American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, California—Sierra Nevada, East Face of Day Needle, Mount Whitney

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1964

East Face of Day Needle, Mount Whitney. The majestic east face of Mount Whitney and its flanking cirque walls present a striking balance of architectural form with the pyramidal main face and the two parallel buttresses of Day and Keeler Needles. Until September 15, Day Needle’s buttress or east face was the last of these big walls to remain inviolate. The east face of Whitney has a number of chimney routes, as well as a direct one, and the face of Keeler Needle was climbed by Warren Harding and party a few years ago. Rick Reese and I left Whitney Portal in clear weather on September 13 for camp at timberline beneath Mount Whitney. We left camp near Upper Boy Scout Lake and with climbing packs hiked across the endless talus slopes to the base of Day Needle. We decided on a direct line up a corner of the east buttress. It was a spectacular route, about 1700 feet in vertical height, ending at 14,100 feet, with no escape possibilities. In the afternoon we climbed an ice slope, leaving a fixed rope for the next day, and continued up a few hundred feet of easy rock to the narrowing of the great chimney left of the buttress. Here I led two fifth-class pitches and we left ropes hanging. The next morning, leaving at daybreak, we alternated leads above our high point and hauled rucksacks with food, water and bivouac clothing. We followed the corner of the buttress, pitch after pitch. The hardest portion was a long dihedral with poor piton cracks that I had to do free, with occasional moves on direct aid. Just before dark I nailed up a vertical corner leading out of a chimney and made an exposed right traverse into another chimney. Here we placed the only bolt on the route to safeguard a terribly exposed and unprotected step across. Since it was now dark, I retreated to Rick’s belay niche, where we shivered waiting for dawn. In the morning the climbing continued up the crack, which soon eased and broke into a big belay platform. It was an exposed position. The next two leads traversed the rim of the dropoff to the north and had some touchy moves in jam-cracks. Rick finally crawled through a “cannonhole” narrows and shouted that the climbing was over. Voices were heard, carried by a biting wind; we could now identify hikers on the Mount Whitney trail, just a hundred yards to the west. We hiked to Whitney’s summit and descended via the trail. We judge the climb to be a hard Grade IV.

Fred Beckey

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