Whitney / Russell '98

August 17-20

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First....We (Jeff and I) didn't make it. 

Day 1:
Hike in with LARGE packs ready for 5 days of climbing.  The objectives:
    1. Mt. Russell - Fishhook Arete
    2. Mt. Whitney - East Buttress
    3. Mt. Whitney - East Face

70487_06.jpg (66117 bytes) The last time two times I had climbed the East Face the trail through the Jungle was a nightmare.  This time the trail was well marked and bushwacking was reduced to only a few spots.  The flowers were in full bloom.  A look back to the valley from the ledges was inspiring.  When we got the the last bench of rocks before the camp site we make the mistake of taking the direct route up the cascading waterfalls.  I did this contrived step around on this boulder on the far left side.   With a full pack I was feeling the strain but the adrenaline kicked in and I was back on the trail.  Only on the way back down did we find that we should have hiked farther up the trail to a less imposing trail.  So if you see this water fall keep hiking and a trail on the right will appear that will make the final push to the campsite easier.
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Once at Iceberg Lake we set up a killer camp spot on the boulder with the Stokes Litter.  We were in full view of the east facing peaks.  This has some great views but can really bake this time of year in the afternoon.  We set up a tarp and relaxed in the shade.   I lost my appetite just before dinner and the freeze dried food (major mistake) was far from edible.  Jeff powered it down and I nibbled.  This was not a good sign.   Some time in the evening and lost my dinner with a gut wrenching dash for the tent door.  Nightmares visited me for the rest of the evening interrupted by scans of my indiglo watch....how many hours till daylight???....  5:00 AM arrived and it was not pretty.   I decided to sleep-in as I had no energy..  Another hour passed and dry heaves kicked in...  OK... Let's have a layover day and acclimate.. 

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Iceberg Lake
Day 2:
Later in the day a pair of Brits arrived and took shelter on the other side of our rock.  These guys had been touring the Sierras doing some peaks.   They just got off Mt. Conness and were up here to do the East Buttress.  These guys were traveling light, just bivy bags and thin sleeping bags.  It was clear they were in for a cold night.  The lake had been freezing over each day only to melt half way by sunset.  We chatted with these guys and had a great time sharing climbing stories.

Relaxing at Iceberg Lake was an unexpected pleasure.  My stomach settled down and I had breakfast.  In fact after getting some food in my belly I was feeling pretty good.  We spent the day eating and doing some day hikes.  I brought this book "Inner Passages Outer Journeys" that helped me connect with the wilderness experience and not be so focused on not bagging the peak that day.  We were both feeling pretty good by the end of the day and once again checked our gear for the climb in the AM.  Alarm set for 5:00 AM.

Day 3:
I slept well but Jeff had this terrible cough and did not sleep well at all.  I boiled the water and had coffee and oatmeal.   I gave Jeff my Crazy Creek Chair and he fell asleep sitting up..but made him feel better.   Plans for an early start on the Fishhook passed.  I took a short hike to the ridge to the east to see the sunrise.  What an awesome site.   The shadows slowly descended the peaks until I was in the company of my own shadow.   For some reason I found solace in this as I had "someone" to share this experience. 

The story from the Brit's camp was that they too had their plans change.  One of the guys had these soft contact lenses that froze in the middle of the night and cracked.   He could not climb and had to hike out.  His partner decided to go up the Mountaineers Route over the top and down the trail. 

Jeff was feeling better now (8:30AM) and we decided we would climb the East Buttress since we could make it in the time left in the day.  We started the scramble up Whitney.   As I climbed I kept and eye on Jeff, he was moving slow but he continued to make forward progress.  I arrived at the rope-up point (see the X on the top picture) and took some photos, drank, ate some food and waited.  There was a party on the East Face that past our campsite at 4:30 AM to start the climb.  They we just finishing up the second pitch on the Washboard and appeared to be moving slow.  A periodic  "Woop Woop" to see that all was well with Jeff gave me faith he was OK and ready to climb.  After waiting over an hour it was clear that the evening's unrestfullness and cough had taken its toll.  As Jeff arrived it was clear that we had reached our high point.  He complained of not getting enough air (getting only half a lung full of air).  I suspected that these pulmonary problems were getting worse and we needed to get down the mountain before things got ugly. 

Down to the camp, ate some lunch, packed up.  As we were packing, I was looking for ways to reduce the load.  We had brought up a beer to celebrate the summit.  We were not worthy of consuming this so I gave it (along with topos of the routes) to a pair of guys from Washington that were going to do Whitney the next day.  As I looked back at the peak we saw that same slow moving party in the middle of the Staircase.  They were still moving slow and it was evident they were going to be "benighted". 

We made it to the car by nightfall and I was glad to be able to dig into a Gungi-Din burger at our favorite restaurant in Lone Pine.  The lower altitude helped Jeff breath better but he was still coughing.  We decided to spend the night in the Alabama Hills and see what the morning would bring.

In the morning we agreed that Jeff's lungs needed some medical attention and motored back home.  It turned out that it was High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.   Not a good thing, but I was glad we had the sense to address it.  How one's body reacts to high altitude is still something of a mystery.  We  both had been to Iceberg Lake before and climbed Whitney.  Why was this time different??  This was a good lesson for us to learn and fortunately with a happy ending. 

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Fishhook Arete is the curving ridge on the left (west) summit of Mount Russell
Well there is always next year.  This is the second failed attempt on Mt. Russell's Fishhook Arete.  Last year in September we went up to climb this and we got caught it the freak hurricane that came up from Baja.  Luckily for us we were in Whitney - Portal when it hit.  We spent the next day in the Laundromat drying out sleeping bags and playing hacky sack.  Then we tried to climb White Mountain in a blizzard the next day.  There were no 14,000 foot peaks back on that trip either.

The Whitney region is an incredible place and I look forward to returning soon to snag the Fishhook...

NEWS UPDATE: John and I reeled in the Fishhook on July 29, 1999.  This was a great route.  Very clean face and crack climbing.  Spectacular views.    I highly recommend this route to the climbing adventurer.  Stay tuned for a page devoted to the Fishhook.

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