Ascent of Mount Keith on 2021-05-08

Climber: Rafee Memon

Others in Party:Peter Carey -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Sarah Daou
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, May 8, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:Mount Keith
    Elevation:13976 ft / 4259 m

Ascent Trip Report

After a long outing to Mount Barnard from Whitney Portal two days prior, I was pretty wiped out. It was my first big Sierra hike of the season, and I almost bonked heading back to Russell-Carillon Col. I would've preferred an extra rest day to collect myself before climbing Mount Keith with Sarah and Peter, but Saturday was the only day they were available, and I always have a good time climbing with them. We planned to start from the Shepherd Pass Trailhead and climb the South Face route. The trail is notoriously long and tedious, but I had good memories of it from my one previous visit a few years prior to climb Mount Williamson. We hadn't heard a single good thing about the South Face, but I was happy to have friends to suffer with if it was really that bad.

I left my motel room in Lone Pine around 3:30am and made the drive to the trailhead. I'd forgotten that the dirt road wasn't a breeze, but it was no match for my new Outback (a low-clearance car probably would have been fine as well). Nonetheless, I was late for our planned 4am start, but I found Sarah and Peter waiting patiently in the otherwise deserted lot at the trailhead. After getting our packs together, we started up the trail by headlamp under the mostly-new moon at 4:19am. It was strangely chilly and humid, perhaps from the weather system that had moved through the previous day, but we generated a fair amount of heat with our brisk pace. The creek crossings were easy, and soon enough we found ourselves at the Symmes Creek saddle.

We stopped for a snack break and marveled at the sun's first rays on the hulking Mount Williamson, a peak that would loom over us the entire day. After failing to nourish myself properly on my previous hike, I decided that I would eat at every chance I got and accept any snack offered to me; Sarah and Peter were very generous in that sense. We grew cold pretty quickly and put our puffies on before starting back up the trail.

We stopped for another break at Anvil Camp, after which we encountered our first patches of snow on the trail. Luckily, it was crunchy and easy to cross, but we wondered what the chute at the top of the South Face would have in store for us. The satellite imagery showed some lingering sonw, but it was unclear if it was avoidable or what condition it would be in. Sarah and I brought crampons and axes and Peter brought spikes, highlighting our various degrees of confidence in the conditions and our abilities.

At the Pothole below Shepherd Pass, we picked a spot to leave the trail near where the old Junction Pass Trail branches off; we didn't find a use trail, but maybe we would've had better luck with no snow. We sat next to a stream in the snow to snack and fill up our water, which tasted great. It was a terrifically relaxing spot, and we joked that we wouldn't mind if it had been our goal for the day. Nonetheless, our target still rose 3,000 feet above us, and we braced for what the South Face had in store.

We found remnants of the old trail as we picked our way through the brush, but most clear paths eventually led to downed trees or thick bushes. It was clear that the trail hasn't been maintained in some time, but it was relatively easy to find ways around the obstacles we encountered. Among the boulders and scree, Peter found various artifacts from old mining operations - cans and pieces of glass from the late 1800s and early 1900s - things that would've otherwise gone unappreciated by me if I was hiking alone with my summit tunnel vision.

As we climbed up the broad slope, the views started opening up: most notably, Mounts Williamson and Tyndall behind us, and various rugged subpeaks on the Junction Peak ridge to our left. I eyed many enticing couloirs off of the ridge for future ski descents if I find the determination to lug my skis up the long trail from the hot desert. With so many distractions, I'd almost stopped thinking about our route; we wondered when the horrors would begin but found plenty of stable talus to climb. The quality of the climbing took a turn for the worse around 11,500', but it was still manageable due to the shallowness of the slope.

I pulled ahead of Peter and Sarah and found an outcropping of large boulders to rest on about halfway up the face. As we snacked, we all agreed that the climbing wasn't nearly as bad as it was made out to be, and it was even somewhat pleasant compared to other Sierra slogs we'd endured. From our rest spot, it was becoming clear that the snow in the chute would be unavoidable but likely easy to cross. The top of the chute seemed deceivingly close, but we knew we still had about 1,500 feet of climbing to go.

We stayed on the right side of the chute as it narrowed, finding big, stable, enjoyable boulders. I found the shortest route to cross the snow, which was crunchy and grippy, taking all of about thirty seconds. I was happy to be overprepared and not need my crampons and axe rather than underprepared. As Peter and Sarah did the same, I got an up-close look at the gigantic corn, well past the optimal harvest; at least I hadn't carried skis! We regrouped and established "Advil Camp" on the side of the chute.

