Peak(s):  Kennedy, Mt  -  13,125 feet
Needle Ridge  -  13,500 feet
Date Posted:  06/28/2018
Modified:  09/30/2019
Date Climbed:   06/17/2017
Author:  Boggy B
Additional Members:   Kylie
 Mt Kennedy North Couloir, Needle Ridge East Ridge   

Mount Kennedy North Couloir, WI3/M2

The familiar approach, though sweltering, passed quickly enough, and by mid-afternoon Kylie and I had set up camp in a shady spot beneath the towering north buttress of Mount Kennedy. Our objective, a deeply inset couloir on its northeast face, was mostly hidden from view behind the buttress. A willow-choked avalanche path extends below it, bordered on the east side by forest and a tributary stream that feeds Needle Creek. It appeared our best option to access the route was to follow this stream until we could sneak past the willows to rocky tundra below the face. Before dinner, we scouted for a way to cross Needle Creek and soon discovered a fallen tree just wide enough to balance on.

Around 4 am we awoke, stuffed our gear into flash packs, and crossed over Needle Creek. Though I got suckered into the willows to the right of the stream more than once, we made fast uphill progress. Above the willows, we crossed onto snow and geared up before ascending steeper slopes to the east-facing apron.

Turning into the couloir, we immediately encountered the first obstacle: an enormous boulder lodged in the constriction, with a tenuous snow ramp clinging to the wall beneath it. Dodging a bit of ice crashing down from unseen heights, we roped up in the ample shelter of the chockstone. I then tiptoed up the ramp and belly-flopped onto the behemoth stone, which was blank, sloping, and frustratingly wet. After placing a reasonable .75 Camalot, I groveled up to the snow above, hooking iffy boulders stacked on the chockstone. Perhaps a week or two earlier it would have been a cruise on snow, but instead we got awkward, dirty M2. I belayed up Kylie, who also hated it.

Continuing on better snow above the chockstone, we traced a few bends in the couloir until a steep wall of ice blocked upward progress. Our initial hesitation faded as we approached thick, beautiful gray ice. It was about 25 feet to the top of the bulge and we wished we had another screw for the belay. Instead, Kylie set an axe anchor and I climbed on, plugging a stubby into bomber ice halfway up. This fun, plastic WI3 ran out much too quickly, and I set a horrible anchor in the wall above and advised Kylie to not fall.

Above the crux, we cruised up perfect snow (passing one minor rock step) to the ridge, where we turned left and walked to the summit.

Overall we thought the route was fun and worthwhile, however tainted by the chockstone down low. We were happy with our gear selection (a skinny 70m half doubled over for a 35m lead, ultralight alpine rack, and one stubby screw), though an extra screw or two would have offered more comfort on the ice.

To descend, we dropped into a gully east of the summit and cramponed down easy snow to the meadow. We stayed on the right (east) side of the stream all the way back to Needle Creek and did not have to whack a single bush. Amidst a swarm of mosquitoes we hastily broke down our camp and moved up Chicago Basin to a bug-free spot just below the no-camping zone, where we were entertained by a goat v. marmot stand-off over our, er, leavings.

Mount Kennedy North Buttress

Couloir entrance

Above chockstone

Ice bulge
View from ice slot

Up ice

Ice top out

Climbing above ice
Couloir top out

Pigeon, Turret, Eolus from Mount Kennedy summit

Needle Ridge

Descent gully

Erosion below Columbine Pass

Camp 2 below Twin Lakes


Needle Ridge East Ridge, 5.4

We slept in and started post-dawn the next morning, packing our camp and hauling everything up to Twin Lakes, where we stood up a post among some ruins and hung our packs beyond the reach (we supposed) of the marmots. After fending off a goat posse while re-packing our climbing gear, we decided to bring our dirty socks on the climb.

From Twin Lakes, we hiked up snow and a bit of scree to the Sunlight Peak-Needle Ridge saddle and peeked around the backside (north) of the jagged, chaotic ridge. The initial slope looked unstable and was overhung by huge angling boulders. After some deliberation, we decided to manage it, so we stashed the crampons and started up. Fifty feet of horrifying choss put us on the ridge, and with an airy move we gained the first pinnacle--really a collection of wildly stacked, leaning flakes. The direct descent from this position appeared difficult, so I set an anchor and belayed Kylie down a chossy passage on the north side to the ridge below at 4th class or so.

Kylie then took the lead up a short 5th class chimney leading to the second tower. It was not necessary to climb all the way to the apex of this tower, and we put the rope away and descended a 3rd class gully to a notch between the second and third towers. From there, ledges provided access to an obvious chimney system leading to the upper reaches of the third tower. Solid, fun 5th class climbing through a rabbit hole and up the chimney led to the top of the tower, where a massive block occupies the highest point.

The summit block is split, with large boulders resting against both sides. We plugged #1 and #2 Camalots into the bomber left crack and then I stepped across a gap to the right, where I placed the .75 weakly (better a #1, but that right block would likely go sailing anyway) and mantled up to sit astride the summit block. The position is incredibly airy with a huge drop to the north. I reversed the sequence and belayed Kylie up. She agreed that one or two moves felt about 5.4.

Though we are not certain which summit is the higher one, we believed this to be it, and from this vantage the western summit appeared a bit lower. At any rate, we had not planned to continue beyond the eastern highpoint, and so, after running a belay back down the upper chimney, we put the rope away and downclimbed to the ledges. From there we retraced our route down the east ridge without further aid of the rope.

