Fish Hookin on Mt. Russell

Maia was on sabbatical to climb, so I joined for a weekend of a fabulous climbing and fishin on Mt Russell!

Mt. Russell is one of the 14ers of California, and it is right up next to Mt Whitney in the Whitney zone. We grabbed overnight permits for the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, but didn’t need to get Day Use permits.

Maia made up the song “Highway to the Whitney Zone” on the very long approach in

Our original plan was to hike in Friday, climb Saturday/Sunday, and hike out on Monday. Unfortunately, Hurricane Hilary had other plans for us, with rain coming in Saturday afternoon.

We ended up hiking in and climbing Fish hook Arete Friday, and fishing+hiking out Saturday.

Some GPS tracks and a Caltopo map are available here!


Our Friday kicked off with a 4:30am alpine start after camping at Whitney Portal. Luckily the stoke was high, because that time doesn’t exist in the real world. A beautiful sunrise, some pikas, marmots, and just a little altitude sickness accompanied us up to Upper Boy Scout Lake.

A poorly lit alpine start selfing turned into a beautiful morning by Lower Boy Scout Lake

Maia has a particular fondness for pikas and marmots, so we stopped a couple times to watch their furry little butts disappear into the rocks. I also managed to get us lost on the slabs up to Upper Boy Scout, forcing Maia and her slippery hiking boots to crawl on hands and knees across some sketchy wet slab (Sorry Maia!)

While we were hiking up, the boys slept in and got a leisurely 9am start. We left most of the camping stuff with them (thanks boys!) to lighten our loads. Maia and I were carrying about 40lb each up to Upper Boy Scout.

Marty with fishing rod ready to deploy at any moment

We dropped our heavy packs at Upper Boy Scout Lake around 9am, faffed around camp, then packed up our day packs for Mt Russell! The next slog up to Iceberg definitely got me, I was getting a headache from the altitude and had to take some trusty ole vitamin I(buprofen). There wasn’t too much snow left, so we tramped through without micro-spikes or ice axes.

The final approach from Iceberg over the pass was our last and (in my opinion) hardest push. We were close to 13000′ elevation, our packs were heavy with most of the water for the day, and the sun was raging. It was beautiful though! Finally, at the top of the pass, we could survey our destination: Fish hook arete!

The final pass push in blue, then the route on the right! So close and yet so far

We finally got to the base, racked up, and I was off on the first pitch at 1pm! The first pitch was a fun hand/finger crack, and I linked into the second which was a fun, arete scouting romp.

A rough breakdown of the pitches. Chuffed to be climbing after all the approaching!

Maia questing off on the ridge, the upper arete pitches above!

Mountains mountains everywhere! Maia with Mt Whitney in the background

We swung pitches, with me leading p5 and p6 on more of the beautiful golden grey granite. Maia got a little lost on p7, pulling some harder finger crack moves, and doing some down-climbing on a large, unexpectedly loose block. I took the final pitch for us to the top! We summited around 6:30pm to 360° views, a comfy summit ledge, and big ole smiles all around

Doesn’t get much better than this holy frick frackin moly
Hehe sorry Maia, this was the only summit selfie I got!

We enjoyed the summit for half an hour before starting what would be a long, slightly spooky descent. But first, check out the wild shadow of the mountain! We could see Upper Boy Scout lake, where camp and our lovely boys were. I attempted to shout my love for Marty into the heavens, but I doubt he heard me.

the great pyramid of the east side

We took the East Ridge Descent off of Mt. Russell, which promised to be “the best third class scramble you can do” but instead turned into a“5th class pretending to be 3rd class” slog. We probably didn’t stay on the ridge enough, because there was some pretty intense exposure, and some questionable traverses. Finally, we got off the ridge just after sunset, and a couple miles of scree surfing awaited us. Maia hit a wall of exhaustion, so I did what any good partner would do: take the rope and lie about how much further we had to go. Around 10pm, when we were actually close to camp, a headlamp and a Marty appeared! He joined us for the last bit of hiking, providing much loved jokes and tales of his and Bryan’s fishing escapades.

We finally made it back to camp around 10:30, after a roughly 17 hour adventure! We ate, hung out, then passed out.


Needless to say, we did not get the planned 4am alpine start on Saturday to climb Mithral Dihedral. Instead, we got the Marty + Bryan Fly Fishing Experience™.

Guide #1: Martin Cowell, Fish Whisperer Extraordinaire

Guide #2: Bryan Humburg, Top Eastern Sierra Lunker Lurer

Both Bryan and Marty have been fishing for a while, and both had great success the previous day lounging, fishing, eating snacks, and generally enjoying the mountains instead of suffering in them. We had a great fishing morning — Maia caught her very first fish! Bryan flung a tiny fish so hard out of the water that it landed in the bushes (oops).

I caught a very smol fish, and a decent sized fish!

Guess which fish I was more excited about

I was impressed

We were catching and releasing all our fish, except for one that we breaded in cornbread, juiced with a lemon Maia and Bryan brought from their house, and ate for lunch. Thank you little fishy!

happy fish friends

As the fog and clouds rolled in, we decided we should probably hike out, as the rain was to continue through Sunday. The fog and clouds rolling in made it feel like a DnD game, with treasure just across the next boggy marsh.

there’s gold in them hills

Marty ran ahead and got the line wet at Lower boy scout because he’s totally in control of his urge to fish, is not addicted, and can stop anytime he wants.

He literally ran ahead of us to get to the lake so he could fish.

Maia and Bryan were smart and brought rain covers for when the rain started, and it turned into quite the hail!

I got Marty with a hail-ball right after this photo was taken

We finally made it back after some trail games that centered around food. We warmed up with some tea in the van, then got delicious Chinese food at Merry-go-round. Warm, cozy, and full of spicy Szechuan, we camped at Alabama hills for the night.


The two headed van dragon

We had one alpine start left….and it was for PIE! Marty and I got our wedding pies from Alabama Hills Cafe, and we were itching for another! Pam, the wonderful owner of the cafe, was working that morning, and we got to meet her, thank her for her amazing pies, and make off with an entire triple berry pie!!!!


Full of pie, tired, happy, and trying to stay dry in the Tropical Storm rain, we said our goodbyes. It was a wonderous trip to the backcountry!


Key performance indicators:

  • Miles: ~7miles Friday, 3miles Saturday
  • Vert: 5500′ gain Friday, -3000′ Saturday
  • Pitches: 8 glorious pitches
  • Fishes: Marty: 30+, Brian: 10+ lunkers, Maia: 1, Julie: 4
  • Nuuns consumed: 4
  • Nuuns consumed in hot tea: 1
  • Pies obtained: 2

Discover more from Julie's Excellent Website

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading