself behind a large truck. A sticker on the rear window featured a red mountain goat and big black bold letters that read "Run Steep, Get High", an all too familiar slogan. 

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL

As I had suspected, the truck pulled into the "Roads End" trail head parking loop, where I was headed. I parked near the permit station and noticed a sign that read "No permit necessary for day hikes" and thought 'oh, the perks of being an ultra runner'. I approached one of the guys from the truck, who I had now confirmed to be an ultra runner from his white compression leggings. His name was Deon and he told me that his group was doing the Rae Lakes Loop as well. At this point, I was already excited to shamelessly invite myself on their trek, or at least run into them throughout the event.

"What time are you guys leaving tomorrow morning?", I asked.

To  which he replied "oh, we're leaving in about 30 minutes". 

I was a little confused. It was already 2:00 in the afternoon and leaving now meant that most of the journey would take place at night. The Rae Lakes Loop is known for its endless views of prestine back country landscapes. By joining their group, I was giving up the majority of my motivation for running in the first place. Deon directed me toward the leader of the group so that he could continue to prepare for their adventure and shuffled off to the restroom.

I walked over to the truck where the alleged organizer Nate Moore was preparing supplies. After a brief introduction, I asked why the group was starting in the middle of the day. He explained that Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc 2017 Winner François D’haene was in the early stages of setting the new supported fastest known time (FKT) for the John Muir Trail, a record previously set by Darcy Piceu just a month prior (Sept. 15-17, 2017). Nate had made estimates on François' arrival within a 2 hour window.

At this point, I caught the vibe of the group and decided that if they felt comfortable crashing a pro athletes speed record attempt, then I didn't feel bad for crashing their 'crashing party'. I would commit to running through the night with three strangers, for one of the longest endurance challenges I had ever attempted...and we were leaving in now less than 20 minutes. 

BUBBS CREEK

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL
We started out for the trail at 2:30 PM. The intention was to climb up to Glen Pass via the Bubbs Creek Trail and knock out the steep stuff, then coast down the Woods Creek Trail. The path was defined and water never left earshot for more than five minutes. A relaxed pace brought us to the John Muir Trail junction right at dusk and the fading views of the lower canyon would be the last of the evening. Nate suggested we take a break since his estimates placed François further South and yet the drop in temperature quickly suggested otherwise. Moments after we started moving, the Salomon team had arrived. 

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL

It was definitely a treat to share the trail with a professional athlete on such an arduous journey, but as François and his team passed, our compliments and cheerfulness were met with mostly silence. We followed them for an entire mile before reaching the Bullfrog Lake trail junction where a pop up aid station awaited the French masochist and within 15 minutes, our attempts at conversation were finally met with a plea for silence so that François could nap.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL

After refilling on water in a nearby creek, we made for Glen Pass (11,978 feet), the highest point of elevation for our journey and although we weren't able to take in any sweeping views of the surrounding Lake basins, the Milky Way was clearly visible in the night sky and at mile 17, it was all downhill from here.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL

PARADISE VALLEY, THEY SAID

I won't get into the details of the continued full mountain marathon we were still in for, but just know that there was a good balance between guessing who farted and asking if we were there yet. By 5:00 AM, we had descended what felt like 100,000 inconsistently sized granite stairs. Our quads were toast and the only thing that kept us from becoming hypothermic while wearing short shorts in now 30 degree weather was to keep pounding out a steady pace. 

Nate and I finally arrived at Roads End at 5:30 AM while Deon and Sal rolled up shortly after. A celebratory beer was the plan, but none of us could stand the cold and mostly just wanted to leave immediately. After a quick goodbye, I parked my car just down the road and fell asleep in the drivers seat.

Overall, I had a blast turning a miserable experience of DNS-ing (DID NOT START) at a race I had spent six months preparing for, into a whimsical adventure with some new friends; a memory  I will absolutely never forget. 

Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Rae lakes Loop | TRVRS APPAREL

MORE INFO

Distance : 41.6 miles

Elevation gain (counter-clockwise) : 8,750 feet

Trail Difficulty: Easy
  • Class 1 marked trail for the entire route.
  • Trail includes several creek crossings, and I swear I smelled poodle dog bush but no reactions.
  • I mean...I dunno, do you plan on doing this in less than a day?...Then yes, it will be hard.

RESOURCES

Rae Lakes Loop via Road's End Trail (counter-clockwise) - GPX FILE DOWNLOAD

If you didn't already check out San Joaquin Running, check out their site for some great ultra marathon events and don't forget to subscribe to  the youtube channel after you watch their Rae Lakes Loop video.

