The Keeler Needle
Buck and I climbed the Keeler Needle on October 19th. Although it was a great experience, conditions were more Icy and cold than either of us had anticipated. One day of SoCal rain the week prior to our climb, left ice and snow anywhere above 12,000 feet that doesn’t receive prolonged day light to melt it away.
After we hiked in, we set up a tent near the base of the Keeler in a large boulder field. Buck fixed a rope to the base of the climb, above snow pack, that was more than likely to be hard ice early the next morning, to help speed the morning progress.
The morning of our climb was cold, and the fixed rope only got us a part of the way to the climbing. The rock beneath the opening pitch of the climb was covered in Ice. Buck led this section, hammering ice out of any usable crack with a Black Diamond #3. The progress was consistent but slow.
The actual climbing was efficient, but never fast enough to catch up to the sun. Minor misleading swapped an easy icy pitch for a harder dry pitch, which may have actually been faster.
The mid 10 climbing on the route never felt very difficult. It’s my opinion that one consistently fist to off fist sized crack, was harder than any technical crux of the route. The real crux was seconding a pitch with our pack of food, water, extra layers, and shoes for the descent.
Our system which was to swing leads, and dump the pack unto the person following the pitch, meant that the leader would be winded before starting their pitch. A better system would have been to lead in blocks.
We lost about two hours of climbing in the morning, and finished after sunset.
We proceeded to hike down the back of the Keeler then up and over Mt. Whitney to the Mountaineers Trail by headlamp. We headed down the snow and ice covered notch and couloirs. The descent, to our surprise, was rather reminiscent of a winter ascent of Whitney two years earlier, and not of the atypical descent of a technical climb.
The day after the climb I wrote down some things that Buck and I could possibly improve. The improvements more specifically address efficiency and safety. I’ve added notations to make my thoughts and intentions little clearer. Hopefully, it will be valuable to anyone looking for Keeler Needle trip reports.
Be super solid at the Eastern Sierra 10+ grade
Be super solid on the wide 10+ grade
Be stupid fit. Run with weight vest, climb with weight vest.
Start early, and be burly.
Climb in spring, not late October.
Improvements in Prep:
Better hydration, and cramping mitigation. Day before.
Two boiling mechanisms with extra fuel, one just doesn’t quite do it.
Route finding research Topo specifically.
Conditions and descent option research.(snowy notch condition at night was an interesting surprise)
Improvements On Route:
4 more alpine draws, make current 11 draws, 15.
Two auto locking belay devices
Lead in blocks, don’t swing leads esp. with chimney and large pack.
Route finding, staying on route.
Necessary On Route:
Glacier glasses, eye protection against rock and ice fall
Happy to Have:
2 layers merino wool, tka 100 fleece, prana flannel, Patagonia shell, Serius balaclava
Medalist long underwear, jeans, wool socks
Skins compression shirt, synthetic tshirt sugoi, Patagonia r1, Patagonia nano puff, mntn. Hardwear rain jacket, beanie(hardly used, if at all)
Skins compression shorts, under amour tights, mountain heardwear fleece plants, skins compression socks.
Even better to have:
Thicker layer of merino or fleece, or a capeline 2 or 3 ? Lose flannel.
In the Pack:
2x Caffeine GU gels (4, 2 per person)
5 hour energy (2, 1 per person)
2 liters of water (minimum)
4 bars (2 per person, Cliff, Lara)
Headlamp batteries ~
Shoes for descent
Even better to have In the Pack:
Dry synthetic or merino socks. In the event of a bivy.