The Cleaver P300 PD / CS
Tunnabora Peak 2x P500 SPS / PD
Mt. Russell 3x P1K SPS / WSC / PD / CS

Sat, Aug 12, 2006

With: Bill Peters
Miguel Forjan
Cliff Agocs
Cory Fitzpatrick
Evan Rasmussen
Adam Jantz
Tom Seeba

Tunnabora Peak
Mt. Russell
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
Tunnabora Peak previously climbed Sun, May 7, 2006
Mt. Russell previously climbed Sun, May 7, 2006
later climbed Sun, Aug 15, 2010


Saturday and the weekend had rolled around for Day 9 of the Sierra Challenge. Normally this would bring out a number of new faces, but the accident earlier in the week had dampened enthusiam. Miguel Forjan was the only new face at the 6a start. Like last year, Miguel only planned to join us for a single day, but he was sure to make the most of it.

Five of us started from the Whitney Portal TH at 6a. Sunrise came soon after, even before we had done the first mile of the trail. We turned off at the North Fork trail junction, heading up one of the most improved use trails anywhere in the Sierra. Where one used to have to look around for clues, there are now rocks lining the paths along slabs and a good deal more ducks than ever before. The Forest Service has even installed a poop bag dispenser/collector just off the main trail. Soon you may find dayhike quotas being established - won't that be grand?

Within half an hour Miguel and I were left to the front as the others took an easier pace. It took about an hour to reach Lower Boy Scout Lake, and from there Miguel and I turned northwest and headed up the slope toward Cleaver Col. Neither of us had been up this route and were eager to find if it made for a better ascent than the usual slog up to the Russell-Carillon Saddle. It was a fine route, as we found. The lower slopes are compact sand/talus/turf that hold together nicely. We followed the creek into a high cirque east of the Sierra Crest and southeast of the Cleaver. We filled up water bottles before leaving the creek, awed by the impressive SE Face of the Cleaver. A very narrow chute leads up to the crest just west of the small lake, but we didn't go far enough towards the Cleaver to determine whether it was possible to follow the chute all the way up with chockstones. Instead, we took the easier slopes to the south, a pile of boulders turning to decent rock which led all the way up to the crest with nothing harder than class 3. From LSBL it took only an hour and forty minutes to reach the crest, a bit south of the lowpoint between the Cleaver and Carillon.

As we scrambled towards the lowpoint, we had a good view of the SE Ridge on the Cleaver. The 5.6 route looked much harder than that to us, with huge steps looking impossible to a couple of amateurs without any rock gear. So naturally we bypassed that and headed across the West Face. Halfway across Miguel eyed a line heading upwards towards the upper third of the SW Ridge. We enjoyed the class 3 blocks leading up to the ridge a good deal. We climbed into a narrow notch from which it looked difficult to get out of. From a small perch with a frightful amount of exposure off the east side, I was just able to make the class 4 mantle up to the block leading towards the summit. Miguel climbed up to the notch behind me, looked at the next move, and chuckled, "I'm not going up there!" Unable to convince him otherwise, I continued up the enjoyable class 4 ridge (the 5.6 parts were undoubtedly lower down where we had bypassed it) to the summit - great exposure on fine rock.

It was 9:20a when Miguel and I were both sitting atop the Cleaver's summit. We had more peaks to reach so we didn't stay long. We scrambled down the class 3 NW Ridge. Compared to the SW Ridge it was only of moderate quality and fairly tame. Miguel dropped all the way to the shore of Tulainyo Lake, then dropped all of his clothes as well as he took a brisk dip in the huge lake. We'd had a brief discussion about it's reputation as the highest lake in the continental US which is why Miguel felt compelled to take a swim despite the frigid temperatures (ice was freely floating about the lake). I pointed out that it was the highest named lake, but not the highest lake (there is a small lake near Caltech Peak and another small tarn in Colorado somewhere vying for that honor). No matter, it required a swim. Not so on my part, so I hung high on the ridge and headed to Tunnabora directly.

Tunnabora is an easy climb from the south, and it took only an hour to get from the Cleaver to Tunnabora's summit. The summit was not deserted, and I was not surprised to find another climber there. Charles Morton was there to greet me, the same climber I had missed on Mt. Keith's summit by a quarter of an hour the day before. Charles had climbed East Vidette and Keith the previous two days, backpacking between the peaks without returning to the trailhead. He had camped somewhere down by Wallace Lakes and climbed up to Tunnabora in the morning. Miguel came up to join us about ten minutes later and together we discussed plans on where to go next. Charles had originally planned to continue backpacking to reach Mt. Pickering the next day. But it would entail another 15 miles of hiking today and Charles felt more like calling it a trip and heading down to Whitney Portal instead. Miguel and I had both planned to next climb the class 3 North Ridge of Mt. Russell, and Miguel was ready to make good on it. I was looking northwest however, and my fancy turned to the summit of Carl Heller. I had been stymied on an attempt with Rick Kent earlier in the year due to snow, and was eager to make ammends. I didn't think I had the energy to hike down and do the East Ridge route, but I thought I could contour around and climb the West Slopes. It seemed like a good plan at the time. Though the Sierra Crest between Tunnabora and Carl Heller is too serrated with pinnacles to take that line directly, I expected I could cruise around the west side of the crest on easier slopes for the two miles separating the peaks.