 

June 22, 2017

Mount Sill via North Fork Big Pine Creek (Spring Ascent)

Mount Sill & Sierra Crest via Palisade Glacier North Fork Big Pine Lakes | TRVRS APPAREL

Photo by Victor Jara (@victorbandana)

Mount Sill via Big Pine Lakes North Fork - OVERVIEW | TRVRS APPAREL

OVERVIEW

Deep within the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, bordering the Inyo National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park, lies a group of steep and rugged mountains known as the Palisades and climbing them can present some notable mountaineering challenges. Mount Sill is no exception.  Its 14,153 foot peak soars over Big Pines Lakes and the the Palisade Glacier to the north east while all of Kings Canyon can be seen to the west. The views from its summit have been described as some of the best in the Sierra range most likely due to it being located on a sharp turning portion of the Sierra Crest. On June 11th, 2017, I had the pleasure of climbing Mount Sill in winter conditions and witnessed only a fraction of its grandeur as lingering storm clouds swallowed the mountain whole just before I made the summit, creating a complete white out. The conditions, however limiting in visibility, only amplified my overall presence during the climb making it an unforgettable experience. 
 

ITINERARY 

For about a month and a half before this trip, we had planned to climb Split Mountain's St. Jean Couloir. As the date arrived, we had reached out to a few other climbers whose efforts to summit were thwarted by poor snow conditions caused by warm weather. Our group discussed other options until our very own Victor Jara was able to speak to a Ranger, confirming our suspicions that Split Mountain should probably be avoided. We were able to snag a few last minute backpacking permits for Big Pine Lakes North Fork, where we knew that trekking in just six miles would allow us to assess conditions for climbing either Sill, Cloudripper, or Temple Crag the following day. We were essentially playing the entire trip by ear.

UPPER SAGE FLAT CAMPGROUND

David and I had arrived at 11:30 PM on Friday to a quiet campsite. Although it was apparent from the warm ash in the fire pit that Victor (who had driven up separately) had only recently gone to sleep. We knocked back a couple of night caps and followed suit. The morning was spent speculating on trail conditions and packing in leisure since we knew we were just a few miles from the trail head and our entire day would only consist of trekking six or so miles by foot. We even opted to pay an additional $5 for overnight parking near Glacier Lodge instead of taking the Logging Flat Trail, which starts at a separate free parking area and includes an additional 3/4 of a mile and 200 feet of gain over exposed dirt trail. We weren't missing much.

BIG PINE CREEK TRAIL HEAD

Glacier Lodge Road | Elevation 7,832 Feet

Glacier Lodge Road Big Pine Lakes - Bridge | TRVRS APPAREL

June 10th, 2017 -- By 9:53 AM we'd begun hiking on the Glacier Lodge Road which runs parallel to and eventually meets up with the Big Pine Creek trail. Within a quarter of a mile, we had come to a bridge that runs over the cascading waters of North Fork Big Pine Creek. The gushing water left us in awe, and yet the feeling followed with a mental image of the slushy slopes to come. After crossing the bridge there is a junction that separates the North and South Fork at which point we kept right toward a bunch of switchbacks following the creek and crossed another foot bridge over First Falls. The trail continues north west in a partially shaded dirt road. It eventually moves away from the creek and onto the northern slope blanketed in chaparral for a long switchback through the exposed hillside. A four way intersection follows which brings all of the previously described trails together, while the sound of the running water will once again pull you in the north west direction of finally entering the John Muir Wilderness. 

LON CHANEY'S CABIN

Lon Chaney's Cabin - North Fork Big Pine Lakes | TRVRS APPAREL
At roughly mile two, we passed the wooden John Muir Wilderness sign, but not before giddily taking out our cameras for a quick touristy photo shoot. If you are impressed by the beginning of the trail, everything past this sign is like stepping into another world completely. The hints of Aspen and Jeffrey Pine that preceded were now flourishing. Small spillways of water trickled from one side of the trail to the other, continually feeding the stream with fresh snow melt. At mile three, we had come to a large Forest Service cabin that once served as Hollywood Celebrity Lon Chaney's summer home and was designed by Architect Paul Revere Williams in 1929. Although, at first glance you'd probably have never guessed it to be nearly a century old building. The cabin served as a perfect opportunity for a break, and we spent nearly thirty minutes relaxing under the shade of its massive patio to watch the stream. 

