Eagle Peak keyhole

Updates and errata for the Second Edition of Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone

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Eagle Peak keyhole

Post by TomTuriano »

Shortly after the second edition went to print, I learned from my friend Alex Lennon about a sneaky route on the east face of Eagle Peak that he just had climbed that bypasses the crux cliff band along the otherwise more direct, but more technically difficult northeast ridge. When Forrest McCarthy, Matt Goewert, and I climbed Eagle Peak’s northeast ridge from a camp on Eagle Pass on July 11, 2001, it was very foggy with light drizzle. I remember as we approached the crux cliff along the northeast ridge, I looked over at the east face and could see the crux cliff extending quite far to the left. I did notice that the cliff seemed to end, but it was quite a ways across a daunting-looking sloping apron scattered with pebbles and talus. No doubt, the fog added to undesirability of trying such a traverse. Instead, we went straight up and found a short class-5 crack that led up through the cliff allowing access to the upper mountain. We had a rope and rack with us because we had climbed Turret Mountain a couple days prior.

Well, as noted on Peakbagger.com, it turns out that others had noticed the break in the east face cliffs and established it as a “famous” route, at least as early as 2013, probably much earlier. After the first edition of Select Peaks came out, I had always wondered how climbers were getting along with finding and tackling that short class-5 step. Turns out that many weren’t. They found the beta about the keyhole and made the long traverse to it. After looking at Alex’s and Eric Gilbertson’s photos, I’m not convinced the keyhole is much easier or saves any time from the route we took, although it certainly looks more interesting and must’ve been a very exciting and gratifying find for those who have explored the mountain looking for a less-technical alternative. I’ll have to go check it out myself…on a sunny day.

Our direct crack was a short technical pitch of maybe 15-20 feet. We arrived at it by just finding the shortest break in the crux cliff, I think a short distance left of the northeast ridge crest. The crux move of 5.5 was at the top of the crack, exiting to the bench above. I remember placing a #2 Camalot in a perfect crack just below the top that protected that one move quite well. While we had a full rope from our ascent of Turret, I think a 30-foot length of rope would work just fine for the climb and rappel down. On the way up, the end can be thrown down if there are more than two climbers.

For the keyhole, here is what I have gathered about the route from Alex and Eric:

From near the base of the crux cliff along the northeast ridge, traverse 360 yards left on the exposed sloping apron, around one ridgelet and across a couple very narrow and exposed spots, and work your way up a short gully to its top, where you can climb under a chockstone through a short tunnel or “keyhole” to reach the shelf above. It is then possible to ramp up and right over sometimes steep, exposed, and broken volcanic slabs, to regain the northeast ridge several hundred yards below the summit. Eric Gilbertson provides photographs of the route and keyhole, and describes it well here: https://www.countryhighpoints.com/eagle-peak/
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