Mt Russell is 4,294 meters high. The eastern approach starts from the Whitney
Portal (same as the main Whitney trail). After a few minutes, take the
North Fork trail (Whitney's mountaineering route).
See North Fork trail till the Boyscout lakes.
Note: as of 2008 the unelected officials who run the Inyo National Forest (with your
tax money) have extended the "Whitney Zone" to the entire Whitney
mountaineering route above the Lower Boyscout lake, so that hiking Mt Russell
not only requires a permit (yes, even for a day hike), but the permit is the
same to hike Mt Whitney (good luck getting one). You are no longer hiking
legally if you hike Mt Russell or Mt Carillon without a Mt Whitney permit
(as demented as this may sound).
Please boycott any initiative to increase the funding for the Inyo national
forest. The more money they get, the more bureaucrats they can hire,
the more restrictions they will apply and enforce.
Petition your Congress representative to dissolve the Inyo National Forest and return
the wilderness to wilderness lovers.
There are two main ways to get to Mt Russell from Whitney Portal:
(Pictures of this hike).
Either way, at the top you
are on the Russell-Carillon plateau. Mt Russell is the "hill" to the
the saddle (usually referred to as the Russell-Carillon Pass), Carillon is on your right (although you don't see its
When you reach Upper Boy Scout, bear right around the lake and walk
up the canyon. Mt Russell is right in front.
After two waterfalls and a dry lake, you reach a sandy plateau.
(There is a use trail on the right/eastern side of the canyon).
up the scree and the rocks. The route winds its way clockwise (northeast)
to the top of the gully. Mt Russell is on your left all the time.
You surface right at the base of the east ridge, near the saddle between
Russell and Carillon.
Before Upper Boy Scout, a "trail" heads north up a gully.
This is basically just
a wall of scree.
Scramble your way to the top. Initially the use trail takes
you to the right of a wall of rocks. Then you should try to move back towards
the center of the gully. A good reference point is a huge rock that looks
like the temples at Petra: you want to end to the left of it.
At that point, any direction is good to reach the plateau.
When you reach the upper ridge of this plateau (the saddle-like Russell-Carillon Pass), you will
see two lakes: an unnamed (and always icy) lake right below Mt
Russell's north side, and (to the right) Lake Tulainyo, the highest
lake in the contiguous USA (3906m).
From the saddle, reaching the summit of Russell involves climbing up the
eastern ridge to the East Summit, and then traversing
to the West Summit. Neither is easy and in between it can be deadly.
The eastern ridge is relatively easy rock climbing for about 20-25 minutes
(best is to stay to the left of the ridge).
Then there is a false summit and the first exposure.
If that scares you, go back because
it is just an appetizer. After this first false summit, move to the right
of the ridge, where a use trail has appeared. Now you should have a good view
of the East Summit, which looks like some kind of twisted kitchen tool.
The "trail" stays to the right side (the side of the lakes) with minimal
exposure, but nonetheless the drop is quite intimidating.
About 45 minutes from the plateau
you have to climb one sharp rock. Then you have a good view of the East
Peak, which looks more like a regular mountain summit but, alas, is not the
real summit: that would be
the (still invisible) West Peak.
After that sharp rock, you still have to walk on
a deadly blade, an extremely thin layer of rock
with a gigantic drop on both sides. There is a flat rock of about three
meters that you have to walk on with absolutely nothing to save you if you
slip: it is a good idea to leave the backpack here and proceed on all fours.
But those three meters are still "safe" compared with the very next step:
you have to slide sideways holding on a crack while your feet have no
real support. Again, it's only a couple of meters, but absolutely nothing
will save you if your hands don't hold.
Then it gets a bit easier because (you can't see it from the Eastern Ridge)
there is actually a lower layer of rock below the blade. In fact, you are
better off immediately descending one or two steps.
Now the East Peak is an easy and safe scramble. That's the point where the
Northern Ridge and the Southern Ridge connect. You can bypass the East Peak
from either side and you finally have a good view of the almost flat 200 meters
connecting the East Peak to the West Peak.
Mt Carillon is much (much) easier to reach from the saddle.
where you are taking pictures of Lake Tulainyo, follow the ridge to the
right (east). There is a trail below the talus rock if you prefer sand
Either way you should reach the summit of Mt Carillon in 20-25 minutes.