CAMPING AT THIRD LAKE

View of Temple Crag via Third Lake - North Fork Big Pine Lakes | TRVRS APPAREL

Photo by David Richard (@drpeak2peek)


After briefly discussing potential group campsites over a map, we started moving toward our final destination for the day. I decided that it would be a good idea to try and pass a few more hikers on the way up to lock down a good site for our group. From this point on, the trail is much more straight forward, having only one marked trail junction (mile 4.5, 9985 feet elevation) prior to reaching first lake. This junction serves as an alternate route to Black lake, but even backpackers heading in that direction are better off hiking the main trail to enjoy the remarkable views of vibrant glaciated Lake water surrounded by beautifully forested landscapes and Temple Crag's monumental northern face as its centerpiece. 
I pressed on toward the subsequent Lakes, at first focused on the goal of reaching camp. With each clearing in the trees came a hypnotizing view of my surroundings. My pace progressively slowed and soon, what was a march of intent became a casual stroll through the woods. After wandering an entire mile further I was granted another lakeside view of Temple Crag and suddenly my relaxing walk had come to a perplexing halt. The lakes were so close together that I had completely lost track of which one I was passing. Within a few minutes, a day hiker was able to confirm my location as Third Lake and I parked up against a comfy rock to relax. 
Victor had arrived shortly after and to my surprised, David had slipped passed me hiking up half a mile further before turning back. I felt much better knowing that I wasn't the only one experiencing difficulties navigating and even more so when Victor reminded me of the Cannabis infused chocolate covered espresso beans we had eaten back at the cabin. We left our packs near the trail and started looking for a good place to make camp. Strong winds were expected throughout the following day and everything we were looking at was exposed. We eventually settled on one because of its proximity to a snowy mound that we could use to keep our beer cold. It was perfect. We enjoyed some dinner and decided to call it an early night since we had a 3 AM wake up call. Our goal was to start early enough for the snow pack to be firm throughout our climb. 
At 3 AM, after spending most of my night laying awake listening to the incessant flapping of my tent fly, I rolled over and fell back to sleep. Two hours later, I forced myself into my gear and out of my tent to check on the others only to find that they had slept poorly as well. The winds followed me back to my tent where I again fell back asleep in full gear to wait out the cold. This was not going well. 

REACHING THE PALISADE GLACIER

Sam Mack Approach via North Fork Big Pine Lakes | TRVRS APPAREL

Finally at 7:25 AM, the winds died and we started for Sam Mack Meadow, a gorgeous grassy glacier spillway nestled below Sam Mack Lake. Just under a mile from camp, we came to another seemingly impassable river crossing and followed the creek further north to get across. In late summer and fall, a series of switchbacks bring you up to the meadow where the trail to the Palisade Glacier continues up the Southern moraine. In our case, the entire slope was covered in hard packed snow. I took the direct path where I was presented with a steep 60% graded slope while David and Victor opted for the traditional route in order to check out the meadow.

Collectives Lakes via the Palisade Glacier Approach | TRVRS APPAREL

We met up at the top of the ridge where behind us was an overhead view of the collective lakes, a perspective that emphasized the historical glacial activity in this region. Looking ahead, we were finally able to see Mount Gailey, Sill and other portions of the Sierra Crest peaking out from above the glacier's terminal moraine. We discussed taking a long break at the Palisade Glacier to relax and possibly call it a day if the conditions up to Sill looked rough. After walking a bit further I noticed a hiker coming toward us and yelled, "Guys! BETA!" 

A Snowy Slope Approaching Palisade Glacier - Big Pine Lakes | TRVRS APPAREL

Approaching the climber, I noticed he was wielding two technical ice axes and wearing a climbing harness; attached was a Trad Rack. I asked where he had been. His intention was to climb Mount Sill and check out conditions to traverse the ridge to Polemonium to the west with two others, except one had fallen and dislocated his shoulder on the steep ascent to Glacier Notch. He asked us if we had any medical experience and we shook our heads. The others descended toward us and it was very obvious which one had fallen. The rest of the groups day would consist of a long slow walk back to the trail head while splitting their gear between two.

Glacier Notch & Mount Sill's North Couloir via the Palisade Glacier | TRVRS APPAREL

Photo by David Richard (@drpeak2peek)

Before they walked away, I asked the climber if he thought we could make it to the Peak. He said the snow was rock hard on the way up and he barely had any use for his ice axe, but that on the way back it started to soften up suggesting that it was possible and the conditions were likely getting better. It was at this point that any tip-toeing around the idea of not making summit completely left my mind. I was going for it.

