Mount Keith is a seldom-climbed summit just North of Shephard Pass. Overshadowed by its southern neighbors, Mount Tyndall and Mount Williamson, Mount Keith sees only a handful of visitors every year. Also the fact that Mount Keith falls 23ft short of being a 14er seems to deter many from attempting its summit. The primary routes up are the Class 2 NE face from Center Basin, the class 2 South Face from the Shephard Pass Trail, the class 3 SW ridge from Junction Pass, and the class 3-4 East ridge. All require a lenghty approach from either Onion Valley or the Shephard Pass Trailhead.
William Keith was born in old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on November 21, 1838. Five months before his birth his father died leaving his mother, himself, and three small sisters. In 1850 Mrs. Keith took her children to New York where her brother lived. Here Keith secured an education, worked in a law office and was later apprenticed to a wood engraver.
In 1859 Keith came to California to accept a position on a magazine in San Francisco only to find its publication had been discontinued. He then opened a wood engraving shop of his own. Keith’s marriage to Miss Elizabeth Emerson, a fourth cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in June 1864, marked the beginning of his career as an artist. Mrs. Keith was not only an artist but a teacher of painting and soon recognized that Keith had unusual talent. After earning his first commission as an artist, Keith and his wife traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany so that he might study art. It was at this time Keith began his love and appreciation of nature.
In August 1870 Keith returned to New York and soon after opened a studio in Boston where he sold many paintings and received much praise from art critics and patrons. It was at this time Keith and his wife visited Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson advised Keith to look up John Muir in Yosemite. Emerson had previously visited the Valley and had spent time with Muir. Emerson told Keith that he and Muir had much in common as both were born in Scotland, in the same year (1838), and both were nature lovers.
Upon his return to California, Keith spent his first night in Yosemite camping with Muir on the shores of Mirror Lake. Then, although it was late October, Muir conducted Keith into the vast mountain splendors of the Yosemite High Sierra. (* It was on this trip that Muir left Keith in Tuolumne Meadows and did the first ascent of Mount Ritter.) Thus, Keith received a wealth of inspiration for his paintings and began a lifelong friendship with the great naturalist. In succeeding years, Keith accompanied Muir on numerous sketching trips into the High Sierra of Yosemite and his paintings were greatly influenced and inspired by Muir’s ideals.
Keith later opened a studio in San Francisco and in the earthquake and fire of April 17, 1906, all of but 25 of his 2,000 paintings were destroyed. Undaunted by the loss, Keith painted more furiously than ever before and in 1906 he enjoyed an income of around $100,000 per year.
Keith passed away on April 10, 1911. His paintings were exhibited in some of the finest museums in the country.
Courtesy of Clydascope
~Copied from the back of a print of a oil painting circa 1870’s that is titled “Valley View”.
*Added to the original text
Mount Keith is located along the Sierra Crest and the boundaries of Kings Canyon National Park and the Inyo National Forest. There are two ways that are primarily used to reach Mount Keith's Class 2 approach in Center Basin. The easiest route is a 13+ mile hike starting at the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead. Take 395 to Independence(North of Lone Pine, South of Bishop), and turn west toward Onion Valley/Kearsarge Pass. Follow this road up to the main trailhead at 9,200ft, and park. From the trailhead, go up and over Kearsarge Pass, then follow the trail down past Bullfrog Lakes where the trail meets up with the John Muir Trail South. Continue on the John Muir Trail South through Vidette Meadow. The trail slowly begins to climb and before it reaches Center Peak(dead ahead) veer left on a use trail that heads up the hillside into Center Basin and your approach to Mount Keith. Another route from Onion Valley goes over the slightly more technical University Pass. This class 2 pass is found on the South side of University peak as described here. Be fore warned University Pass is either snow covered(into mid season), or filled with loose sand and rock.
The other route to Center Basin is from the Shephard Pass Trailhead. Take 395 to Independence and the Onion Valley turn off as stated above. About 5-10min down the road turn left onto Foothill Rd. Follow this road for approximately 5 miles to the coral, then hang a left. Continue along this road, bearing right toward the Shephard Pass Trailhead. From the trailhead follow the trail all the way to "The Pothole". From here one can try to follow the faint use trail through the brush up the canyon to the Northwest which will lead up Junction Pass. This route has much more elevation gain(almost 7000ft), and the last several miles are on a use trail/cross country. From Juntion Pass either climb the direct ridgeline, or drop into Center Basin. Refer here for the East ridge route.
Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays leaving from either Kearsarge Pass Trailhead or Shephard Pass Trailhead. Both can fill up very fast, so be sure to obtain permits early if traveling on the weekend. Bear canisters are required for the Center Basin area, although there are bear boxes located in Vidette Meadow and East Vidette(1 miles before the Center Basin turnoff). Canisters can be rented at either the Lone Pine or White Mountain Ranger Station for $5.
For permits and conditions contact the USFS Ranger Station in Bishop at 760-873-2500.
Inyo National Forest
When To Climb
Summer climbing conditions begin in the end of June through October(first snow). During this time no crampons or ice axes are needed. The rest of the year snow can linger on the Northeast ridge. Though ice axes and crampons would be required, the climb itself should not be any more difficult, since all the loose gravel and rock would be covered with snow. The approach to Center Basin would be hindered in snowy conditions.
Camping is allowed anywhere in the Wilderness with proper permits. Also trailhead camping is available at the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead for $12 a night. Proper bear storage is also required at all camping sites.
Inyo National Forest Road Conditions