Here's another diversion along the Main Mount Whitney Trail. Yet again, it's one of those "I saw it on the map and I'll bag it when I'm up there" side trips that gets left behind after a Whitney summit (either due to its penultimate stature or the exhaustion of the hiker).
Keeler Needle stands at 14,260' (though no USGS benchmark exits, this height is based on an average of individual measurements and topo listings; the summit register lists 14,240' while GPS units have registered up to 14,300) just south of Mount Whitney's summit. Though technically not counted as one of the California 14ers, there is a summit register.
This is simple class 2/3 scrambling up about 500' from the trail (again following the "path of least resistance"), but the view and exposure can play havoc on those having trouble with vertigo. Keeler tops out on a large, detached block (you must step over a chockstone gap with 1000' drops on both left and right to reach the tip top. The view is incredible and well worth the extra 15-20 minute jaunt.
There are 1500'+ multipitch/multiday technical routes on the East Face [including The Harding Route (5.10c), Australopithecus (5.9) and Crimson Wall (5.12a3)] which I'm hoping to have up close experience to report on next season. Anyone wishing to add these routes in the meantime is welcome.
Same as for the Mount Whitney main trail route if you are approaching from the west side.
For technical climbs, follow the Mt. Whitney Mountaineer's Route up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek for the approach, though you will veer south at blocks below Iceberg Lake. For dayhikes/climbs, no permits are necessary (though that would make for a long day). Overnight trips do require permits between April and October (10 general public per day/6 commercial, 6 reservable and 4 walk-ins). Ideal base camp is near Iceberg Lake with a .5 mile approach over moraine to the east base of Keeler.
Another dayhike option (limited to class 3/easy 4) is to follow the Whitney Mountaineer's Route, summit Whitney and tag Keeler while following the Main Whitney trail down to the trailhead in a 14.5 mile loop trip. (And you might as well climb Muir while you're at it.) At this writing, you don't need an exit permit on the Main Whitney trail if you came up the Mountaineer's Route as a dayhike. Just tell the ranger (if you see one) that you came up the MR and are heading down the Main Trail, and you'll be fine---as long as you're not lugging a 5000ci/60 lb. pack....
Same permit restrictions as for the Mount Whitney main trail route, or the Mountaineer's Route if climbing.
As mentioned on the Whitney page and above, if you have applied for the Whitney lottery in February (and received permit reservations) then you have guaranteed access, though many dayhike and overnight permits become available during the season due to cancelations. It's best to show up at the ranger station in Lone Pine just before 11 am for same day permits.
For current permit availability go to the Inyo National Forest page here.
Camping is available at Trail Camp or Outpost Camp along the main trail if hiking. Upper Boy Scout Lake or Iceberg Lake if you're climbing.
The main gathering place for current Mt. Whitney area info is the Mt. Whitney Portal Store Message Board (which has plenty of useful info when you either use the Search button, or sift through the many newbie posts). NOTE: Try not to post any messages on the board along the lines of "What's the weather going to be like on such-and-such a day, next month or next year." No one knows and it makes you look extremely green. (As Doug Thompson of the Portal Store says, "If you have to ask, you shouldn't be on the mountain.") You've been warned.
That being said, weather can be tricky and change dramatically, depending on the season, so use the following links (along with what people have posted on the above sites about current conditions):
Weather and forecast info can also be found on the Mt. Whitney Portal Store Message Board.
Named for Captain Julius Keeler. Elected to the State Assembly in 1883, Keeler had realized the potential of a railroad terminus and rail yards to handle the transport of the Owens Lake area's key industries of mining, milling, teaming, shipping, wood-cutting and charcoal burning. This was the hub of what become the town of Keeler.