GLACIER NOTCH

Victor jumped up ahead and began the descent toward the Glacier. All I could think of was how much time and effort that would add to a climb in which I had no idea what to expect. I turned toward David and told him that I would follow the tracks that traversed along the bowl and ascend toward Glacier Notch. We both knew that my knowledge of the route was limited, so turning back at that point was pretty likely. We parted ways and my pace immediately quickened. The thought of my climbing partners waiting on and even worrying about me was not one I had intended to instill. 

Glacier Notch Approach via Palisade Glacier - Mount Sill | TRVRS APPAREL

I moved south across the bowl before coming to another 50 degree graded chute straight up to Glacier Notch. After only three steps, I was completely out of breath. The elevation was getting to me and this stop-and-go trend would persists throughout the rest of the ascent. Just fifty feet from the notch was a slew of large boulders to my left and after a 500 foot ascent of pure ice in new mountaineering boots, my feet welcomed the opportunity for a good rock scramble.

Top of Glacier Notch w/ North Couloir (left) - Mount Sill | TRVRS APPAREL
View from Mount Sill's North Couloir - North Fork, Mount Gayley, Contact Pass | TRVRS APPAREL

I had reached the notch by 11:30 AM after climbing 3200 feet in just over 3 miles from camp. I could see the ridge to Mount Gayley and the upper lakes of South Fork Big Pine Creek. Thick clouds hovered over the Sierra Crest to the West taunting me with the chance of white out conditions while the tracks I had been following before had started to disappear. Mount Sill's North Couloir hid eloquently behind the ridge to Apex Peak. I moved toward the base of the chute where I was faced with another 300 foot climb in about 1/5th of a mile. This was definitely the steepest snow ascent I had ever made, but I realized very quickly that there were no rocks or cliff faces below, so losing my footing really only meant that I would have to climb more. I was mostly just happy that I didn't need to deal with the talus field that likely existed under all the snow.

SILL-APEX NOTCH

Mount Sill / Apex Peak Saddle - North Couloir | TRVRS APPAREL

By 12:10 PM I had made it to another Notch where the view of the Sierra Crest was starting to dwindle. I noticed a small spur called Apex Peak to the right, but I had no idea that it was named at the time. Strong gusts of wind and the incoming clouds pressed my focus back toward Sill. I peaked over the saddle to see a fairly exposed ledge followed by some Class 3 boulder scrambling; in the center was a cairn. I traced the best potential route and made way across the upper portion of the ledges. From the end of the ledges, I continued directly up the ridge through some solid Class 3 granite. At about 13950 feet, I finally decided to remove my crampons making note of the sawtooth rock they were near. The gusts were more and more frequent, and it started to snow, but I was so god damn close.

MOUNT SILL SUMMIT

Mount Sill Summit via North Couloir | TRVRS APPAREL

At 1:00 PM, the Class 3 ridge gave way and I knew I had finally made summit. I looked around for the register and found it nestled between two medium sized boulders. While examining it, I realized that I was now in a complete white out with maybe 30 feet of visibility. I lost all interest in sticking around and started back down the ridge. I would have to come back and see those gorgeous views R.J. Secor promised me another time. 

GETTING HOME

After descending roughly 100 feet, I started looking for the nearest saw tooth granite slab to pick up my crampons and didn't see them anywhere. I immediately started to question the idea of placing them on the rocks instead of packing them. I tried to retrace my steps and within a few moments (that felt like an eternity), an opening in the clouds presented the top of the Palisade glacier off in the distance allowing me to orient myself. I was climbing down the wrong side of the mountain. 

Northern Slope of Temple Crag from Palisade Glacier | TRVRS APPAREL

I traversed across to the next ridge and found my crampons near a similar looking saw tooth slab. As I finished attaching them to my boots, the wind whipped across my face. "Alright, I'm movin'. I get it!", I said aloud. I shuffled down the ridge and back to the notch. Getting down to the snow was such a relief. I had three major sections to descend, all of which consisted of steep hard snow. Of the three miles back to camp, I managed to glissade and self arrest for for about half that distance. I learned that a 250 foot sustained self arrest is almost as difficult as running down a snowy slope and twice as stressful. 

Snowy Slope Below Temple Crag from Third Lake | TRVRS APPAREL

Descending the long snow field below Temple Crag placed me on the South side of Third Lake. I took a few minutes to change my layers for the twentieth time and made for the highest point on the hill to get a visual on a potential route where I found a few cairns. 

