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.
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