Milestones to Mt Russell on the eastern route and suggested times:
Getting down through the same eastern route:
- Ledges/waterfall: 1 hour
- Lower Boyscout Lake: 2 hours
- Base of gully: 3 hours
- Top of gully: 5 hours
- Russell-Carillon Pass: 5h 15'
- Blade: 7h
- East Peak: 7h30'
- West Peak: 8h
Getting down through the north-western chute:
- One hour to get down from the Summit to the plateau
- One hour to get down from the plateau to the trail
- 30' to get to Lower Boyscout Lake
- 1h30' to get to the parking lot
- Russell plateau: 8.5 hour
- Canyon: 10 hour
- Dry lake: 10.5 hour
- Upper Boyscout Lake: 11 hour
- Base of gully: 11h15'
- First lake: 12h15'
- Ledges/waterfall: 12h30'
- Main trail junction: 13h
- Parking lot: 13h15'
The two eastern routes:
(Click to enlarge)
From Whitney Portal take
the North Fork route to Mt Whitney up to Lower Boyscout Lake.
The safest and easiest way to reach the North Ridge is to take
the Whitney mountaineering route to the same Russell-Carillon Pass that leads
to the Eastern Ridge. However, from this pass continue straight north
finding a way to descend
into the bowl of Tulainyo Lake (3908m). As the "pass" is basically one long
horizontal line, there are several class 2-3 routes that on can follow to drop
down into the lake's bowl.
Alas, this results in a loss of almost 200 vertical meters. Try to head
left (north-west) as you descend so that you coast the left side of the little
hill between Tulainyo Lake and its western (unnamed) neighbor. Then head north-west
for the very visible north ridge. It climbs very gently south towards the East
Peak of Mt Russell. The ridge is 3-5 meters wide so there is no exposure and
it requires no difficult moves. When you reach the very obvious pinnacle that
blocks the ascent along the ridge, move to the right about 50 meters. If you
are lucky, my cairns are still there and you can just follow them. Otherwise
trust the idea that you have to go around the ridge. From the ridge you cannot
see the correct route. Once you have moved those 50 meters to the right,
turn left and you'll see some obvious diagonal ledges that lead left (toward
the ridge that you just left). Use a combination of them to ascend to the
East Peak. If you are patient, you may never do more than class-2 climbing.
If impatient, there are several class-3 moves that will lead you from one
ledge to the next one. Avoid moving too far to the right because you get on
very steep and slippery granite slabs. To be safer, you should in fact move
slowly back towards the ridge as soon as you have climbed above the pinnacle.
The West Peak is now visible.
When you are high enough, you have a choice: continue up towards the East Peak
or move slowly west (right) as you go up in order to gain the ridge between
the East and West Peak. That ridge is about 100 meters and relatively flat.
When you are on the ridge drop down to the right a bit to follow the easier
route to the real peak. It might be a little confusing which one if the real
peak because there are several monoliths sticking up from the ridge.
The real summit has a register in a metal cylinder (in 2009 there was no pen).
I highly recommend that you mark the way up otherwise it will be not obvious
at all how to go back. Resist the temptation to just descend vertically from
the West Peak: you would have to downclimb vertical slabs of granite.
The Northern Ridge from the Russell-Carillon Pass:
The Pinnacle and the 50-meter detour to get around it:
The West Peak from the Northern Ridge:
Milestones (and my 2009 times):
- See the East Ridge description for the route up to the Russell-Carillon Pass
- Russell-Carillon Pass: 4h30'
- Lake west of Tulainyo Lake: 5h
- End of the "flat" part of the north ridge: 5h30'
- West Peak: 8h30'
- Back to Whitney Portal: 14h30'
Several books describe an alternative route to reach the
Tulainyo Lake bowl: via the Clyde Creek from Lower Boyscout Lake.
Try it only if you are tired of living. In summer thee is no water in the creek.
Nonetheless it is a very steep and treacherous route. When you reach the top,
you still have to figure out how to reach the pass itself (very visible from
the side of the Tulainyo Lake, but less than obvious on the side of
Lower Boyscout Lake.
Note of 2009: The astute route scouts had found out that one can reach Mt
Russell avoiding the dreadful Whitney concentration camp (oops, i meant
"the Whitney permit zone") by hiking north on the Clyde Creek from the Lower
Boyscout Lake. This is a deadly steep route. The nazi guards (oops, i meant
"the rangers") have now officially
decided that this route too is off-limits. Basically, they just don't like
people to hike Mt Russell, no matter which way you go.
Take the North Fork route to Mt Whitney up to Iceberg Lake. Look for a notch west
of Iceberg Lake (the Whitney-Russell pass). Climb that notch and you'll be
facing Russell's south face. A wide sandy chute takes you to the ridge that
connects the east and west peaks (at the top of the chute, you have to climb
left to avoid the cliffs).
The Whitney-Russell Pass from Mt Russell:
The Southern chute from Mt Whitney:
The Southern Chute from Mt Russell: