Harding Route 5.10c

  • Currently 3.0/5

Keeler Needle

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
Keeler Needle Harding Route Trip Report With Eric Volz
Monday September 21, 2009 1:32pm
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.
the view from Whitney Portal Rd. Lone Pine Peak dominates the photo wi...
the view from Whitney Portal Rd. Lone Pine Peak dominates the photo with whitney and keeler needle right.
Credit: Chris McNamara

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.

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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)

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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  Trip Report Views: 7,413
Chris McNamara
About the Author
Climbing Magazine once computed that three percent of Chris McNamara’s life on earth has been spent on the face of El Capitan—an accomplishment that has left friends and family pondering Chris’ sanity. He’s climbed El Capitan over 70 times and holds nine big wall speed climbing records. In 1998 Chris did the first Girdle Traverse of El Capitan, an epic 75-pitch route that begs the question, “Why?”

Outside Magazine has called Chris one of “the world’s finest aid climbers.” He’s the winner of the 1999 Bates Award from the American Alpine Club and founder of the American Safe Climbing Association, a nonprofit group that has replaced over 5000 dangerous anchor bolts. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and serves on the board of the ASCA, and Rowell Legacy Committee. He has a rarely updated adventure journal, maintains BASEjumpingmovies.com, and also runs a Lake Tahoe home rental business.


Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Jan 24, 2010 - 11:31pm PT
I saw the needle on the cover of a transworld snowboarding magazine behind some guy doing a big air. It looks so amazing and big. Please, include a topo! I don't mind a little loose rock, and a 10c offwidth, sounds fun! Thanks for the tr Chris

Trad climber
Central Coast
  Jan 25, 2010 - 12:46am PT
"Ice fists"
Great send and report.

Trad climber
the Magic City
  Jan 25, 2010 - 11:44am PT
The story behind the Supertopo! Sick! Excellent photos and beta from a great ascent.

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Jan 25, 2010 - 03:33pm PT
Great TR, thanks for the share Chris!

Yeah on the bear encounter!

You're a couple of lucky cats.

Sam Page

Mountain climber
Orange County, CA
  Feb 7, 2010 - 10:27pm PT
What a couple of studs. I was wondering why CM's bio was appended to the end until I realized that he authored the report! Nice job.

Big Wall climber
47N 122W
  Feb 8, 2010 - 12:01am PT
Pitch 9, Keeler Needle, Harding Route - R.B. & M.A. 1991

Social climber
  Feb 9, 2010 - 02:51am PT
Sounds like a blast, and I agree one of those routes you always eyeball.

A HIGH SIERRA second edition?!?!?! Ho man!

If you put it together much like the Zion guidebook, I could not be a happier dude. The rad photos, Renan Ozturk artwork (he's the MAN!), numerous routes...

A lot of newer stuff has been going on up there. I would love to see a new-age full color style guidebook on my favorite area in the plant!

When you get these printed, call me at Nomad Ventures and let me know... I will be very much excite.

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Mar 27, 2010 - 03:31pm PT
Good TR. My brother and I did a direct start back in the early 80's that eliminates the loose/grungy stuff on the regular start. It does add a pretty demanding 5.11 dihedral pitch before you gain the main terraces/ledges below the wide stuff. We basically started from the top of the snow tongue on the main face and went straight up to an old angle in a horizontal crack. Traverse right to the start of the dihedral. Not that well protected, but pretty solid climbing. I'll try to dig up the slides and scan them.

Trad climber
Sacramento, CA
  Apr 5, 2010 - 07:00pm PT
Nice send, but I beg to differ on the quality of the rock. There was only one rotten pitch on the entire route and it was 5.8. The rest from top to bottom was awesome. With all of the top-out variations from 5.easy to 5.11 splitters you can't go wrong. If you think that this route is bad go and try Western Front on Russell. It has more rotten climbing on the crux pitch than the entire Keeler Needle. I think that this route is a classic up there with Red Dihedral (which also has the rotten Keyhole pitch unless you do the 10d var to the way right). There is only a 10a offwidth the last time I climbed it and it was short, the 10c crux was stemming. There are 3/4 great pitches on this route, but the RD has only 2, the harding route on Conness has 2, the Third Pillar has 1 maybe 2, Mithral has 2 and Positive Vibes has 12. Having many great pitches in the High Sierra at this grade is not normal. Please include this route in the guidebook!!!

Edit: And all routes on Temple Crag are choss with a few ok sections.

  Apr 6, 2010 - 09:54am PT
Nice !

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Mar 12, 2014 - 04:19pm PT
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Jun 3, 2016 - 01:31pm PT
Bump for climbing content

Nor Cal
  Jun 3, 2016 - 01:54pm PT
agreed, the 5.9 dihedral is stellar and one of the best by far. during the climb in the early nineties, all i could think about was the crazy story of walt soloing this.
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Jun 3, 2016 - 03:16pm PT
Perceptions of quality and difficulty are subjective! I did the 2nd free ascent in 7/77 with Sibylle Hechtel and didn't think it was very loose or chossy, just the 10b (2nd?) pitch seemed a tiny bit loose.
....and we rated the Red Dihedral 5.8.

I remember quality climbing virtually the whole way.

Keeler Needle - Harding Route 5.10c - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from the approach.
Photo: Chris McNamara