An Engaging Climb
(Mt. Keith, 13,977 feet)

13-15 Aug 2006 - by Debbie Bulger

What do you do when your daughter becomes engaged to a man named Keith? Why climb Mt. Keith, of course!

Mt. Keith is a fortress dominating the southeast end of Center Basin. It is guarded by a series of smooth granite cliffs. The trick is to climb the talus through breaks in the wall. Richard Stover and I decided on the circuitous approach from the southeast, climbing almost directly up from the easternmost green area. Above the cliffs there is a bench leading to a bowl between "Courte-Echelle" and Mt. Keith. Our approach took us toward the left shoulder where we climbed stable talus to the summit plateau.

As we ascended, we encountered hard ice on one side and very large talus blocks on the other, making progress difficult. Richard tried chopping some steps with a rock, but we took a safer option and retreated down the slope and up in another spot.

The actual summit is as easy or difficult as you want to make it with fun blocks leading to three benchmarks from the 1950s. The view is special. Williamson, Tyndall, and Whitney loom so large and close it seems you can almost touch them.

To the north the Center Basin spreads out its glory rimmed by Bradley, University and Center Peaks, with the Gardiner Basin in the distance beyond. Directly below to the south lies Anvil Camp and the Shepherd Pass Trail.

On the descent, in the bowl above the cliffs we decided it would be shorter to take the southwest route. There were footprints. It turned out to be no shorter and a bit more hair raising.

After a short descent in a broad gully, the route traverses a ledge on top of one of the cliff bands. The footing is unstable scree, and the exit off the ledge to the talus was not the most comfortable. Give me solid granite any day.

Once off the ledge, we navigated seemingly endless talus: truck-sized pieces, house-sized pieces, hard on the knees, hard on the back, hard on the nerves. Thankfully there is plenty of clear, cool water flowing off the cliffs to replenish empty water bottles.

Finally, we were back on green earth, following the watercourse. We tramped back to camp through a green tapestry dotted with magenta owls clover, yellow buttercups, pink elephants head and pussy paws, and blue asters.

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