Fishhook Arete on Mt. Russell
Along the way to climbing California 14ers, Dustin and I set out to climb a route on Mt. Russell, the 14er just one peak north and separated from Mt. Whitney by one couloir. There were two routes that caught our eye, Mithre Dihedral and Fishhook Arete. Fishhook, a 5.9 Where most pitches are quite a bit easier, was recommended by a SMC guide who gave us a hitch getting back from Langley. Mithril was recommended by several guidebooks and friends. We arrived at Lone Pine Friday night and parked in some green area on the map, next to the water pipe. The next morning we got to the permit office around 730 and ate breakfast, missing the lottery draw somehow. However, we secured a permit to camp at Iceberg Lake Saturday night and climb on Sunday. We set off from Whitney Portal around 9:30. The walk up to the Whitney zone was much faster than I remembered-I didn’t miss the turn for the Mountaineers Route and the trail wasn't icy higher up. We took a brief rest at Lower Boyscout, having some peanut butter sandwich and Dustin's famous Nutella-based trail goop. The best.
At Upper Boyscout, we rested just briefly before pushing on for Iceberg. The route we found up was more treacherous than anticipated, and slick with ice melt and flora. Still, we arrived at camp around 2pm, almost early enough that we could have climbed Russell that day. However the sky was ominous, Whitney was in the clouds and we had seen people descending who had bailed on Russell. I also prefer the extra acclimatization when I can get it. So we made camp next to a large boulder forming a vertical wall for Dustin's tarp, which reached from near the top of the boulder to the ground, providing plenty of cover. We made a feast of hearty vegetable stew over couscous and rice. We struggled to finish it. We spent the long afternoon reading and tried to get some very early sleep I relished reading Clarence King's Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, surrounded by those mild but kind peaks.
We didn’t bother with the Alpine Start that morning, as it was too chilly to really start climbing early. The clouds had cleared overnight (I got to take them in during a past midnight walkabout) and it started to warm up as we ascended the Whitney Russell col, crossing a wide bowl to reach the bottom of the climbs at the South face of Russell. Since Mithril would be mostly in the shade that day, we decided to check out Fishhook. Dustin led the first, crux pitch, then we swapped leads going up the long, sharply curved arete that stretched from near the summit to the base. It was my favorite style of climbing, though it probably could have been a bit more sustained. We followed a great ridge with plenty of routefinding options, all of which were OK, and some exposure, especially on the left (NW) side of the climb, looking down behind the protecting fold of the arete. after the first pitch we were more or less in the clouds for much of the climb Happily, the clouds partially broke as we celebrated on the summit. Our guidebook assured us that the W summit where the climb finished is the true summit. Though the E summit looked higher, we didn’t feel the need to check. We enjoyed some chocolate, tried to identify Langley and other peaks on the horizon, then headed down. We took the fairly easy gully down, retracing our steps until we were back to Iceberg. Inspired by the sun finally but temporarily in the open, we took a dip in the icy water, then sunned until the shade came back. We packed up and headed down. We made quick work of the trail, despite my knees hurting near the end-I need to remember to stretch more! We arrived back to the car around sunset, hungry but happy.