Sierra Challenge 10: Morgensen, Russell, Carillon

Bob hand-traversing toward Russell.

For the last day, the Challenge came to the dread Whitney Zone to climb Mount Morgensen, recently named for Randy Morgensen, a ranger whose death in the backcountry remained a mystery for years. Morgensen is just west of Russell, one of my favorite Sierra peaks, and there is a class 3-4 traverse between them, so it promised to be a fun day. We even secured a permit (and wag bags) for the small amount of time spent in the Zone.

About 15 of us started out from the portal, several still sore and groggy from the Cedric Wright experience. Faith and Tricia (and some others) were absent, casualties of the previous day. We stuck together until the turnoff to Lower Boyscout Lake, where the trail steepens. In the three years since I first hiked it, the minor use trail to the lake has sadly become a maintained, domesticated, semi-official route. I still managed to take some non-standard route through the Ledges, though.

The usual suspects (plus Rick) formed a lead group above the lake, where a faint path leads right up the sand toward the Cleaver. We meandered up the hillside and into the canyon, along a pleasant stream, then tried to do something reasonable to reach Cleaver Col. I chose to head up the blocky slabs to the left rather than the normal talus chute, and they worked as a nice class 3 scramble. The others caught up as I had a snack at the top, admired the amazing Tulainyo Lake, looked over at the sand slog to Tunnabora, and decided to head straight for Morgensen instead.

Morgensen’s east side offered either slabs to the left or talus to the right; I chose the former, and was first to the summit. I found a shiny new ammo box and register, as well as a photo of Randy Morgensen and a photocopy of the original register. There were several entries by Richard and one from Matthew, but only one summit so far this year. Bob arrived a few minutes later, and we sat down for an early, windy lunch while a few others arrived.

The ridge to Russell is 5.8 along the top, but supposedly 3rd class along the north side. Bob, Rick, Dirk and I started along some ledges toward Russell, but things quickly became complicated and difficult. After several hand-traverses across cracked slabs, Bob and Rick chose to go low, while I went higher. The climbing was mostly fun 4th class, with plenty of vertical and horizontal cracks. At one point I tried to climb a crack the ridge, but things got hairy and I had to back off. I instead made a balancy traverse to some more cracks and ledges, then through a gap to a notch before Russell, where Bob and Rick were waiting. They had apparently found looser but easier climbing. From there it was straightforward class 3 slabs and ledges to the summit, where I found my entry from last fall in the full register.

We headed down the east ridge, which has developed a use trail in the last few years. Rick stopped to talk to Laura while Bob and I continued to Carillon — I needed to tag peak number 30, and Bob wanted to look at the northeast ridge. The ridge wasn’t that appealing, so both of us jogged down the sand of Russell-Carillon Col to Lone Pine Creek, then took Rick’s slab shortcut to Lower Boyscout Lake. I took the trail to Whitney highway, while Bob and Rick took a cool ledge on the north side of the canyon, then we all jogged down to the portal store for burgers and beer.

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