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 the description of the North Fork trail till the Boyscout lakes.
Eastern approachThere are two main ways to get to Mt Russell from Whitney Portal:
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 ridge, and (to the right) Lake Tulainyo, the highest named lake in the contiguous USA (3906m).
From the saddle, reaching the summit of Russell involves climbing up the
eastern ridge to the East Peak, and then traversing
to the West Peak. Neither is easy and in between it can be deadly.
Mt Carillon is much (much) easier to reach from the saddle. From right 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 over rock. 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:
The two eastern routes:
Northern approachIf the Eastern route is too scary for you, consider a compromise: follow it to the plateau but then take the northern ridge. This is a bit longer but a lot safer.
To reach the North Ridge, 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.
Milestones (and my 2009 times):
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 the summer there 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.
Southwestern approachTake 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 "pass" 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. (The chute technically splits into a right side and a left side, but the left side is impassable so you can't really make a mistake). Alas, at the top of the right side of the southwestern chute you hit the headwall. The only way to climb that headwall is a narrow, scary, class-4 chimney.
It takes about 30 minutes to the notch, which is not-so-easy class-2.
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.
(Do rangers enforce this law? I don't know. I cannot write whether i get a permit or not because i don't want to incriminate myself and have the FBI knock at my door for the grave terrorist offence of hiking in the wilderness. Just remember that, if they catch you, the fine is $5,000 and six months in jail, way more than for most crimes. If you think this is ridiculous, welcome to the club; but nobody is doing anything about it, and i guarantee that it will get worse: the Inyo National Forest pays absolutely no price for these obscenities and it actually keeps getting more and more of your tax money).