Keeler Needle Trip Report


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 22, 2003 - 05:32am PT
Inspired by Ammon's trip report and others, i though i might take a crack at my first trip report ever. here it goes...

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

Trad climber
Oct 22, 2003 - 12:30pm PT
Nice tr and pics Chris. I hadn't heard the route was chossy.

Trad climber
SF Bay Area
Oct 22, 2003 - 01:10pm PT
the bears were the crux- who knew...

maybe if the rock were better they would have called it the KILLER NEEDLE instead.

Mountain climber
Oct 22, 2003 - 01:33pm PT
Cool trip report and GREAT photos! Actually, what it inspired in me was more of a desire to do Fishook Arete on Russell, that was a great perspective of that route in the picture.

Oct 22, 2003 - 06:29pm PT
Yes there was a ton of choss on this route. I really enjoyed all the 5.10 pitches and the Red Dihedral. The easier pitches really had the most choss on them. The 5.7 flakes across the prow were super chossy but the exposure made it super classic. We looked at no less than four topo's, most of which were fairly useless after the crux pitch. One my partner had from the NA Classics CD was spot on above the crux, but that is a pretty obscure source for a topo.

I figure it much like Croft does, it may be chossy ol' bitch, but you can't help but lust after it.


Trad climber
Orange County
Oct 24, 2003 - 02:22pm PT
Funny how the memory works (or not), I climbed it 25 years ago and only remember thinking one pitch was loose! It was that first 5.10 roof section (2nd pitch).

Oct 24, 2003 - 02:33pm PT

Is it true you did the second free ascent?
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 28, 2003 - 03:19am PT
Here are some more photos put to music in a QuickTime slide show:

the file is 2.7mb big so may take a little while to download on a slower connection. You need the free Quick Time Player to view this slide show. To get it go here:

Trad climber
Orange County
Oct 28, 2003 - 06:51pm PT
Yes Murph, Sybille Hechtel and I did it the first week in July 1977. I know that Richard Harrison and Jay Smith did it a couple weeks after. ...and thanks for the glory post!

Trad climber
Orange County
Oct 28, 2003 - 07:16pm PT
Yes Murf, I climbed it with Sibylle Hechtel the first week in July 1977. It took 9 hrs. for 18 pitches, I led 15 and she led 3. The Stonemasters had been talking about it since it went free (the year before?). We had not heard of anyone free climbing it, and the climbing community was MUCH smaller back then. Richard Harrison and Jay Smith climbed it later that month. Oh, and by the way, thanks for the glory post!!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Feb 24, 2004 - 08:08pm PT
Beautiful, mate! Great photos!

Let's see more stuff like this on SuperTopo.
David Nelson

San Francisco
Feb 24, 2004 - 09:57pm PT
Pretty incredible, Chris! That is what I call a TR!
Dapper Dan

The OC
Sep 24, 2005 - 03:16pm PT
a question: what is the needle to the left of Keeler , i think it is named for a woman who summited whitney in the old days and ... : is there any good routes on the needle to the left ? it looks kinda of ledgy and easy....

(didn't walt shipley solo keeler needle ? proud )

Trad climber
On that V2 problem at the Happies
Sep 24, 2005 - 05:16pm PT
yes, Walt soloed it in a snowstorm while wearing a t-shirt.
the needle to the left is named for Hilda Crooks. it used to be called Day needle. She climbed Whitney close to 100 times so I heard.
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Sep 24, 2005 - 06:31pm PT
and to the left of that is something called Aguille Extra. Done back in the 70s as a mixed free and aid route that has since been freed.

Mountain climber
Baldwin Park , Calif.
Sep 24, 2005 - 09:38pm PT
Good show Chris.
Keeler has been on my list for ever. I must have walked by it 20 times on my way to something else. In spite of the rather loose rock, it's still a classic and I vote for it to be included in the next edition.Hey, 10b 4 me, what about a couple of old farts like you and me taking a trip up Keeler next summer.( it would take me that long to get into shape!)

Social climber
Santa Cruz Mountains/Los Gatos
Sep 25, 2005 - 11:08am PT
Definitely agree that it would be nice to see more posts like this on ST.
Great TR.
Anal C#nt

Boulder climber
Bald Knob, AR
Sep 25, 2005 - 11:52am PT
The photo of Russell does not lie, that peak has amazing climbing. Keeler *looks* amazing especially in the morning but it sounds like you need you have your ducks in a row to enjoy it -- leading the crux on an 8.2mm rope, nice touch, heheh.

Aguille Extra sounds like a logical candidate for your next Whitney TR, Chris. 5.10 hands, 5.9 OW, 5.8 face, 5.8 face, 4th, 5.7 corner, 5.10 hands to 5.9 stem, 5.8 face, 5.8 face, 4th, 5.8 hands, 5.10 corner... according to Moynier at least. Curious whether the rock is as good as the climbing.

Great TR and photos, you fired the route in what, 6 hours? Tremendous athleticism.

Big Wall climber
Long Beach, CA
Sep 25, 2005 - 12:34pm PT
Great pictures Chris. I think "loose" needs to be taken on a relative basis. Sure, it's not Yosemite craggin' but all in all it was clean, classic, splitter alpine climbing. That little roof on P2 was a little chalky, but that's about all from what I remember. And safety wise, I thought the climbing itself (not counting the bowling alley) was WAAAAAAY safer than the SW Face of Conness.

Let's try to keep it what it is. It's supposed to be a fairly involved climb, try to keep the adventure to it. Awesome job on the 8.2mm rope for lead too! Burly.

la la land
Sep 25, 2005 - 12:49pm PT
Ya, I think loose to a lot of people climbing in california is different than up here. Up in the Bugs even on popular routes there is still plenty of loose rock that just falls down the faces and nails you. You also pull tons of flakey stuff off no matter where you put your feet. Also from what I understand the Candian Rockies are crazy!
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