View of Palisade Glacier Moraine & Sierra Crest via Third Lake | TRVRS APPAREL

As I crossed the creek, there was a break in the clouds. Calmly falling snowflakes filtered the view of Third lake and the forested slope above while I could hear the muffled sound of rushing water underneath the ice. Back at camp, David and Victor were packing. I told them about my adventure and they congratulated me with the last remaining beer David had packed.

MORE INFO

Total Distance (from trail head to summit) : 9.5 miles

Total Elevation (feet): 7,117 feet 

Trail Difficulty: Hard.
  • Class 1-2 marked trial for first 8 miles up to Palisade Glacier in the Summer (little to no snow). 
  • Steep class 2-3  talus and rock scrambling for everything up to 13,750 feet.
  • Class 3-4 solid granite rock scrambling to Mount Sill summit (final 500 feet)
 
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. There is plenty of water from the trailhead all the way up to the Glacier, after which point, any sort of life besides the occasional Marmot is nonexistent. 

RESOURCES

Mount Sill via North Couloir (mostly traditional route) - GPX FILE 
Tammy Luther and Roberto Chavez - summer ascent. The GPX file provided includes an alternate route that travels through Sam Mack Meadow and climbs a gully toward the Palisade Glacier instead of using the switchbacks to the left at roughly mile 7. Everything else is pretty typical route.

Mount Sill via North Couloir (personal account) - GPX FILE
Ricardo Soria Jr. (writer) - Spring ascent following heavy snow season. The GPX file provided includes several routes in which snow, ice axe & crampons are required. 

October 04, 2016

Mount Russell via the East Ridge | The Knifes Edge

Mount-Russell-East-Ridge-Tulianyo-Lake-Whitney-Zone-Pano | TRVRS APPAREL
Tulainyo Lake , Russell's East Ridge, & the Whitney Zone's North Fork (right). Photo courtesy of David Richard.


Overview

Overview of the Whitney Zone's North Fork - Mount Russell's East Ridge | TRVRS APPAREL
Overview of the Whitney Zone's North Fork - Mount Russell's East Ridge

 

On the outskirts of the Whitney Zone, towering over the the North fork and its Alpine Lakes, sits a 14,094 foot granite behemoth named Mount Russell. Known mostly for being one of California's famous 14ers, as well as the incredibly exposed ridge near its peak, Mount Russell is overshadowed in size and popularity by its neighboring peak Mount Whitney (the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States). However, for anyone who has made it to the summit, its popularity is not at all a reflection of its beauty and most who have ascended Russell will note that its East Ridge (and there are dozens of other more difficult routes) is a far more interesting climb than that of the Mount Whitney Trail, if one is up for the challenge.

Mount-Russell-East-Ridge-Snowy
Failed attempt at Mt. Russell's East Ridge due to a snowy conditions. Photo courtesy of David Richard.

 

This write up is dedicated purely to climbing to the peak of Mount Russell via its East Ridge, starting at the Whitney Portal and ascending the North Fork Lone Pine Creek to Upper Boyscout Lake. It involves Class 1, 2, and 3 ascensions including a massive scree field, and one of the most impressive (or dreadful) exposed ridge lines that the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains have to offer. The beauty behind this trek lies in the diversity of both its expansive views as well as its technical terrain.

Itinerary

Although Mount Russell is located on the border of the Whitney Zone, a wilderness pass is required for hiking along the North Fork. The most relaxing way to enjoy this hike is to backpack in from the Portal and camp at Upper Boyscout Lake to begin the second half of the ascent the following day. However, an experienced hiker with a strong physical fitness level could definitely complete this hike in one day with an early morning alpine start. In either situation, the altitude involved is something to be considered in planning your approach. Camping at Upper Boyscout Lake for a night before finishing the trek gives your body a great opportunity to get acquainted with the lack of oxygen above 10,000 feet.

For those who plan to tackle this beast in a day, it would be wise to at least spend the night at the Whitney Portal (8,350 feet) or the Horseshoe Meadow Area (10,000 feet) to allow your body to adjust to the altitudes you will face during your hike. You can achieve your hiking, parking, and camping permits at recreation.gov with the exception of Horseshoe Meadow and Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead Campground, which you can find more information for on the Forest Service Site. In either situation, reserving your permits online still requires you to drive to the  Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine, California in order to pick up your parking and hiking permits. If this seems like a lot of red tape, just be aware that the Visitor Center is actually a great place to meet other like minded individuals with a wealth of knowledge of the area, as well as a beautifully decorated museum dedicated to the Eastern Sierra Mountains.

