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Mt. Russell and the Wall of Death

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Mt. Russell and the Wall of Death

Postby quentinc » Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:59 pm

http://good-times.webshots.com/album/560190181WGvIkW?track_pagetag=/page/photo/goodtimes/friendsfun&track_action=/Owner/ViewActions/FullAlbum

Last Friday through Sunday, I resolved to finally do the Whitney Mountaineer Route (having done the regular trail some 20 times!), and to challenge my psyche on Mt. Russell. There's a Richard Thompson song called "The Wall of Death" (nominally about a roller coaster ride), which is the name I've always associated with Russell.

Hiking up the fantastically steep North Fork trail on Friday with a 45 pound pack (ironically, I who hates the bear canister actually brought one on the mistaken assumption that bears could find there way up there) wasn't much fun (neither was going down it!). But the MR on Saturday was a thrill -- so much fun to climb class 3 rock and suddenly emerge to see that familiar hut. The weather finally cleared too -- it had been raining all week apparently.

Saturday night and Sunday morning, the wind had kicked up something fierce. I debated just packing out, but decided to brave the gusts and hike up the gully to the Russell/Carillon plateau. From there it was such a short hike to Carillon, I did it, even though I wasn't having much fun in the wind. And I figured the wind would make a good excuse for not doing Russell. But then I decided to at least hike down to the pass at the base of Russell. And then I convinced myself to hike up the easy Class 2 hill just to get a better look at the fantastic spine of the beast. Since I knew I wasn't going to have to face the fear of actually climbing that spine, it was no problem. By then the wind had actually ebbed a bit. So then I convinced myself to hike up to the part where the intense exposure starts. Since it didn't seem that bad, I kept going and before I knew it the East summit loomed over me. Then I knew there was no avoiding destiny, so I went for it, and then the West summit.

It was the most glorious climb I've ever done. Not the scariest -- that would have to be Abbott. But Abbott was shortly to be surpassed:

I was so exultant at having summited that I decided to take a different route down fom the plateau. I thought I was doing the so-called Rockwell Variation, but it turned out to be the Rock Hell variation. Or the Rock Head variation...almost literally. Anyway, I ended up encountering the real Wall of Death, which you can see in the last photo. Three-quarters of the way down, I got myself into a trap where I couldn't climb back up, and ahead of me faced a 20 foot slope on a steep, completely smooth boulder. At the end of the boulder was a solid rock on the left, but sheer air in the center and on the right. I was clinging to hang on to where I was and couldn't hold much longer. So I first let my daypack go, and it sailed right over the edge, its water bottles and bones sickeningly exploding and smashing everywhere. But, still, I realized my only chance was to let go myself, and try to fling my body over to the left where the rock would stop my slide. As the life wrenched out of my stomach, I launched. Seconds later I found my right hand clinging to a protuberance on the rock I was aiming for, with the rest of me poised over the edge of the cliff, on my back and upside down (head-first). I was able to pull myself back up...or else I wouldn't be typing this post today.

Don't try this at home!



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Postby giantbrookie » Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:13 am

Nice photos and a great, spine-tingling story that would make Clarence King proud. Funny thing that you mention Abbot as your previous scary experience. I had a serious do-or-fly experience descending Abbot where my climbing partner thought I was a goner. In that episode, my rucksack also ended up several hundred feet below me, but in remarkably good shape (it was all puffed up like a ball with my jacket stuffed inside so it merrily bounced along).
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Postby KathyW » Thu Aug 09, 2007 8:04 am

Thanks for the pictures and report - I've been checking out a lot of Russell pics lately. I'm going to wander up there on my own on Saturday to check out the ridge on Russell - if it's too much for me as a day hike I'll turn around and try it another time as an overnight trip.
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Postby quentinc » Thu Aug 09, 2007 9:05 am

GB: It's funny how durable rucksacks can be. Even though everything came out of mine, nothing was damaged (unlike my scratched, scraped and bruised up self!).

Kathy: I know this is kind of a cliche that some people say about every climb, but Russell really isn't as bad as it looks. I would just plunge into it, with the reassuring understanding that one could just turn around whenever it starts getting too exposed. The first third or so is easy. And when the ridgetop gets narrow and sheer, you can always drop down to the north side of the ridge, which is actually sort of sheltered in most places.

A dayhike would be an impressive undertaking though. I'd like to try it sometime.
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Postby KathyW » Fri Aug 10, 2007 9:59 am

thanks for the info Q - I'm hoping that it isn't as bad as it looks and I'm hoping for no afternoon storms so I can take my time.
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Postby Ranboze » Fri Aug 10, 2007 10:19 pm

Great job of selecting key shots for the album quentinc and congrats on the peaks and for surviving the Wall of Death. Looks like it was a great trip.
Walking outside is where I find what's inside.
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Postby madeintahoe » Sun Aug 12, 2007 10:35 am

Quentinc...Thank you for sharing that story!! Very enjoyable to read..but your Wall of Death I bet was not so enjoyable...so sorry..gosh!

Beautiful pictures.......I love the summit sunglasses shot..what an awesome idea..very cute :D :D
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Postby KathyW » Sun Aug 12, 2007 7:40 pm

I did the day hike to Russell yesterday and it went well - the ridge was was fun but the approach in up from Clyde Meadow was not. Now that I've done that trek up to the Carillon-Russell Saddle twice in the last month, I think I'll move on to another area for the next few trips.

Some pics I took:

http://kathywing.smugmug.com/gallery/3294277#183033767
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Postby quentinc » Sun Aug 12, 2007 8:43 pm

Great job Kathy! Funny, it seems like only last week that I was there.

How long did the dayhike take you?
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Postby KathyW » Sun Aug 12, 2007 10:27 pm

Quentinc:

Thanks

It was a full day for me. It took me just over 5 hours to get to the Russell-Carillon Saddle, 2 hours to get across the ridge to the west summit, 2 hours to get back to the saddle from west summit, and a little less than 4 hours to get back to the trailhead from Russell-Carillon Saddle; so 13 hours total.

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Postby Snow Nymph » Mon Aug 13, 2007 7:53 pm

Good job, both of you! I like that . . . Rock Hell! :lol:
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


http://snownymph.smugmug.com/
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Postby quentinc » Mon Aug 13, 2007 8:26 pm

Yes, Rock Hell indeed, although don't tell Mr. Bob R. that.

Kathy -- 13 hours doesn't sound bad at all. It took me 1-1/2 hour to get across the Russell ridge, but the part that took forever was the sand gully up to the summit plateau. It was kind of nice starting from UBSL, since at least I was rested before I started the hill.
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