Mt. Russell via the Fishhook Arête

Climbers who are intent on ascending Mount Whitney often overlook Whitney’s smaller neighbor to the north, Mount Russell. We believe that they are making a mistake. Mt. Russell offers great views and one of the best long rock routes around. As one of the fifteen peaks in California that are over 14,000’ in height, Mt. Russell is popular, but generally via the less-technical route East Ridge. The Fishhook Arête could also be called the South Ridge of Russell. It lives up to its name with a lower aesthetic curving swoop that takes four pitches to climb and then an arête direct to the summit. If you are climbing at a solid 5.8 or 5.9 level, this is assuredly a climb that will both challenge and excite you.

This is our video description of what it is like to climb Fishhook Arete.


high-sierra-climbing-super-topo   good-great-awesoeThe best guidebooks are Supertopo’s “High Sierra Climbing” by Chris McNamara and Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”.

Get them from Maximus Press.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night at Whitney Portal or the Cottonwood Campground would do the trick. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.

Return to Whitney Trips

Day One: The Approach

Starting at the 8,640 foot Whitney Portal we hike Whitney Trail for less than a mile before heading up the steep North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The trail here is non-maintained and rough with creek crossings and rocks to scramble up and over. We traverse the “Ebersbacher” Ledges above the creek and climb to the serene setting of Lower Boy Scout Lake (10,335’). Ascending still higher we pass Upper Boy Scout Lake to our camp near Iceberg Lake (12,400’). Hold on to your hats: this is a gain of over 4000’ from the cars and takes most of the day.

Day Two: The Climb

Another early start sees us heading over to Mt. Russell via the Whitney-Russell Col. We change into rock shoes, leave extra gear below the start of the route and climb the wonderful Fishhook Arete to the summit.

We have two options to start the ascent:

  • The direct start is 5.9 and features intricate face climbing to link tiny crack systems. This start starts in the shade and can be cold and chilly.
  • The variation start knocks a grade off and renders the route 5.8. This variation has the benefit of being in the sun if the weather is cold.

Both starts meet at a notch where the climb becomes a true arête: narrow and steep for several pitches, this area of the climb is exhilarating and fun. The first pitch out of the notch is superb – steep, but covered in perfect holds and by now the sun has warmed the rock and it is hard to imagine a better place to be. After ten or so pitches of mostly easy fifth class the route ends right on the summit.

To descend we traverse towards the east summit before dropping down a short Class Three gully and then down talus to our gear.

Day Three: The Hike Out

A return down the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek gets us back down to the trailhead by mid day.

Elevations and Distances

Trailhead to Lower Boy Scout Lake: 1.9 miles, 2060’ of gain, 60’ of descent.
Lower Boyscout Lake to Upper Boy Scout Lake: 0.8 miles, 1040’ of gain, 30’ of descent
Upper Boyscout Lake to Iceberg Lake: 1.2 miles, 1310’ of gain, 30’ of descent
Iceberg Lake to the Summit: 0.9 miles, 1610’ of gain, 173’ of descent
Summit to camp: 0.9 miles, 173’ of gain, 1610’ of descent
Camp to Trailhead: 2.7 miles, 120’ of gain, 4410’ of descent


Program Prerequisites:

You need to be able to follow at the 5.9 level and have experience on multi-pitch routes. Prior backpacking experience is recommended as is experience at altitudes above 12,000’. This is a physically demanding trip and you should be in good condition and have the ability to traverse broken and uneven slopes with a moderately heavy pack.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Russell Fishhook Arete Map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.