Off I went, following the easy part of the crest to the west. About 3/4 of a mile later I climbed a local highpoint and discovered the true folly of my new quest. It was not possible to contour to Carl Heller without losing a lot of elevation. It was about 1,000ft down to Wallace Lakes just west of Carl Heller, and it looked like cliffs along the ridge would require me to drop all the way down to the lake before climbing more than 1,500ft to the summit. It seemed awful at the time staring down at all that rock and talus in front of me. I turned chicken and ran.

Looking south, I spotted Miguel making his way to the base of Mt. Russell. I headed off in that direction about 15 minutes behind him. The upper basin west of Tulainyo Lake is flat and easy to cross, but deceptively long, much like the lake itself. I could gain no ground on Miguel who was moving at a good pace, unaware as yet that I was behind him. Miguel took a route about a hundred yards to the west of the North Ridge while I headed for the ridge directly. It looked like Miguel was taking the more obvious route, but I figured I'd try to stick to the ridge as much as possible and see if it really was class 3 - it certainly looked harder than that from a distance. I found that most of the ridge was indeed class 3, but there were a few gendarmes that could not be climbed directly at class 3. Some class 4 got me up one tower, but the other side had a dropoff that I could not get down and I ended having to retrace my steps a bit and bypass it on the west side. Miguel moved closer to the ridge as we went higher, but I never got any nearer to him. While on the upper third of the route I heard voices and spotted several climbers on the East Ridge. A minute later I noticed there were three climbers on the left and two others on the right side, the last two heading from the east summit towards the west summit. All of the climbers turned out to be part of the Sierra Challenge.

Cliff and Cory were the two climbers closest to the west summit. They had tagged it, signed the register, and had started down the East Ridge again before I had finished the North Ridge. The other three were Bill, Evan, and Adam. Adam had started later than the rest of us, but had caught up to Bill and Evan on the East Ridge. Together with Miguel and I, the group of five converged on the west summit within a span of about ten minutes. It was my second summit of Russell this year, and between those two climbs the peak had been visited several dozen times. Not as popular as Whitney, but fairly popular by Sierra standards. While we relaxed at the summit to take in the views, Miguel and Adam got into a discussion about the best way to reach the Kaweahs, a good distance to the west. I had dismissed it as much too far, but they pulled out a huge map that Adam had been carrying and poured over it as though it was just a matter of finding the right trail and they could be there in a few hours. Their conclusion after a good deal of discussion was that it was much too far.

As our group headed back towards the east summit, I had a modest amount of inspiration again, this time to head down the South Face and return via Iceberg Lake since I had never gone that way. As I disappeared down the initial steep chute leading to the South Face, Right Side, Evan and the others continued to the East Ridge, convinced that I really intended to tag Whitney before heading back. That would have been the case if I hadn't already done that traverse in the past, and knowing the next day to Pickering was going to be a tough one, I didn't want today's outing to exhaust me. So I did as I said I would, dropping down the South Face, contouring around to the Whitney Col, then dropping down to Iceberg Lake.

My overall impression of Iceberg Lake was disappointment. There were too many tents, too many folks around to be enjoyed as Wilderness. The view looking up at Mt. Whitney is pretty fantastic, and I enjoyed picking out the East Face route. But the slopes leading to the Mountaineers Route was rife with use trails in a disorganized fashion that reeked of overuse. While some folks were coming to or from the MR, most of the folks seemed to be just sitting around camp, taking it all in. It seemed a little too urban. I passed by all the tents and headed down the use trail following the drainage. Others were on their way up, and several inquired to make sure they were heading to Iceberg Lake. None were actually lost, but rather I think they appreciated the assurance that they were heading the right way. In one of the steeper sections above LBSL I came across two backpackers fully loaded with climbing as well as camping gear. The guy in front looked to be teetering in place, as though he wasn't sure if his topheavy load was going to tip him over. I stood above him, waiting for him to see me first so I didn't spook him while climbing some boulders up the trail. When he finally looked at me with a blank stare, I asked if he was alright. That seemed to threaten his manhood and snapped him out of it as he responded, "I'm fine." I wasn't so sure, but he and his buddy bringing up the rear (who seemed a bit more agile on the rocks) continued their journey up to Iceberg Lake.

I got down to LSBL shortly before 2:30p and then back to Whitney Portal an hour later. The whole outing was less than 10hrs which brought it in as a moderate day out. Tomorrow was certain to be a longer day, so I headed back to Lone Pine for dinner and rest.

Cliff, Cory, and Adam made it over to Tunnabora after descending Russell's East Ridge. All of the others (aside from myself) that made it to Russell also tagged the summit of Carillon. Miguel was the only person to tag all four of the peaks around Tulainyo Lake. Rick Kent went out a few weeks later and tagged those four plus Whitney, Keeler, Crooks, Muir, and Discovery Pinnacle. Now that was doing it in style!


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