Preparation

Lone Pine Campground | Elevation 6000 feet

Lone Pine Campground - Site #26 | TRVRS APPARREL
Campsite #26  at Lone Pine CG is fully shaded and secluded.

 

We had spent the previous day relaxing at Keough's Hot Springs and admiring souvenir's at the shops around Lone Pine while we waited for the 2 o'clock permits to be released at the Visitor Center. After receiving our permits, we headed straight to camp to setup our shelters, and pack our provisions for the following day. Within an hour of arriving, we had everything ready for an Alpine start. Two backpacks were set on the table, with David's Bivy parallel to my hammock under the shade of the trees. All we needed to do was chuck everything in the car, refill our bladders, and drive 15 minutes up to the Whitney Portal. The speed at which we prepared camp was a reminder of how eager we were to bag Russell. After all, this was our third attempt to climb this peak after being halted on the ridge by rough snowy conditions and nightfall. We were hungry, and focused. Like anyone who is way to eager to fall asleep before a full day of climbing, we drank around a campfire to disorient ourselves. 

An Alpine Start 

Whitney Portal | Elevation 8350 feet

North Fork Trail Junction Sign on Mount Whitney Trail | TRVRS APPARREL
North For Trail Junction Sign 20 minutes into Whitney Trail.

 

September 12th, 2016 -- 3:15 am. The Mount Whitney trail head was quiet with the exception of one other group taking pictures and enjoying the night sky. We kept to tradition by weighing our packs, which were a refreshing 40 lbs lighter than our previous backpacking attempts on this trail. The weather was a perfect 60 degrees and both of us had packed extremely light, wearing shorts, and bringing a minimal amount of layers. We were partially aware that this would turn out to be a mistake later but pressed on anyhow. Twenty minutes and 3/4 of a mile later, we had made the it to the second stream crossing. It is just before this crossing where an inconspicuous use trail is located. A massive rock slab stands tall to the East separating the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek from the main trail and is the beginning of Thor Peak and eventually Pinnacle Ridge. After taking a short break to delayer, we made for the North Fork.
 

The Erbersbacher Ledges

E-Ledges | Elevation 9600 feet

 

Erbersbacher Ledges North Fork Lone Pine Creek - MOUNT RUSSELL | TRVRS APPAREL
E-Ledges from below. Photo Courtesy of David Richard.

 

Although the North Fork is technically not an official trail, the constant flow of climbers the route sees each year makes it fairly easy to navigate. What isn't an obvious path is heavily forest, at least up to Lower Boyscout Lake. That is not to say there isn't an almost immediate change in the difficulty of its terrain after leaving the Whitney Trail. Over the next mile, the grade nearly doubles bringing the average to 28%. After two creek crossings and a small Class 3 scramble, we had made it to the famous Erbersbacher Ledges (1.3 miles, 1327 feet climbed).

Ebersbacher Ledges North Fork Lone Pine Creek | TRVRS APPAREL
View from beginning of Erbersbacher Ledges.

 

The view from the E-Ledges is magnificent in the daytime. Large granite walls surround the dense forest floor dotted with pieces of the trail. Just as you begin to squint your eyes to search for more hikers, the walls demand your attention in the Eastern direction leading to a hazy view of the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine which makes for a beautiful overall perspective of your location. In our case, there was only darkness with stars above, and a small span of city lights in the distance. A spectacle in its own rite.

The E-Ledges are unquestionably a section of the trail to proceed with caution. Although they are fairly easy to traverse, they happen to be just above a cliff side and a fall would most likely be fatal. We passed through this section fairly quickly, having done it several times and previously communicating a vision of being at some epic lookout before sunrise to enjoy the legendary Mount Whitney Alpen Glow. Lower Boyscout Lake was only a quarter of a mile away from the Ledges and we were ready for our first break in the long day ahead.

Lower Boyscout Lake & The Slabs

LBS | Elevation 10350 feet

By 4:30am, we had reached Lower Boyscout Lake (2.5 miles, 2500 feet climbed). This section offers a bit of immediate relief, beginning with a leveled trail and the most calming creek crossing the North Fork has to offer this time of year. The trail picks back up on the Southern rim of the Lake and is spotted with tall pines, shaded campsites, and plenty of space for hikers to take off their pack and enjoy a short break. I expected we would probably have a seat just out of habit, but within minutes of readjusting our packs and checking our pace, the chilling morning cold sent a shiver down our spines and we were ready for our next rocky ascent. 

