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Keeler Needle Trip Report

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There is a quicktime slide show of this climb at the following link:




Any climber who sees Keeler Needle wants to climb it. it's perfect symmetry and massive size make it probably the most striking feature in the high sierra. i waited until now to climb it because i heard from peter croft that the rock wasn't that great. but my buddy eric volz and i had both seen enough photos and heard enough rumors that we had to find out for ourselves.




PHOTO 1 - the view from Whitney Portal Rd. Lone Pine Peak dominates the photo with whitney and keeler needle right.



The adventure started the night before. Around midnight i woke up when something was patting me on the head. I looked up and watched a little bear run off to it's mom and brother/sister.


The bears in the portal are every bit as talented at breaking into cars as Yosemite bears. they also are relatively fearless of humans. i took this photo around 8pm of a bear that walked up within 4 feet of me. i think this is the bear that pawed/sniffed/tried to make a move on me later in the night.




Eric and i started hiking at 3:50am. at 5:30 we were Upper Boy Scout where took a long break. At 6:30 we we got this awesome view just as the sun hit hit the Keeler Needle (center) and whitney (right)




At the base, what is snow during the summer had condensed to bullet proof ice in late october. The only way to get to the start of the route was to jam the crack formed by where the ice meets the wall. This was mostly easy but there was a "5.8 ice-fists" move and a "5.8 ice chimney" move. Below is a shot of looking up at the route from the top of the ice and the start of the climbing. In this photo you only see 8 of the 13 pitches. its a big wall!




The climbing started out a little loose, rotten, and dirty then mostly stayed that way to the summit. From a distance the Keeler Needle looks like it has the same high quality white granite as the Incredible Hulk buts it's actually kinda chossy. However, there were a couple cool sections to the climb. Below erick is following the steep and only mildly-loose and rotten pitch 3 (5.10b double cracks).




The next pitch, p4 was the first offwidth crux. We didn't want to carry the weight of a #4 camalot so Eric got to run-it-out a fair bit. We also saved weight by leading on a single 8.2mm lead line which i justified because it was brand new. Eric and i both liked the thin rope but decided that next time 9mm rope would inspire a little more confidence while on the sharp end.




One pitch later the route went into the shade and temperatures went from feeling like 70 degrees to 40. As a result we tried to climb fast and didn't stop to take photos. Ill give a quick summary: The Red Dihedral (pitch 7) was the best on the route and involved sustained and overhanging 5.10a hands. the 5.10c upper offwidth crux was really strenuous-I felt like i was sumo wrestling--but well protected. after the crux, we had trouble following the route. we ended up climbing a fair number of cracks that didn't look like they had been traveled before. on the final 20 feet to the summit i managed to get on overhanging 5.11 cracks and face that were clearly off route but pretty fun.


OK, so Croft was right. the rock quality was poor and out of 13 pitches only 3 were really fun. however, by the time you sit on the INSANE summit prow/pillar/spire you start to forget about the less than amazing pitches that got you there. Here i am on the right and eric on the left doing a little summit posing. somehow, at 3pm on a late october day the temperatures felt in the low 70's.




So would i recommend the route? Keeler Needle is one those few climbs where even though the route isn't that great, the overall experience is worth it to climbers who want a big adventure don't mind a fair amount of low quality rock.


At this point, i don't know whether to include it in the next edition of High Sierra book.... any ideas?


On the descent, i snapped this photo of Mt. Russell


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i would include it -- croft also writes in his guide that along with dark star and red dihedral, it is one of the trilogy of difficult sierra rock climbs. also, the first ascent story with harding, someone else, and that random hitchiker who made it to the top is a classic. i guess i would include it b /c it is such a nice looking line, and like you said, once you see it, you want to climb it. the more beta you can get about 10c offwidth / chimney at 14,000 feet, the better.


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Thanks for the photos chris!


Just out of curiousity, what made you post at TR on a PNW website? Has cc.com fame spread down south! Hope you appreciate our misunderstood sense of humor around here.

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i'm thinking i will include it in the next book. who knows the best source for fa info on the route? a harding fa account in an aaj?


posted here because it seems like one of the more lively message boards. and there is a CA section... so couldn't resist.

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I'd have the AAJ library in Golden do your research and write it off as a business expense. They seem to have reasonable rates.


So when are you gonna come up and climb some big ol cascade rock routes?


I think this website needs to be expanded for total U.S. climbing "beta" and "spray". There really is no other climbing website quite like this one! All others are so damn boring. Maybe world domination some day. rockband.gif


P.S. Chris, I know we make lots and lots of fun at the supertopos, but I know we also have all used em too. Have you ever though about adding ice routes. You could make lots of $$ cuz they would need to be changed every year, "2003's screw hole is now 5" lower than last years." yellaf.gif Or super topos on walk up routes like Shasta or Mt. Baker.

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good beta on the aaj library. ill check that out...


definitely want to climb in the cascades. not sure if this is the year the sierra nevada will release from its grasp... if it is then i will definitely take a trip up north. really want to go to alaska, too.


i've got a snow/ice book in the works... but i don't want to spray about it until it's a little farther along.

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Wow dude, It brings back memories. I spent a couple weeks in Yosemite in 2000 just before I spent a week taking a leisurely walk up the back route to Whitney. Your pictures and .mov is REALLY good man.

Thanks for putting it together.


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