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Mt Whitney + Keeler Needle

April 2022

My twenty-fifth birthday was fast approaching. Despite a quarter century of sentience, no lofty insights or piercing wisdom has been bestowed upon me. My right knee hurts a bit more than it used to, and I sweat considerably more than when I was eighteen. In stubborn defiance against the law of entropy that will inevitably wilt my body away, I wanted to do something hard for my birthday. Staring a Mt Whitney from across the Owens Valley as Anthony and I meandered through the Inyo Mountains, I was inspired to do another alpine ascent of the peak. 


I had done the mountaineers route up Whitney once before, but enjoyed it so thoroughly that I thought I’d go for it again. To add a little spice, I planned on climbing Keeler Needle as well. I left the ranch I was working at in the Southern Sierra on Friday night, and slept in the Whitney Portal parking lot for a few hours. My alarm forced me out of my slumber around 4 a.m. After some oatmeal and tea, I was off with nothing but my ice axe, crampons, some snacks, and a liter of water. I made stunningly good time up to the base of the main chute, passing several parties who were breaking the trip up into several days. There were a few groups doing single day ascents of the East Buttress, which I still have my eye on. 

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First light, Whitney being the peak slightly right of center, and Keeler is the prominent needle to its left

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Looking up on a party just below the summit

I threw on my crampons at the chute, and buzzed past a guided group of gawkers. At the infamous notch, I pondered my options — either take the classic chute leading straight to the summit, or the delicate catwalk around the back. The catwalk, which we took last time we climbed, looked incredibly exposed and treacherous. So I opted for the chute, leading out a nice fellow from Utah I had just met. There was some rock climbing to manage, as well as some steep, hard snow to trudge up. But before long, I was on the summit. A view that never gets old greeted me there, as well as several other intrepid hikers and climbers. 

 

I descended a few hundred feet, and then made the short scramble up to Keeler Needle, the prominent needle-like peak just to the south of Mt. Whitney that can be easily seen from Lone Pine. The view of Whitney from Keeler’s summit was spectacular, well worth the short detour to get there. I then sped down the trail, which was peppered with snow and ice here and there along the traverse. Once at trail crest, snow once again dominated the landscape. The ninety-nine switchbacks had not melted out yet, so there was a large snow chute that people had been climbing and descending. I noted a number of very novice looking climbers, and did my best to steer far clear of them. The most dangerous thing on mountains is often times other people. This is especially true of peaks like Mt. Whitney and Mt. Hood. 

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Looking down at my new buddy on the final chute

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View of Whitney from Keeler Needle

I was practically running by the time I got to the bottom of this chute, feeling incredibly strong fitness-wise. I now made it a goal to do the whole trip car-to-car in under eight hours. I talked to a few groups on the way down, which broke up the monotony of the trail. Eventually, I found myself back in the parking lot, with a total time of just over eight hours. I felt satisfied with the day, it was as if I wanted to prove to myself that I am not yet an old codger. Perhaps less fast and loose than my eighteen year old self, but still able to get after it.