 

Overview Lower Boyscout Lake from bottom of Slabs | TRVRS APPAREL
Overview (looking East) of a frozen LBS Lake from just under the Slabs. Photo courtesy of David Richard.

After the ease of all that is Lower Boyscout Lake, the trail disappears abruptly under a mass of Talus, which you will climb, leap, and squeeze your way across for roughly 400 feet in a quarter of a mile. The idea here is to stay just South of the vegetation that surrounds the drainage from Upper Boyscout Lake and eventually top out on the large smooth granite slabs above. Depending on what time of year you go, climbing across the slabs could be another challenge. From Winter to Spring, this section becomes a spillway for snow melt and could be wet or even icy. That being said, I've caught myself slipping during summer months as well, so just be sure to approach with caution and you should reach Upper Boyscout Lake in no time. 

Upper Boyscout Lake & The Scree Field

UBS | Elevation 11300 feet

At 5:22am, David and I had reached Upper Boyscout Lake after climbing roughly 3,200 feet in under three miles. We were making excellent time and just as our confidence was at its height, we heard an all too familiar howl. The Lake was exposed to the harsh winds we were dreading and within seconds, the already low 41 degree temperature dropped to freezing and we found ourselves searching for a large rock to huddle behind. The problem we now faced was that we were already wearing all of the layers we brought and it was only approaching the coldest time of day.

North Scree Field from Upper Boyscout Lake | TRVRS APPAREL
North Scree Field from Upper Boyscout Lake. Here, you can see that the route stays East for the first section, before climbing back in the North Western direction past 12000 feet.

Our next destination was the massive scree and boulder field just North of Upper Boyscout Lake. At this point, any sort of designated trail is diminished and you are left with a shoe filled with rocks and a mind filled with doubt as you climb 1,500 feet in under a mile. Here, it pays to be extremely observant of your surroundings as you ascend. Although the route is mostly made up of loose scree, to the right are larger, firmer and more manageable boulders. Continue to follow the scree field in the general Northwestern direction, avoiding the rock walls and staying to the least steep parts of what loosely resembles a gully. At 12000 feet, we decided to take a long enough break to allow the sun to rise. The irony of climbing to stay warm was that at this elevation, a few hundred feet of ascent had an inverse effect on temperature which when combined with the wind chill, created an extremely cold environment.

Sunrise at 12000 feet North Screen Field from Upper Boyscout Lake | TRVRS APPAREL
Sunrise at 12000 feet from the Scree Field. Photo courtesy of David Richard.

Approaching the Russell-Carrillon Saddle

The Plateau  | Elevation 12900 feet

 

The Plateau, Russell-Carrillon Saddle, & Mount Russell's East Ridge | TRVRS APPAREL
The Plateau w/ Mount Russell's East Ridge to the left and the Russell-Carrillon Saddle to the right. Photo Courtesy of Roberto Chavez & Tammy Luther.

We had reached the top of the scree field at 7:10am (3.6 miles, 4700 feet climbed). This Plateau overlooks most of the Whitney Zone and offers an excellent panoramic perspective of Thor Peak, and the Pinnacle Ridge leading straight to the still enormous Mount Whitney. The temperature had finally made its way up to 50 degrees and the flat terrain exposed us to another flurry of winds which despite the sunrise, still made me feel uncomfortably cold. I would soon find out why.

Although I had trained moderately as a trail runner for this and other excursions, running 15-30 miles per week, I was dragging my knuckles across the floor. Each step added another frame to a visual in my head of my pace slowing, and my stride degrading until I completed a transformation into what could only be described as a mountain climbing Zombie. Then I fell asleep the same way I'd done behind the wheel in traffic so many times before. My head fell over and I picked it back up in a brief moment of alertness before it happened again. I turned around to tell David that I probably needed to take a nap before we continued onto the Ridge, especially one that featured a section most commonly known as "The Knifes Edge". He convinced me to make it to the Saddle and I nodded hesitantly. 

Naptime at the Russell-Carrillon Saddle Mount Russell East Ridge | TRVRS APPAREL
Taking a true power nap at 13000 feet. A luxury not many have had.

