Friday, May 7, 2010

Whitney and Russell in a day

Last week I headed back down south to meet up with some friends and ski some more peaks down on the east side of the sierra. Last Sunday I hooked up with Oscar, Andrew, Allison and John to try and tackle Mt. Whitney and Mt. Russell in the same day. Since both of these peaks are over 14,000 feet tall, it was sure to be a big day. We started in the dark at about 5:30 am, I shot this photo about a half hour into our ascent just as the sun was rising. After about an hour we caught a great view of our first objective. The summit of Mt. Whitney isn't too far from our break spot here. I was surprised how easy and quick it was to get back here...
A little while later and we're still headed up, the Owen's Valley sits almost 10,000 feet below us. At this point we're about to head into the Mountaineer's Route to start the steeper part of the ascent.
This shot is looking down the Mountaineer's Route from the top of the snow. This day was one of the windiest days I've ever spent in the mountains. The wind was so strong that it was actually blowing us over. I physically got blown over at least 4 times this day. From the top of the Mountaineer's Route chute there is a technical mixed snow and rock climb onto the summit Plateau. It took us about 5 hours to reach the summit from the Whitney Portal parking area. Once on the summit plateau it is completely flat, creating an interesting juxtaposition to the sheer cliffs that make up the eastern face of the mountain.
Since it was so windy we were freezing cold on the summit. We quickly made our way to our descent route which was not the way we had ascended. Normally people ski down the mountaineer's route, since we had the plan to ski Mt. Russell, we descended the north side of Mt. Whitney into the basin between the 2 peaks. In the photo below you can see our descent route, kinda. Its a little hard to tell how we linked this face together, but it was actually pretty easy...
As I might have mentioned, it was windy, in this photo, Oscar skis the north side of Whitney, you can see the snow being blown up and over the ridge behind him. It was brutally cold on the ridge, and this wind was relentless. Once we got down the face and into the basin between Whitney and Russell it was much more tolerable and pleasant.
Our next objective was to get as high up Mt. Russell as possible. Since gaining the summit from any interesting ski line on the peak involves technical rock climbing we chose to ski from the highest skiable point. The photo below shows Mt. Russell as seen from the summit of Mt. Whitney. Our line is the ribbon of snow that makes it close to the summit. Truly a beautiful mountain, not much in the way of sweet skiing, but I hear there are some incredible big wall rock climbs up there.
We climbed straight up the line we wanted to ski, and you can see the north side of Mt. Whitney behind us. We were all psyched to be out of the wind and took our time climbing our 2nd 14er of the day.
And dropping. Jon drops in on the weird snow on Mt. Russell. Jon is a machine and he skied 12 of the 14 peaks above 14,000 feet in the state of California in the past month. Unfortunately he broke his leg after being hit by rockfall just the other day so completing his 14er mission might have to wait til next season...

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