The East Face of the Aiguille Extra Needle has to be one of the most overlooked routes in the eastern Sierra. Keeler Needle makes the “50 North American Classic” list and Aiguille Extra might have been climbed a half a dozen times. The mystery deepens when you consider the feature on its east face to be so striking, a large dihedral that rises to 14,000’ in the sky. In fact the last pitch of the east face was my favorite of the day. Access to the route is as mellow as any in the eastern Sierra except for the fact that you have to secure a permit for the popular Whitney Trail in advance. I showed up on a Tuesday in mid-July and secured two permits for the next day due to cancellations. This no doubt could be the crux of the climb, if of course, one wanted to be legal on the trail. The FFA was in 1971 by Bill Sumner and Mike Heath, the FFA 1993, Kenn Kenaga and Pat Brennan.
The topo shows the route in 11 pitches, I lead it in 8 with a 70m rope. The first three pitches I led in two. The first pitch has a short and relatively easy crux at a roof that is well protected. I continued this lead beyond what they show as 5.9 off-width in the second pitch on the topo. I did not need to employ any off-width technique to climb these twin cracks. I stopped on a small ledge just before you need to move out right of the corner. The second half of the first three pitches involved climbing cracks up the right wall to a roof, pulling the roof up and left and then traversing back to the corner. This traverse involves the second most technical climbing of the day (the 2nd pitch in the large dihedral above is the crux pitch by far). The forth pitch take the corner just to the left of the main corner you had been climbing and lands you on a rampy ledge system (fifth pitch) that moves left and up to the base of the main dihedral. These two can easily be combined. The sixth pitch starts the dihedral and is the easiest pitch of the day. The seventh pitch is by far the crux of the route. You again leave a climbable corner (although full on off-width) and climb flaring gritty cracks out right. The pro and jams were precarious at times as you angle back to the corner below the roof. The crux move is several meters below the roof where you need to traverse the face left to engage the corner via stemming. I gained a chimney stance at the top of the chimney, placed some bomber medium gear and made a 180 degree pull through a hand jam out of the roof. A “wild” move as quoted elsewhere to be sure. From there, several pitches of fun corner climbing, sometimes wide, as you meander through a few chock stones at the end, land you on a large ledge below the summit. I combined the last two pitches to the summit. The best rock and climbing on the entire route is the cool roof pull in the last 80’ via an exposed lay back.
From the Whitney Portal trail head (permit required) (8300’), hike up the Whitney trail to what they call Trail Camp at 11,800’. Bivy near the inlet at trail camp to get away from the hoard and marmots who beg from them. The next morning hike up the drainage to the north and head straight for the center of the east face (base of the huge dihedral) of Aiguille Extra (800’+/- gain). You will pass several tarns to fill up on water. Two liters covered me well for a hot day in July. At the base of the corner is a pedestal that sticks out away from the wall. Ascend the north side and traverse left to the base of the obvious crack with an obvious roof above.
Route DescriptionAiguille Extra, East Face, 1400’+/-, 5.10
1st Pitch- 220’- 5.10-/ Start atop the 3rd class ledge at the base of the left facing corner. Climb easy crack up to the roof. Protect and extend under the roof with a bomber C4#3 and traverse right via an exposed face move to a jug. Continue up the flake/corner system which leads into twin cracks. The FAer’s called this 5.9 off-width but I do not recall any real off-width technique needed. Follow this feature to a small ledge out left.
2nd/3rd Pitches- 220’- 5.8/ By extending the 1st pitch as above, you can combine the first three pitches in two pitches with a 70m rope. Exit the main corner and follow the myriad of hand sized cracks out right. Pull the obvious roof on the right wall by going out and left via great rock and positive blind holds. Make a face traverse back left into the corner. This crux move or two on this leftward traverse I thought was way more heads up then the crux traverse on the first pitch. Follow the corner up and traverse left on a ramp to a small ledge with one bomber C4#2.
4th/5th Pitches- 230’- 5.8/ Move up and left at the beginning, then back right into the left facing corner. Climb it to the top and continue on 4th class up and left to the very base of the main dihedral that forms the majority of this climb (small gear belay).
6th Pitch- 115’- 5.7/ Head up the corner on the easiest pitch of the day to a stance at the base of the chimney (medium gear belay).
7th Pitch- 120’- 5.10/ This is the crux pitch of day and the only one that felt difficult for the grade. I personally would have chose to do the off-width up to the chimney section, but that would have required hauling a few larger pieces. Head up the flaring, chossy and loose cracks on the right wall. This was an intimidating lead due to the nature of the rock. I started in the furthermost right crack and meandered back left until several meters below the roof. Traverse left on suspect gear across a blank face via a tough move to get your first stem off the chimney arete. Stem up for several meters then assume chimney position facing out to place a solid medium piece, then make the “wild”roof pull. I ended up doing a 180 to find the right sequence. Pull over the roof and continue up for a distance to a stance in the wide crack above.
8th Pitch- 120’- 5.8/ Although you could combine these next two pitches, it is safer due to loose rock to wait and combine pitches 9 and 10 instead. Continue up the corner on a very fun pitch of wide cracks with plenty of features and pro. Stop at a stance out on the left wall well short of the loose chock stones above.
9th Pitch- 220’- 5.8/ Finish the dihedral in a wide crack past two large chock stones. The first one is a bit dangerous to mantel but you can climb around it. The exit chock stone if pretty solid in comparison and requires a mantel to exit the main dihedral. Continue up the loose ground to the left to the base of a short face with two cracks (.75 gear).
10th/11th Pitches- 180’- 5.10-/ Believe it or not, the last pitch is the best pitch of the day! How often can you say that about a route that tops out at 14,000’? Take the easy corner/crack up to a ledge. Continue up another short wall to the base of a corner that leads to a roof on the right of two adjoining walls. Climb to the roof, protect with a C4#.5 and make an exposed lay back via a blind hold to pull up and right. Continue up stellar rock (this last pitch had the best rock of the day, a rarity for a route this high) up the corner via twin cracks to the summit.