I awoke thirty minutes later, curled up into a ball next to the biggest rock wind block I could find with my right cheek immersed in a puddle of drool. David was sitting nearby with a look of boredom. I apologized for the wait, noting that I had only had six hours of sleep in the two days leading up to this trek. He said that while I was asleep I was breathing heavily, which explained the drool. In hindsight, I feel like the combination of sleep and oxygen deprivation had an enormous effect on my stamina causing me to crash. An issue I was extremely grateful to have corrected.

The East Ridge

Russell-Carrillon Saddle | Elevation 13300 feet

Mount Russell East Ridge from Russell-Carrillon Saddle | TRVRS APPAREL
The East Ridge as seen from the Saddle. Photo Courtesy of David Richard.

8:45am -- We had made it to the Russell-Carrillon Saddle and my hibernation period was over (4.1 miles, 5178 feet climbed). Endless 360 degree alpine scenery would dominate the rest of our Class 3 rock scramble ascent and within a few minutes climb, we would approach what was completely new territory for us both. I couldn't tell if it was the power nap or my adrenaline, but I was wide awake.

Chute climb near East Twin Mount Russell East Ridge | TRVRS APPAREL
East Ridge chute from East Twin Peak of Mount Russell. Photo Courtesy of Tammy Luther & Roberto Chavez.

 

The final half mile to the summit is in my opinion as rewarding as the moment we made it to the peak, which is why I won't ruin it by providing you with descriptions of hand holds and the amount of Class 3 moves you will have to make. David and I had different ideas of what was easier and essentially took slightly different routes while maintaining a short distance from one another. Had I found myself in front of a cliff face, I could ask how his route looked and we'd tag team the mountain all the way to the peak. For the most part I stuck to the Ridge while David seemed to stay only 15 or 20 feet below on the Northern slope.

East Ridge of Mount Russell | TRVRS APPAREL
One of the slimmer section of the Knifes Edge. Photo Courtesy of Tammy Luther & Roberty Chavez.

The only issue I faced on the tip of the ridge was the exposure. Leaning slightly in either direction left me staring at a 1000 foot drop and even the slightest gust of wind was cause for me to drop down and hug a rock. The exception to the ridge walking was when we made it to the East Twin Peak of Russell. Essentially every bit of the trail after this stays to the Northern slope.

The Peak

Mount Russell Summit | Elevation 14094 feet

North Fork Lone Pine Creek Whitney Zone from Mount Russell | TRVRS APPAREL
A good chunk of the Whitney Zone from Mount Russell Summit. Photo Courtesy of David Richard.

At 10:33am we finally had made it to the top of Mount Russell. We searched for register and eventually found it lodged between two boulders in the surface below. Upon inspection, we found signatures from many of our friends and a few more experience mountaineers naming complex Class 5 approaches we hadn't even heard of. We cracked open our summit beer, and shared a cheers to a successful climb and the eventual goal of completing those more difficult routes.

Summit Register of Mount Russell with TRVRS Apparel Sticker | TRVRS APPAREL
Summit Register Atop Mount Russell receives a new sticker! Left plenty more inside for you guys.

 

Summit Register of Mount Russell 14094 feet Whitney Zone | TRVRS APPAREL
Eispiraten sticker on base of register container. This forum was part of the reason I started writing trip reports. Thank you! Cheers!


The Return from the West Summit of Mount Russell | TRVRS APPAREL
The return trip, with massive grins on our face. We had finally done it!

 

 Elevation Profile

 

Elevation Profile Mount Russell via East Ridge North Fork Lone Pine Creek | TRVRS APPAREL
(IMAGE IS BASED ON ROUTE TO PEAK AND DOES NOT INCLUDE RETURN TRIP.)

 

Total Distance : 10.5 miles

Total Elevation (feet): 6,991 feet 

Time to completion: David and I completed this hike in 12 hours, while the others who helped put this trip report together had made an attempt two weeks prior to our trek and completed the out-and-back in just under 17 hours. Plan accordingly.
 
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. There is plenty of water from the trailhead all the way up to Upper Boyscout Lake, after which point, any sort of life besides the occasional Marmot is nonexistent. 

RESOURCES

Mount Russell via East Ridge - GPX FILE
(Roberto & Tammy were kind enough to let me use their GPX file for data while I was writing this trip report. In examining their route vs ours, I decided to provide the link to their GPX file since their route was more accurate for the Scree section passed Upper Boyscout Lake. Enjoy!)

Mount Russell via East Ridge - STRAVA ACCOUNT
(Here is what David's garmin produced)