Except for the initial choss, we thought the ridge offered varied and fun scrambling on interesting rock. We were again satisfied with the gear we brought (the skinny 70m half and ultralight rack); one could get by with just the .75, #1, and #2 Camalots, or solo depending on comfort level.

We descended back to our stash at Twin Lakes. Only the waist belt of Kylie's pack was chewed up a bit, so we counted our "pack stand" a success. The grunt up to Twin Thumbs Pass was mostly dry and not difficult, and from there we traversed on good snow across upper Noname Basin over the 12,800' saddle between North Eolus and Peak Twelve, descending into upper Ruby Basin to make camp in a beautiful grassy meadow at 11,900'.

Pack stand

Climbing to Needle Ridge-Sunlight Peak saddle

Hiking around north side of ridge
Up choss

On east ridge looking towards summit
Climbing over first pinnacle

Summit block

Descent off first pinnacle
Kylie leads on second tower

Third tower/summit from second tower
Descent to notch after second tower

Up final chimney
View back to second tower

Kylie tops out summit block

View to west from summit
View to north

View back down east ridge
Mount Kennedy north couloir

Descending ledges below final chimney
Scrambling back up second tower from notch

Down choss
Back on snow

Looking back at Needle Ridge

Camp 3 in upper Ruby Basin

Ruby Basin

The following day broke our pattern of success. We got up early and hiked over the 12,700' Peak Twelve-Monitor saddle, then descended all the way down to 10,700' in Noname Basin, where we found our intended route blocked by a waterfall. So we returned over the Peak Twelve-Monitor saddle into Ruby Basin, broke camp and continued downward. On reaching the meadows below the Animas-Monitor cirque, we decided we might salvage the day with a try at the standard combination.

With light packs we made the 1,800 feet to the Peak Thirteen-Monitor saddle in an hour, stopping along the way to chat with two climbers from Wisconsin. At this exposed, gravelly junction, we realized this was not going to be the afternoon's scramble we had imagined and that we were a bit too fatigued to stay alert, so we abandoned the effort and returned to the heavy packs in the meadow below.

Other than vague notions of bushwhacking above Ruby Lake, we had no knowledge of this basin but had planned to return to Needleton this day, and so we began our descent into the beetled hell that is Ruby Basin. Soon we were neck-deep in willows, and though we quickly picked up the trail, it didn't improve our experience. After thrashing our way out of this choking mess, we started descending to Ruby Lake. The unique, striking beauty of the place became increasingly hard to appreciate as the labyrinthine deadfall and a slick coat of needles shed by the doomed trees punished our tired knees and ankles.

The scenic trail along the north shore of Ruby Lake offered a brief respite from the agony before delivering us back into the forest. My will to live eroded as we continued our downward (often, unnecessarily upward) path, plagued by murderous insects and swelling heat; by the time we reached Needleton, we had abandoned all plans to pursue further objectives in the area on this trip. We pledged instead to return once our memories of the suffering were adequately subdued by alcohol or the passage of time.

View towards Ruby Lake from Animas/Monitor standard route
Willows above Ruby Lake

Ruby Lake

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Nice finds!
06/28/2018 13:05
That couloir looks awesome! It'll be cool to see what else you guys find in there once you regain your will to live.


Sweet Report
06/28/2018 15:37
Kennedy looks like an awesome climb!


So long ago and yet
06/28/2018 22:11
I had almost completely forgotten the affliction of ruby basin and now you've refreshed my memory xoxoxoxo


06/29/2018 09:19
I always struggle trying to put a photo in a TR comment...but below is a link to a photo I took of Kennedy (I think) in May of 2010. I always wondered how that would go! Is this the same climb?

Awesome job to both of you! Makes me curious of your other unmentioned desired route out of NoName....


Boggy B

06/29/2018 09:51
that's it. The unmentioned route is the north face of Animas.


Needle Ridge High Point
09/27/2020 21:40
Ha! I just had the same experience as you. Got to the 1st (Eastern) High Point, even went slightly past it to compare High Points, and felt sure that the Eastern Point is higher. HOWEVER - the GPS has the Western Point as higher. But I have seen the GPS coordinates be wrong before.... (By that I mean if you look at where the Needle Ridge summit is here on the map, you will see it on the West end of the Ridge.)

Probably not much beta out there, as this peak is not high on most peoples list... but I'd be curious to know the whole story!

Thanks for the report - fantastic. I did it all (no snow), with no gear.....but could only reach up and tag the top and not risk climbing up there without protection!


More info
09/27/2020 21:53
The GPS coordinates here seem to point at the Eastern High Point...

Boggy B

Re: Highpoint
09/28/2020 09:02
Ormes and co. traversed the whole ridge on the FA. I would guess they went E-W to rappel most of the difficulties. We were aware going into this trip that LoJ marks the eastern summit and that Mr. Kirk strives to identify the actual highpoint. Assuming the contours for the E/W summits are accurate relative to each other, it's also more likely that the eastern summit is higher given that 1) the highest closed contour on the eastern summit has greater area, which generally confers probability a higher apex, and 2) the eastern summit is pointy, and most likely that single boulder does not register in the contours, while the western summit is flattish.

That said, I wouldn't mind traversing the ridge sometime to get the full experience.

Congrats on your summit!

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