We followed more boulders up the rest of the chute, some of which were loose but not horribly so, and even snuck in a few class 3 moves to stay entertained. Arriving at the notch at the top, the views opened up in all directions, and in our awe we almost forgot that we still had a couple hundred feet of easy scrambling to the summit. I arrived at the summit at 1:13pm, nearly nine hours after we'd begun, and I took photos while I waited for Peter and Sarah to arrive five minutes later.

The summit views were truly magnificent: to our south, five 14ers in Mounts Williamson, Langley, Russell, Whitney, and Tyndall; to our north, Center Basin, Bubbs Creek, and the high peaks of Kings Canyon; to our west, the Kaweahs and the Great Western Divide. Snow levels were distressingly low, but the little bit of snow that hadn't melted gave a unique texture to the rugged peaks. We signed the register and dedicated the climb to our mothers in honor of Mother's Day. Sarah seemed to have a case of the laughs - maybe it was the Advil - but we had very enjoyable time relaxing at the summit. I hooted and hollared and amused myself as I heard my voice echo off of the deep canyon walls below us, sure to annoy any hikers heading up the trail. We spent nearly an hour and a half there; we weren't concerned about time since the trail was relatively close. The clouds were building, but there wasn't enough daylight left for them to be particularly threatening. We finally started our descent at 2:36pm.

I put on a thin pair of gloves when we arrived at the chute since I've chopped up my hands many times descending loose sand slopes. However, this slope turned out to be a great one, and we made quick and easy work of the sand in the middle of the chute. Peter and I linked a couple of glissades in the snow, but Sarah opted for a safer scramble similar to our ascent route. As we neared the meadow below and the sand transitioned to boulders, Peter and Sarah reported to find a use trail, but we lost it pretty promptly after we regrouped. We descended to another meadow close to the trail where we snacked and filled up water, then reached the trail again at 4:41pm.

The snow patches from the morning were soft and caused us a few unpleasant postholes, but we made it through without much difficulty. We took one final snack break before the trail started to lose elevation in earnest. From there, Sarah set a blistering pace, leaving Peter and me in the dust for over an hour. Reaching the 600-foot reascent to the Symmes Creek drainage, I pushed hard to get the final vertical gain of the day behind me, and I found Sarah resting at the saddle. Peter arrived a few minutes later, and we descended into the next drainage together. We sang songs and stopped numerous times to photograph the cotton candy clouds over the crest and virga over the valley - a first for me in the Sierra. It was a great way to end one of the most beautiful days I've ever spent in the mountains.

We reached our cars at 8:19pm, wrapping up the sixteen-hour day. I was feeling good, I'm sure largely in part to how much I ate during the day, but my knees objected to the 18,000 feet of descent they endured over the three days. We were surprised to find that our cars were still the only ones in the lot on a Saturday evening, but none of us complained about having the mountains to ourselves that day. We drove out on the road together, and Sarah and Peter drove to Bishop while I stopped at the Chevron in Independence. I was determined to get back to Reno that night, so I stood awkwardly at the deserted pumps eating lukewarm leftover pizza from my cooler before starting the journey north. I got home at 12:45am, quickly unpacked, showered, and passed out, looking forward to sleeping in for once.


4:19am - 0.0mi - Shepherd Pass Trailhead
6:03am - 4.2mi - Symmes Creek saddle
9:11am - 9.6mi - Leave trail
1:13pm - 12.2mi - Arrive at Mount Keith summit
2:36pm - 12.2mi - Leave Mount Keith summit
4:41pm - 14.1mi - Rejoin trail
6:37pm - 19.2mi - Symmes Creek saddle
8:19pm - 23.3mi - Shepherd Pass Trailhead
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:8720 ft / 2657 m
    Total Elevation Loss:8720 ft / 2657 m
    Round-Trip Distance:23.3 mi / 37.5 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:8197 ft / 2498 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 7674 ft / 2339 m; Extra: 523 ft / 159m
    Loss on way in:523 ft / 159 m
    Distance:12.2 mi / 19.6 km
    Route:South face
    Start Trailhead:Shepherd Pass TH  6302 ft / 1920 m
    Time:8 Hours 54 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:8197 ft / 2498 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 7674 ft / 2339 m; Extra: 523 ft / 159m
    Gain on way out:523 ft / 159 m
    Distance:11.1 mi / 17.9 km
    Route:South face
    End Trailhead:Shepherd Pass TH  6302 ft / 1920 m
    Time:5 Hours 43 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rafee Memon
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