I relish the unconventional approach to peaks. So when Bob Sumner and I visited Pt 6696, aka "Russell Peak," we did so from Morris Peak rather than by the documented route via Walker Well. In concert with our earlier trip to Backus Peak (LOOKOUT, May-June 1999), this connected the "Dead Dude Peaks Ridge" traverse. The latter memorial reference to our departed companions and leaders is a casual moniker provided by our acquaintances in Inyokern. The HPS is considering designating Pt 6696 as Russell Peak in memory of Bill T. Russell. We learned of this proposal after first hiking Backus Peak. Bill T. was a cherished friend, a mentor, and an inspiration to both of us, and many others. Hence our eagerness to evaluate this summit.
We set up a car shuttle in the morning by leaving my truck at the Walker Well turnoff from Hwy 178, west of Freeman Junction. The despised BLM road closure, red stake had already been broken off and replaced three times. I found it odd that the stake was situated off to the side, not in the dirt roadway itself. That and the recent tire tracks lead me to suspect that the closure to the well is selective.
We then departed Walker Pass before daybreak, tracing the PCT by the full moonlight. The illuminated landscape was enjoyable under low billowing clouds and fierce westerly winds. Recent signs of trail maintenance were evident. We left the PCT at the saddle south of Morris, waking the lone tent camper, and followed the use trail across the hillside flank to the top. We tarried briefly on the cold summit at sunrise, noting that the large format register is now filled. Jenkins and Owens were shrouded in a heavy, gray cloud mass. Our relatively warmer perch was appreciated just a bit more.
The ridge to Pt 6661, Russell and Backus Peaks lay to the east before us, an undulating two-mile crest of broken rock and wizened pinyon pine. The windchill kept us moving apace towards the sunshine below. The ridge is circuitous class 2 until the saddle directly above the southwest terminus of the Walker Well jeep track.
The most appealing aspect of Russell Peak is its western face, a rocky rib extends in an arc to the summit. Side-hilling low on the sandy slopes appears to be class 1-2 to the vicinity of the top. We opted instead to follow the more enjoyable jagged crest, culminating in an easy class 3 chute that we scrambled directly to the summit cairn. We'd anticipated limited views from this highpoint, due to its location relative to the promontory of Backus Peak. Yet it has its own sweeping vista of nearby Scodie, Pinyon, Morris, Jenkins, Owens and Aquilla Peaks. Very fitting for Bill T.'s love of the Sierra range.
I noted the original register and glass jar placed atop by Gordon MacLeod (without Barbara Lilley this time!). I replaced it and the new PVC container, with appropriate new HPS nesting cans. Painted red and initialed "WTR 2/92," I'd received this from Bill T. shortly ere his passing. Bob and I took time to fondly reminisce with our memories of Bill T. Then we downed Tequiza beers and recounted bawdy anecdotes in a light-hearted gesture.
We descended east from the summit on gradual terrain to a saddle. A rapid run on sandy slopes to the desert floor, through raging fields of yellow flowers, led to the road that we followed to Walker Well and then the highway. The well pool was overflowing, with the windmill active in the breeze. There were no signs of recent stock or burros, though there was a severely desiccated, nearly mummified steer carcass near road's end.
Bill T. Russell would have enjoyed this route and peak. I envision him scrambling it all with hands in pockets, no doubt. Nine miles, 3300 ft gain, four-hour loop trip. Your time will vary.